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on December 30, 2013
This is one of the best and most exciting books I've ever read on language (I 'm not a professional, but I am a devotee). Deutscher's focus, as the title makes clear, is the way in which language could have emerged. This has to be speculative in part, since we are never going to find a fossil of the first noun. But Deutscher's approach is solid and convincing: he looks at the way languages grow and change at present, to deduce what may have happened in the past. In doing so, he considers the ways in which language itself could have emerged and why it may have evolved in certain ways. He does not focussing on the narrower issues of the emergence and development of specific lanquages, which is what most historical linguistics book I have read seem to do.

In addition to its fascinating subject matter and compelling research, this book is delightfully written. That's not a word I usually throw around in discussing books about language, many of which are written for an academic audience, and show it. But Deutcher is a lovely writer, which only reinforces my enthusiasm for this book. I like this book so much that I emailed the author to express my gratitude and appreciation. How often does one send fan mail to linquists?
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on July 29, 2013
Mr. Deutscher does the layman a great service in introducing us to some of the difficult ideas about the history of languages and their evolutionary development over the ages. He takes us far beyond the Grimm's law and explains highly technical notions in a way we can understand with a bit of effort. Much of the book is devoted to the question, "If languages seem to be getting simpler and simpler over time, what caused them to become complex to begin with?" The answer appears to lie in the analogy with earth geology's erosion and sedimentation.

The only thing I found lacking was a linkage to real world history, outside of the language context. That is, what was happening in the world while certain language developments were taking place. That must be the subject of another book.
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on May 2, 2015
A phenomenal book on the evolution of human language written with incredible wit and humor, as well as great erudition and intelligence. Highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning how and why language changes over the ages. As a speaker of both English and a Semitic language I found this book especially interesting as these are two language family groups that the author goes into a great deal of detail about. I would, however, have appreciated more references to the tonal languages of Asia as I know nothing of their grammar and wonder if this language family undergoes the same processes the Semitic and Indo-European languages do.
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on September 24, 2016
A short, speculative history of our greatest invention. In it, an explanation for all the complexities and irregularities of our languages. Cases, verb endings, semitic consonantal root system, it's all here. And it's all written with plenty of examples and witty asides. Really enjoyable to read!
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on May 20, 2009
Understandable, readable, but best of all, enjoyable explanation of the destructive and creative forces acting upon language. This book will convey you a "big picture" of how our present languages could have evolved into their present state and is mainly aimed at the interested layperson or at beginner students of linguistics, not for specialists (or maybe for those specialists that would like to read an overview of their science field from a humorful perspective).

The destruction of language structures, as well as the creation of new ones is explained with very illustrative examples taken fom a wide variety of languages and from different historic periods. (Other reviewers have already explained the involved forces). Most 20th/21st century linguists believe that the same forces that acted on prehistoric languages should be the same forces at play now, so by observing present (or at least more or less recent) language changes we should be able to understand the forces that shaped our current languages.

Creative changes are harder to observe than destructive ones, since it is easier to observe a present irregularity and look for its origin in the past (the action of a destructive force) than to look at something that looks regular now and imagine that sometime in the past it was irregular. Therefore, the only way to observe such creative processes is by noting an irregularity in some old text, which has somehow become regular in the present. This difficulty gave rise to the widespread idea among 19th century experts that language was only decaying. Although linguists have finally managed to observe some creative phenomena, these are not enough to compensate for the erosion that is evident in languages. Maybe written language and the existence of formal "grammar" and "ortography" are hindering or at least slowing down the creative processes. Linguists still do not know if this situation will lead us to a frightening erosion of meaning and structure in language (for example almost all noun cases existing in Proto-Indo-European, Latin and some Germanic languages are disappearing). Personally, I do not believe language will deteriorate to that point, since the very function of language (communicating meanings between individuals) would be threatened. Therefore, maybe we will reach some critical point and afterwards there will be a Cambric explosion of meaning and structure, it's a pity we will probably not witness this.
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on May 19, 2017
Wonderful and engaging book for those with an interest in Linguistics and no formal background in the topic.
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on March 11, 2011
This is a great book. For someone who doesn't have any formal education in language evolution but this book explains beautifully the evolution of even the hardest of the languages.
My favorite chapter is Chapter 5, in which a linguist explains how the chaos can create new and beautiful structures.
The only mistake, which I can forgive thanks to the quality of the rest of the book, is that the author repeats himself many times and it can get a bit tedious. Also, there are a couple of places in the book where you cannot discern what's the case the author is arguing for. Mainly at the end of the book.

Finally, a nitpick. As a spanish-speaker native, I'm a bit disapointed that spanish wasn't more used as an example through the book. This is the case, though, probably because French has most of the characteristics of spanish and even more quirks. One thing I would like for him to have explained, nevertheless, is the rise of the "Ser/Estar" verbs, which, at least in my limited experience, is not a common distinction.

But don't get discouraged by this nitpicking. Buy. This. Book.
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on August 19, 2016
Mr. Deutscher's book is beautifully written, presents very convincing evidence of the "Unfolding of Language', has very entertaining examples, and has changed my mind about the life of language. I can unequivocally recommend the book to anyone with the slightest interest in language. It should be required reading at least at the college level and, better, in high school.
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on May 5, 2014
This book was my first serious exploration of Linguistics after being introduced to the discipline in Anthropology class. It is clearly written and easy to follow. If it gets technical that is because the current topic is a complicated one and the author wants to be clear. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in learning how language came about, and how it changes over time. A must-have for any student of Linguistics.
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on May 14, 2017
I truly enjoyed it !
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