- Series: P.S.
- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (January 3, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060845503
- ISBN-13: 978-0060845506
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (197 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal (P.S.) 1st Edition
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Jared Diamond states the theme of his book up-front: "How the human species changed, within a short time, from just another species of big mammal to a world conqueror; and how we acquired the capacity to reverse all that progress overnight." The Third Chimpanzee is, in many ways, a prequel to Diamond's prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel. While Guns examines "the fates of human societies," this work surveys the longer sweep of human evolution, from our origin as just another chimpanzee a few million years ago. Diamond writes:
It's obvious that humans are unlike all animals. It's also obvious that we're a species of big mammal down to the minutest details of our anatomy and our molecules. That contradiction is the most fascinating feature of the human species.
The chapters in The Third Chimpanzee on the oddities of human reproductive biology were later expanded in Why Is Sex Fun? Here, they're linked to Diamond's views of human psychology and history.
Diamond is officially a physiologist at UCLA medical school, but he's also one of the best birdwatchers in the world. The current scientific consensus that "primitive" humans created ecological catastrophes in the Pacific islands, Australia, and the New World owes a great deal to his fieldwork and insight. In Diamond's view, the current global ecological crisis isn't due to modern technology per se, but to basic weaknesses in human nature. But, he says, "I'm cautiously optimistic. If we will learn from our past that I have traced, our own future may yet prove brighter than that of the other two chimpanzees." --Mary Ellen Curtin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Research biologist (Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands) Diamond argues that the human being is just a third species of chimpanzee but nevertheless a unique animal essentially due to its capacity for innovation, which caused a great leap forward in hominoid evolution. After stressing the significance of spoken language, along with art and technology, Diamond focuses on the self-destructive propensities of our species to kill each other (genocide and drug abuse) and to destroy the environment (mass extinctions). He also discusses human sexuality, geographic variability, and ramifications of agriculture (metallurgy, cultivated plants, and domesticated animals). Absent from Diamond's work is the role religion plays in causing both war and the population explosion as well as long-range speculations on the future of our species. This informative, most fascinating, and very readable book is highly recommended for all libraries.
- H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, N.Y.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I have given his discussion of human language three stars because of its over reliance on English, or languages like English, as "the" default language of all languages. (To understand my criticism, I will need to give some "grammar" explanations below. Please bear with me.)
We get a hint of this dependence on mainly European languages on page 56, where he refers to our ability to "perfect" language with such things as "word order and case endings and tenses." Tenses refer to the way we change verbs to refer to different times and conditions in time, the so-called present, past, and future. For example, in English we say "I go," "I went," "I will go". For many verbs in English, we mark the past tense by adding -ed at the end. (In British English, some verbs add a final -t, like "learnt".) Many languages have this kind of verb changing feature, as anyone who has studied French, German, or Spanish knows. But not all languages note time by changing or marking the verb. Chinese and Vietnamese, for example, do not, and they get along quite nicely without them.
The second item Diamond notes are case endings; these refer mainly to the way languages mark things like who the speaker is, who receives something, who owns something, and so on. It's funny Diamond should select case endings as an example of "perfecting" a language, because English has all but eliminated them in the last 500 years. The closest we have are pronouns like I, me, my, and mine.
As for word order, over 90% of the world's languages that have been studied have a dominant word order, but about 10% do not. The word order of English, Subject-Verb-Object (SVO), can be found in about 40% of languages. (SVO example: She reads the newspaper in the morning.) Slightly more languages put the verb at the end (SOV). Japanese and Korean are examples of that word order.
On page 153, Diamond goes on to add things like "prefixes, suffixes, and changes in word roots" to his list of what he thinks make up "grammar."
Given that so many languages do NOT fit Diamond's prescription for "perfected" human languages, we have to wonder how he could have made the assumptions about language that he did. We get a clue on page 155 where he speaks of his encounter with Fore, a "deliciously complex" language spoken on New Guinea. From page 156, though, we discover that his encounter with "creole" and "pidgin" languages were what convinced him that English was the paradigm. Actually, he got his idea from Derek Bickerton, a student of Noam Chomsky who took Chomsky's idea of "universal grammar" to mean a single, default setting for all languages, the way English is the "default" setting of Microsoft Word. Bickerton came to his conclusion after studying a language that grew up in Hawaii during the late 19th century when workers in the cane fields and pineapple fields from many different countries had to work out a way to communicate with each other. What they came up with was a "pidgin," a simplified language that took bits from here and there. Later, their children made it into a working language with its own definite structure. Diamond, following Bickerton, believed that because the rich, white, English-speaking owners of the plantations didn't mix with the farm laborers it would have been impossible for the children to have acquired or picked up the English pattern of SVO. Yet, they came up this word order! Amazing. How could it have happened?
