From Publishers Weekly
The origins of language, says anthropologist Falk (Braindance
), lie deep in the past, long before Homo sapiens
appeared on earth, when some baby hominids lost the common primate ability to cling to mothers with both hands and feet. Mother would have to put baby down to be able to forage for food. This behavior, suggests Falk, led to the creation of calls so that a mother and her baby could know that the other was nearby. Falk claims these calls led not only to language but also to the creation of music, through the inflections of the mother-baby calls, and to pictorial art, as babies drew in the dirt. Despite Falk's evidence, readers may find it a stretch that language, music and art all developed from putting the baby down (with dad nowhere in the picture). The author seems weak on basic principles of linguistics, for which she has to quote an anthropologist friend, and music, where her understanding of interval patterns is at a very basic level. Nonetheless, readers interested in language acquisition may find Falk's hypothesis thought provoking. (Mar.)
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Far more than soothing nonsense, the baby talk a mother coos to her infant provides Falk with a key for explaining the origin of language. This explanation focuses not—as other theorists’ speculations have—on the evolution of speech since the emergence of Homo sapiens. Instead, Falk highlights the much earlier evolutionary pressures under which he believes protolanguage must have emerged, as newly bipedal female hominids began giving birth to smaller infants and caring for their offspring for an extended period. During this prolonged period of maternal nurturance, Falk theorizes, hominid mothers developed a revolutionary mode of expression—pacifying, protective, and educational—for communicating with their babies. And just as twenty-first-century linguists are discovering how baby talk (“motherese”) helps children learn to speak, even so Falk argues that prehistoric motherese catalyzed the psycholinguistic transformation that eventually endowed the species with words. This provocative hypothesis even opens up new perspectives on the beginnings of music and art, linked in surprising ways to the mother-infant bond. A conjecture certain to stir debate. --Bryce Christensen