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Origins of Language: A Slim Guide (Oxford Linguistics) 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0198701880
ISBN-10: 0198701888
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Editorial Reviews

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"This short guide to modern empirical research on language evolution provides a breezy and readable introduction to the many issues involved in understanding how humans came to possess one of our most prized capacities: our ability to acquire and use language." -- Tecumseh Fitch, University of Vienna


"Jim Hurford has produced a work of stunning depth and breadth, expertly condensed in this slim guide. These are notoriously difficult questions: How did the capacity for language evolve in the deep history of our species? How do different languages evolve in the more recent histories of our societies? Hurford is one of the few scholars with the authority and interdisciplinary reach to give us compelling and plausible answers. The Origins of Language is a rare achievement, and highly recommended." -- N. J. Enfield, Max Planck Institute, Nijmegen, and University of Sydney


"Hurford has written a delightful little book, an ideal point of entry into the range of complex issues facing anyone that wants to understand how human language evolved. Darwin himself would have cherished this guide." -- Cedric Boeckx, ICREA/Universitat de Barcelona


"No one has thought more deeply about the evolution of the human language faculty than James Hurford, and no one writes about the topic more engagingly. In this book he explains and synthesizes the most important findings concerning language evolution from across a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including linguistics, biology, ethology, psychology, and cognitive science. His writing is always grounded in evidence-based argumentation, yet is informative and clear for the non-specialist reader. To introduce in such a short work all the major aspects of the evolution of language from the beginnings of a special human type of communication to the emergence of sound systems, through meaning to symbolic words to sentence structure is an impressive feat. To make it not only thorough but thoroughly readable is a real achievement. A lovely little book: great fun, cogent, and scientifically solid." -- Maggie Tallerman, Newcastle University


About the Author


James R. Hurford, Emeritus Professor, University of Edinburgh

James R. Hurford is Emeritus Professor at the University of Edinburgh, where he was previously Professor of General Linguistics from 1979 until his retirement in 2009. Over the last 25 years he has pioneered the rebirth of serious scientific interest in the origins and evolution of language. He co-founded with Chris Knight the biennial international conferences on the evolution of language (known as EVOLANG), with Simon Kirby the Language Evolution and Computation Research Unit at the University of Edinburgh, and with Kathleen Gibson the OUP series on language evolution. His previous publications include The Origins of Meaning (OUP 2007) and The Origins of Grammar (OUP 2011).
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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford Linguistics
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 6, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198701888
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198701880
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 0.5 x 5.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,924 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've read some of Jim Hurford's more technical work, but this updated summary is an excellent survey of the main advances in understanding how biological and cultural evolution may have led to the linguistic structures and linguistic variation we see now. This book has a clear point of view that nothing in language makes sense except in the light of evolution (to gloss ‎Dobzhansky). That this point of view may still be controversial in some theoretical linguistics circles is a sad artifact of the anti-empirical turn of much of academic linguistics in the last 50 years. The many nuggets in this book, from the evolution of the vocal tract to the perceptual basis for linguistic semantics are convincing evidence that much that is mysterious in phonology, syntax, and semantics in isolation becomes less puzzling seen as emergent from evolving bodies and brains interacting with evolving societies.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I appreciated the "not overly scholarly" style of the book, and the subject matter itself is fascinating. I also like that the author did not try conclude more than is possible given what is known. As the chapters moved from one to the next, a picture emerged as to the factors and possible course language development in humans proceeded; I could feel a building towards a final chapter which wrapped-up the information and offered some final words. Like some other reviewer mentioned, this is really the only place where the book disappointed, and really in a big way; the book just ends. Even the last paragraph of the last chapter reads just like any other in the book, and hen it is over. (There are recommendations for further reading.)

I really hope the author would consider a "closing" of the book, and final chapter, thoughts about further research and just a parting word.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book is very informative, and easy to read.
But:
1. It lacks a final chapter summarizing everything.
2. It finishes abruptly; its last paragraph is about Umlauting in German!
3. It says nothing about recursion.
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An exceptionally clear, informative, and comprehensive review of central issues involving evolutionary sciences which address the emergence of human cognition, behavior and of course language. It covers diverse topics in evolution of natural language, its cognitive and primate antecedents as well as topics involving emergence of speech.
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