After a short introduction ("Language: a preview") that reveals the basic theoretical assumptions of the book, the writers launch into 16 chapters that introduce the reader to a large subset of the kinds of issues with which linguists concern themselves today: Phonetics, Phonology, Morphology, Syntax, Interfaces, Semantics, Historical Linguistics, Language Classification, Psycholinguistics, Brain and Language, Language Acquisition, Second Language Acquisition, Language in Social Contexts, Writing and Language, Animal Communication, and Computational Linguistics. Within each topic, the authors make reference to a satisfying range of subtopics; for example, in computational linguistics, the following headings or subheading are all to be found: speech synthesis, speech recognition, computational morphology, natural language analysis, natural language generation, computational lexicology, computational semantics, indexing and concordances, information access and retrieval, and machine translation.
Despite the breadth of topics, each chapter begins with a very accessible introduction, which explains why the topic is interesting. An example, again from the computational linguistics chapter: "Imagine that you have a robot, but the robot does not talk or understand language. It is your job to program the robot to speak English...and to program it to understand what you say to it." A lighthearted "For the student linguist" section concludes each chapter. In the "Language in Social Contexts" chapter, this concerns dialogue in Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead". Each chapter also has some questions for consideration and a short "Recommended Reading" list.