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Eve Spoke: Human Language and Human Evolution Hardcover – January 17, 1998


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (January 17, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393040895
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393040890
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,969,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Speaking, like breathing, is something we do every day without thinking. And just like breathing, speech is the result of a complicated dance between neural mechanisms and muscle responses. Although everybody makes use of language--in some form or another--little is actually understood about what it is or how it began. In Eve Spoke, Philip Lieberman, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics, outlines his own theories about this mysterious subject. From development of the human vocal tract to the latest models of where language skills occur in the brain, Lieberman covers the physical aspects of producing speech. He then tries to explain just how the brain puts it all together to create meaning from sound.

From Library Journal

The debate over the origin of language shows little sign of cooling in this millennium. Contributing to the discourse, Lieberman (cognition and linguistics, Brown Univ.) examines both archaeological evidence and data derived from neurological imaging technology to bolster the "Eve hypothesis." According to Lieberman, Homo sapiens most likely evolved from an African ancestor about 150,000 years ago. A comparison of fossil vocal tracts (reconstructed from castings) with those of modern humans, moreover, suggests that the Neanderthals had limited capacity for speech and may thus have lost the selection battle to our more loquacious ancestors. Lieberman synthesizes a variety of research (including studies on Parkinson's disease and the effects of hypoxia on mountain climbers) to challenge Chomsky's Universal Grammar theory, most recently popularized in Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct (LJ 2/1/94). He argues that the "neural bases of human speech, motor control, and syntax appear to be linked together in a functional language system" characterized by "neural circuits" that are learned rather than transmitted as genetic blueprints. Lieberman's book is carefully reasoned and written with both clarity and a sense of adventure that will appeal to the general reader.?Laurie Bartolini, MacMurray Coll. Lib., Jacksonville, Ill.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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3.6 out of 5 stars
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I give this work a "C" because I expected more from a man who has spent most of his life engaged in the study of the evolution of human speech and language. This book is loosely constructed, as if the author dictated a few paragraphs over coffee each morning, with little apparent direction in mind other than discussing the overall, global idea that language and speech have evolved along with the anatomy of the head and neck. That's ok, however. This book is geared more to the average reader with some science background. He does a nice job discussing other research that was germinal to our present day understanding of speech perception and production. He reviews his own research on reconstruction of the vocal tracts in skulls of early man. Although his studies over 30 years, which suggested that the human larynx descended in order for human speech to develop, made him almost a popular science icon, alas, some of his work subsequently has been dismissed by various linguists and paleo-anthropologists.
For example, there is no reason why humans could not develop speech and language with a higher seated larynx. Indeed, a human can be understood while using just ONE vowel in running speech (this is in iximpil iv whit i min). And a language could be constructed around one vowel by simply making longer words. Also, humans who are adept at buccal speech (where the vocal tract is basically the oral cavity) can be readily understood.
It is true that a lowered larynx indeed allows more vowels to be produced and makes speech more efficient, but that does not prove that this was why the larynx descended. The larynx may have descended in order for humans to bellow out deeper nonspeech warning cries to predators. And, further, a higher larynx is not the reason chimps do not talk.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A good complement to Robbins Burling's "The Talking Ape," Stephen Pinker's "The Language Instinct," and John McWhorter's "The Power of Babel." Each has its own niche. Pinker approaches the question from the structure of the brain, and the structure of language itself. McWhorter is a linguist; he talks about how languages are put together.

Lieberman and Burling occupy themselves with the evolutionary question. How did language come about? Their works complement each other quite nicely. Lieberman examines the physiological changes that were required in the evolution of the sound production mechanism that is so unique and so characterizes Homo sapiens. Burling approaches the same question from a linguist's perspective. How could language of all in such a way that each step represented an evolutionary advantage over the prior step, but yet the overall result was a qualitative leap which he says went from analog to digital communications.

Burling advances a number of large theories. The kinds of theories that would be impossible to prove given the fact that speech leaves no historical record, and even the archaeological record of the evolution of the speech apparatus is fairly spotty.

He proposes that the evolution of language was driven by listening and perception rather than production. The ability to produce speech would have been worthless unless it was paired with listeners capable of interpreting it. Conversely, superior ability to understand utterances of other members of a social group would always be advantageous to the animal possessed of that ability. This ties in quite well with Lieberman's timeline for the development of the human speech apparatus.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Lieberman's book is concise, well-written, and fascinating. While the book may be intended for a popular audience, some knowledge of basic anatomy and neuroscience is necessary in order to fully appreciate his ideas. The organization of topics is refreshingly casual, unsuitable for textbook writing, but perfectly appropriate for this particular work. A quick, enjoyable, and informative read. Great preparation for a cocktail party.
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6 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Given how short this book is, it's surprising how poorly organized it is. There's a lot of interesting information in here but the job of turning Lieberman's incoherence into a reasoned thesis is left entirely up to the reader. This is really a shame, since some of Lieberman's arguments and cited studies really are interesting -- but in that sense _Eve Spoke_ is more of a limited reference tool than a book. I've read this book twice, and the content is still pretty fuzzy. I'm just thankful it wasn't assigned reading, as taking notes for this must be a nightmare.

In short: decent writing, useful material, terrible organization. Definitely a library read.
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4 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Philip Lieberman tries desperatly to make this book accessible and ultimately fails. Although his knowledge is extensive and most likely fascinating under other circumstances , I found his "proof" so extremely unorganized and out of place , that I ultimately stopped caring . All 151 pages of this book were pure torture .
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