N. J. Enfield

N. J. Enfield is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sydney and Director of the Sydney Centre for Language Research. He is the author of The Anatomy of Meaning, The Utility of Meaning, How We Talk, and other books.

  • Consequences of Language

    From Primary to Enhanced Intersubjectivity

    N. J. Enfield and Jack Sidnell

    What is it about humans that makes language possible, and what is it about language that makes us human?

    If you are reading this, you have done something that only our species has evolved to do. You have acquired a natural language. This book asks, How has this changed us?

    Where scholars have long wondered what it is about humans that makes language possible, N. J. Enfield and Jack Sidnell ask instead, What is it about humans that is made possible by language? In Consequences of Language their objective is to understand what modern language really is and to identify its logical and conceptual consequences for social life. Central to this undertaking is the concept of intersubjectivity, the open sharing of subjective experience. There is, Enfield and Sidnell contend, a uniquely human form of intersubjectivity, and it is essentially intertwined with language in two ways: a primary form of intersubjectivity was necessary for language to have begun evolving in our species in the first place and then language, through its defining reflexive properties, transformed the nature of our intersubjectivity. In the authors' analysis, social accountability—the bedrock of society—is grounded in this linguistically transformed, enhanced kind of intersubjectivity.

    The account of the language-mind-society connection put forward in Consequences of Language is one of unprecedented reach, suggesting new connections across disciplines centrally concerned with language—from anthropology and philosophy to sociology and cognitive science—and among those who would understand the foundational role of language in making us human.

    • Paperback $45.00
  • Language vs. Reality

    Language vs. Reality

    Why Language Is Good for Lawyers and Bad for Scientists

    N. J. Enfield

    A fascinating examination of how we are both played by language and made by language: the science underlying the bugs and features of humankind's greatest invention.

    Language is said to be humankind's greatest accomplishment. But what is language actually good for? It performs poorly at representing reality. It is a constant source of distraction, misdirection, and overshadowing. In fact, N. J. Enfield notes, language is far better at persuasion than it is at objectively capturing the facts of experience. Language cannot create or change physical reality, but it can do the next best thing: reframe and invert our view of the world. In Language vs. Reality, Enfield explains why language is bad for scientists (who are bound by reality) but good for lawyers (who want to win their cases), why it can be dangerous when it falls into the wrong hands, and why it deserves our deepest respect.

    Enfield offers a lively exploration of the science underlying the bugs and features of language. He examines the tenuous relationship between language and reality; details the array of effects language has on our memory, attention, and reasoning; and describes how these varied effects power narratives and storytelling as well as political spin and conspiracy theories. Why should we care what language is good for? Enfield, who has spent twenty years at the cutting edge of language research, argues that understanding how language works is crucial to tackling our most pressing challenges, including human cognitive bias, media spin, the “post-truth” problem, persuasion, the role of words in our thinking, and much more.

    • Hardcover $32.95