- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Liveright; 1 edition (November 7, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0871407957
- ISBN-13: 978-0871407955
- Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
How Language Began: The Story of Humanity's Greatest Invention 1st Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
“Very few books on the biological and cultural origin of humanity can be ranked as classics. I believe that Daniel L. Everett’s How Language Began will be one of them.”
- Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University
“When I first became interested in cultural evolution, cognitive revolutionaries would say that Noam Chomsky had proved that an innate language acquisition device was the key to linguistics. Daniel Everett is a leader of the counterrevolution that is putting culture and cultural evolution back at the center of linguistics, and cognition more generally, where I think it belongs. How Language Began is an accessible account of the case for a culture-centered theory of language.”
- Peter Richerson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California Davis
“Moving far outside historical linguistics, Everett credits Homo erectus with having invented language nearly two million years ago. This communicative invention came not―in Everett’s view―in one revolutionary breakthrough but, instead, at the slow pace typical of evolution, as early hominids gradually organized themselves in ever-more-complex social groupings, eventually learning to fashion culturally weighted symbols and then to manipulate such symbols in communicative strings, so setting the evolutionary stage for the planet’s only loquacious species: Homo sapiens. . . . Certain to spark that liveliest form of language―debate!”
- Bryce Christensen, Booklist
“[Everett] mixes esoteric scholarly inquiry with approachable anecdotal interludes to surmise how humans developed written and spoken language and why it became vital for survival and dominance. As in his previous books, Everett energetically attacks the long-accepted theory of Noam Chomsky that humans are born with the language instinct, including innate rules of structure....That Everett is skilled at leavening an intellectually challenging treatise with humor is evident on the first page of the introduction.”
- Kirkus Reviews
“Provocative and ambitious. . . . Applying semantics, linguistic theory, cultural history, and popular culture, [Everett] makes a convincing case for the multimodal nature of language--a phenomenon that engages 'the whole person--intellectual emotions, hands, mouth, tongue, brain.' . . . This volume will be of interest to linguists, cultural critics, and anthropologists as well as informed readers interested in the evolution of language.”
- Herbert E. Shapiro, Library Journal
“How Language Began occupies a rare literary space that explains complex issues clearly to general readers while being an original contribution to scholarship...the arguments he marshals and insights he provides are impressive...anyone interested in language would gain from reading this book.”
- Oliver Kamm, Times
“Ambitious...the subject-matter is completely enthralling...Everett is at the very top of his intellectual game.”
- Harry Ritchie, Spectator
“Important and fascinating.”
- Adrian Woolfson, Prospect
About the Author
Daniel L. Everett is the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Bentley University. He has published over 100 articles and twelve books on linguistic theory, including Dark Matter of the Mind: The Culturally Articulated Unconscious. He lives in Petersham, Massachusetts.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
On the cautionary side, Everett talks about a lot of other researchers and contributors by name and is not shy about is praise for and qualms or issues about their work. He can be a little prickly at times, but I think that is a good thing. Everett's style strikes me as being a much more honest than leaving the reader to try and read between the lines.
I do take issue with his categorical denial of any correlations between the way the brain and computers work, although even in this his arguments are quite cogent. It's just that he doesn't know the machines as well as he thinks he does, and there are two very clear and quite interesting strong parallels between the way the brain works (or doesn't work) and the way the machines perform. Those deal with plasticity and the interesting parallel between the functions of REM sleep and stored data management, and the consequences that flow from depriving either the brain from REM sleep or a stored data environment from routine organizational maintenance. They are strikingly similar. I think that if he knew about those two aspects of the machine world he would be pleasantly surprised. That said, if you are interested in the never ending search for insight into how we became what we are you will thoroughly enjoy this book.
I can't take seriously the idea of a language acquisition device, especially one that supposedly arose as the result of a single mutation. Something that complex would need internal parts. Just like the eye couldn't evolve all at once, neither could the ability to communicate using a fully recursive language. In his book The Blank Slate, Chomsky's colleague Steven Pinker makes the case that the brain has genetically programmed primitives. But a primitive in the brain should not have a complex internal structure, like the eye. If it does, then it isn't a primitive and couldn't have evolved all at once. The level is wrong.
Language requires the ability to serialize and de-serialize thought, with the side effect of increasing the complexity of thought. Our main channel of language communication, vocalization, is serial. The ability to convert back and forth between the webbiness of thought and the one word after another nature of speech gives our species its biggest advantage. Communication is the purpose and function of language. Everett is right to shift the focus of language study back to communication. It is how we transmit our thoughts to one another.
That doesn't mean that I agree with everything in the book. His brief screed against computer modeling of language is silly. He dismisses it because the brain is not a computer. Of course not. The brain is a network. Neurons are computers, not the brain. Artificial brains will be computer networks or will at least simulate them. His Dreyfus-like insistence on embodiment may end up being correct, but that remains to be seen. His point that human languages do not really permit unlimited recursion doesn't mean that humans don't use it, merely that the brain provides a stack of limited size.
I would like to see a dialect of English using a merge-less sub-grammar of standard English, call it EnG1ish. Maybe the second edition of the book could include a chapter in parallel format, with EnG1ish on the left page and the equivalent standard English on the right. While the existence of a small number of very marginal languages in tiny language communities might make a nice theoretical rebuttal to the view that the grammar of a true language must be recursive, an extended example in a language that everyone can read would wipe it off the map.
The Chomsky revolution has run its course. It is time for the next generation of upstarts to disrupt the study of language. I toast the idea that this book is a launching point for the next band of rebels.