Memory Speaks: On Losing and Reclaiming Language and Self

(The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2021)
Julie Sedivy

From an award-winning writer and linguist, a scientific and personal meditation on the phenomenon of language loss and the possibility of renewal.

As a child Julie Sedivy left Czechoslovakia for Canada, and English soon took over her life. By early adulthood she spoke Czech rarely and badly, and when her father died unexpectedly, she lost not only a beloved parent but also her firmest point of connection to her native language. As Sedivy realized, more is at stake here than the loss of language: there is also the loss of identity.

Language is an important part of adaptation to a new culture, and immigrants everywhere face pressure to assimilate. Recognizing this tension, Sedivy set out to understand the science of language loss and the potential for renewal. In Memory Speaks, she takes on the psychological and social world of multilingualism, exploring the human brain’s capacity to learn—and forget—languages at various stages of life. But while studies of multilingual experience provide resources for the teaching and preservation of languages, Sedivy finds that the challenges facing multilingual people are largely political. Countering the widespread view that linguistic pluralism splinters loyalties and communities, Sedivy argues that the struggle to remain connected to an ancestral language and culture is a site of common ground, as people from all backgrounds can recognize the crucial role of language in forming a sense of self.

Distinctive and timely, Memory Speaks combines a rich body of psychological research with a moving story at once personal and universally resonant. As citizens debate the merits of bilingual education, as the world’s less dominant languages are driven to extinction, and as many people confront the pain of language loss, this is badly needed wisdom.

“Julie Sedivy’s book is not just a study of what it means to cradle more than one language or more than one culture, perhaps even more than one identity—it is a profound elegy to memories that endure despite displacement and the many time zones that define our lives.”—André Aciman, author of Call Me By Your Name and  Homo Irrealis: Essays

“One of the finest books I have ever read about language: a wise and humane amalgam of poetry and scientific rigor, rooted in Julie Sedivy’s deeply-felt personal experience. Full of compassion and sharp-edged insights, Memory Speaks will touch all of us who care about the tongues we speak and about the countless tongues now falling into oblivion.”—Mark Abley, author of Spoken Here: Travels among Threatened Languages


Language in Mind: An Introduction to Psycholinguistics, 2nd Edition

(Sinauer Associates/Oxford University Press, 2020)
Julie Sedivy

Language in Mind offers broad, introductory survey to psycholinguistics that will remain relevant to students whether they continue in the field or not.

In this second edition, Julie Sedivy once again articulates psycholinguistic theories in an exceptionally accessible and engaging style. The book’s research-based approach emphasizes not just what psycholinguists know, but how they’ve come to know it. Its critical examination of the primary literature imparts the scope of debate in this active field.

“It’s by far the best textbook on this subject. Sedivy’s research background and her skills as a science writer make a great combination.” – Adele Goldberg, Princeton University “

“The clarity and depth of Sediy’s chapters have helped decrease the time I feel I need to spend introducing and explaining concepts.” – Zenzi Griffin, University of Texas, Austin “

“Sedivy’s book strikes a really good balance in its articulate and intelligent presentation, its breadth of information, and cool graphics.” – Ralf Thiede, University of North Carolina “


Waiting: An Anthology of Essays

(University of Alberta Press, 2018)
Rona Altrows & Julie Sedivy, editors

Waiting, that most human of experiences, saturates all of our lives. We spend part of each day waiting—for birth, death, appointments, acceptance, forgiveness, redemption. Waiting, like breathing, gives rhythmic structure to our lives. Like breathing, it is rarely written about.

This collection of thirty-two personal essays is as much about hope as it is about waiting. The writers of these essays are Zen masters who turn our attention to the details of the human experiences that take place in the in-out, in-out, in-out moments of waiting. Featuring literary voices from the renowned to the emerging, this anthology of contemporary creative nonfiction will resonate with anyone who has ever had to wait.

Contributors: Samantha Albert, Rona Altrows, Sharon Butala, Jane Cawthorne, Weyman Chan, Rebecca Danos, Patti Edgar, John Graham-Pole, Leslie Greentree, Edythe Anstey Hanen, Vivian Hansen, Jane Harris, Richard Harrison, Elizabeth Haynes, Lee Kvern, Anne Lévesque, Margaret Macpherson, Alice Major, Wendy McGrath, Stuart Ian McKay, Lorri Neilsen Glenn, Susan Olding, Roberta Rees, Julie Sedivy, Kathy Seifert, Cora Siré, Steven Ross Smith, Anne Sorbie, Glen Sorestad, Kelly S. Thompson, Robin van Eck, Aritha van Herk


Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You and What This Says About You

(Wiley/Blackwell, 2011)
Julie Sedivy & Greg Carlson

As citizens of capitalist, free-market societies, we tend to celebrate choice and competition. However, in the 21st century, as we have gained more and more choices, we have also become greater targets for persuasive messages from advertisers who want to make those choices for us. 

In Sold on Language, noted language scientists Julie Sedivy and Greg Carlson examine how rampant competition shapes the ways in which commercial and political advertisers speak to us. In an environment saturated with information, advertising messages attempt to compress as much persuasive power into as small a linguistic space as possible. These messages, the authors reveal, might take the form of a brand name whose sound evokes a certain impression, a turn of phrase that gently applies peer pressure, or a subtle accent that zeroes in on a target audience. As more and more techniques of persuasion are aimed squarely at the corner of our mind which automatically takes in information without conscious thought or deliberation, does ‘endless choice’ actually mean the end of true choice?

Sold on Language offers thought-provoking insights into the choices we make as consumers and citizens – and the choices that are increasingly being made for us.