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Finding Our Tongues: Mothers, Infants, and the Origins of Language Hardcover – March 17, 2009


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Finding Our Tongues: Mothers, Infants, and the Origins of Language + The Anthropology of Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (March 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465002196
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465002191
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,186,136 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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The book is a page turner but is very sound science.
Theron Stimmel
Even if one focuses on grammatical issues in language development, it is useful to be aware of the broad view of evolving human nature that Falk presents.
William Murdick
Having read this book I find myself hearing babies cry in a totally different way.
A. E. Davis

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A. E. Davis on April 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Finding our Tongues" is an exceptionally well written, informative and entertaining work - a fast read that I couldn't put down. I have spent a significant amount of time studying Spanish in the past 6 months and as a result I experienced several Ah-Ha moments while reading Falk's explanation of the stages of acquiring language. I was inspired by the way that the author pulled together evidence from many disciplines and knitted it all together to support her thesis that the evolution of language was driven by the interactions between mothers and infants and the need to "put the baby down". This would be an excellent book for anyone who has or is planning on having children and who would like to understand the stages of language acquisition. Having read this book I find myself hearing babies cry in a totally different way. If you are interested in the evolution of language, music, art or child development you must read this book!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By William Murdick on May 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover
When linguists think about the origins of human language, they are really interested in the origins of grammar. How did grammar come about? For instance, when and why did early people stop naming actual things and start using nouns, like tree and rock, more powerfully as abstract categories with no reference to anything specific in the natural world. At that point a grammatical system, syntax, would be needed to refer to a specific tree or rock, perhaps one not visible at the moment.

Dr. Falk, as an evolutionary anthropologist, approaches the subject of language origin from a different (though complementary) perspective. She is interested, for example, in why humans would communicate with each other at all. How did such an impulse evolve? What is the connection between human messages and human nature? What role did mothering and infant needs play? Out of what other forms of communication, such as gestures and music, might the complex verbal system have taken its cues? Even if one focuses on grammatical issues in language development, it is useful to be aware of the broad view of evolving human nature that Falk presents. And beyond that, her book is a great read, page after page filled with fascinating bits of information about everyone's favorite topic--ourselves.

--Dr. William Murdick, author of "What English Teachers Need to Know about Grammar"
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Librum VINE VOICE on June 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
To hear DF tell it, language, music, and the arts all trace to a single event in hominin evolution: the 'moment' that mothers put their babies down. The reasoning vis-a-vis language evolution is as follows: bipedalism entailed (for various well-established physiological reasons) mothers giving birth to weak offspring which, unlike their quadrupedal primate ancestors/cousins, were not able to cling to their chests/backs --> bipedal mothers devised slings for carrying their infants about --> certain activities (food gathering, etc.) required/made it more convenient for mothers to put their babies down from time to time, and certain social arrangements facilitated their doing so (by ensuring their infants' physical well being) --> having been put down, babies cried out in distress --> mothers responded with soothing sounds (cooing, etc.) --> such sounds evolved into a kind of proto-motherese --> ...(?) --> language.

It's a compelling hypothesis. The problem, though, is that there's no evidence for it. DF does a good job of establishing the relationship between motherese and language-learning in the context of an established linguistic environment. The chapters she devotes to this linkage are quite interesting. But her account of the origins of motherese and of its role in the origins and evolution of language are pure, albeit educated, speculation. It may be true that putting babies down was language's 'big bang' moment. But how can we ever know that? DF presents her speculations as though they were faites accomplis. They are not. In her scholarly writing, I assume DF exercises due scientific caution in presenting evidence and forwarding hypotheses.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on May 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Science, social science and language libraries alike at the high school to college levels will appreciate FINDING OUR TONGUES: MOTHERS, INFANTS & THE ORIGINS OF LANGUAGE. It provides a new theory of communication: that parents all over the world in all cultures use 'baby talk' to communicate with their children, and that it's this language that formed the foundation of human language. His discussion of 'motherese' is a delightful piece of original research.
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