- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (March 17, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465002196
- ISBN-13: 978-0465002191
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,454,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Finding Our Tongues: Mothers, Infants, and the Origins of Language 1st Edition
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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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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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. Perhaps it is because FOT is a popular science book that she felt more at liberty to throw caution to the wind and present her speculations as fact. FOT has the whiff of tea-leaf reading dressed up as science. Why, otherwise, would the author repeatedly assert that "I believe..."
FOT is a collection of interesting facts that point towards one possible hypothesis about the origins and evolution of language (leaving aside music and art). It is an entertaining and thought-provoking read. However, less two stars for the author's seemingly cavalier attitude towards standards of evidence/proof. (Also, for sloppy editing. There is considerable redundancy in FOT. Moreover, explanatory footnotes frequently appear long after they should: e.g., "hominin" -- as opposed to "hominid" -- is first explained in a footnote after it has already made several appearances in the book.)
The part on language begins with a long description (giving many examples) of "motherese", the musical and simple way that mothers and caregivers talk with their babies. The author feels speech originated from the need to comfort and warn babies. Comfort was important since a crying baby could alert a predator. Oral warnings were needed once babies could no longer cling. Sleeping on the ground was not as safe as sleeping in trees and similarly needed warnings. There is some material on vocabulary development. There are chapters on music and the visual arts.
Research is cited and the Notes are extensive.
Perhaps I'm hard on this book by giving it 3 stars, but from its title and the blurb on the cover, I expected a lot more related to origination of speech and language.
Dr. Theron Stimmel, Author of Opera and the Psychology of Love