According to Diamond/Bickerton, all languages are basically SVO, and anything else is a variation on that. Unfortunately, such a thesis doesn't explain how the largest group of languages in the world are SOV, and not SVO. A closer look at the languages that the children's parents spoke gives a more likely explanation: Enough workers already spoke an SVO language to begin with, languages like Portuguese, Spanish, and Chinese. It is also not impossible for the kids growing up to have become familiar with English.
Although Diamond says he doesn't "want to exaggerate" and imply that creoles are all "essentially the same" (page 162), he does just that in the following pages. Most damning is his argument that "creoles derived from languages with a different word order...use the subject-verb-object order" (163). When I first read this, I scribbled in the margin, "Name one." He doesn't. And there don't seem to be any. As linguist Asya Pereltsvaig writes, "[We] know of no [spoken] creole whose substrate and superstrate languages were both non-SVO" (Languages of the World, page 241).
[However, see Pereltsvaig's book (page 244) for a discussion of a sign language developed in Nicaragua that seems to support Bickerton's argument. Languages of the World is available on Amazon.]
Turning real languages on their head and making SVO creole languages the "default," Diamond then goes on to bumble around with preposterous claims about English, including that of his own children! His first stumble comes when he discusses questions. True, many languages do not change word order when they ask a question (page 164). For example, "You want juice" can be a statement about what you want, and it can also be a question, "You want juice?" Although we often change word order, English can use the same structure. We accomplish this by changing our sentence intonation--our voice goes up at the end. According to Diamond, English "does not treat questions in this way." But, as I have just shown, we do. We do it all the time. True, we have other ways of asking questions--"Do you want juice?"--but we are not limited by some rule of school boy grammar that Diamond thinks we slavishly follow.
Diamond isn't satisfied with that example. He gives us next, "Where are you?" This, he says, inverts the subject and the verb. But it does much more than that: It puts the "object" at the start of the sentence, turning it into OSV! He contrasts "Where are you?" with "Where you are?", some imaginary language, I guess. Take real languages like Chinese and Vietnamese. They don't put the "where" up front. They put it at the end: "You are where." Now, any simpleton can comprehend this as a question, but just for confirmation those two languages can add a "question" particle at the end.
As it turns out, English also has "where you are," but it's not a question. It's a subordinate clause. For instance, your friend/child calls you to pick them up but there's too much noise on the other end when they say where they are. Instead of asking "where are you?" you can say, "Sorry, I can't hear where you are. Say it again." Here, the clause "where you are" is an OSV clause that serves as the "object" of the main verb.
I hope readers are not too annoyed by all this minute grammar talk, but it just goes to show that English is really complex and can accomplish many communicative purposes in a number of ways. Yet all languages have such power.
To sum up, my point in this review is that Diamond has greatly over simplified matters through an over reliance on a poorly attested hypothesis. There really is no good ground for trying to make all of the world's languages subordinate to English--or, one step removed, "the creole word order." The SVO order of creole languages is largely influenced by the membership of an SVO language in the mix. In the last four or five hundred years of European colonialism, it would be a surprise if creoles did not form using this major option. To the list of Guns, Germs, and Steel, we should add language.
NOTE: Early in the book, Diamond makes an argument as to why humans and neanderthals could not have interbred. However, since this book was written (1990's), DNA evidence has proven that humans did breed with neanderthals.
I have to say undoubtedly yes. This book, like the more recent ones, proposes answers to some of the biggest questions about humanity. Thus, even though the book is outdated, The Third Chimpanzee is great at both asking the important questions and explaining a process for answering them. The book covers everything from human language, sexuality, drinking, agriculture, and geopolitics through the analytical lens of evolutionary science. Thus, Diamond finds more interesting (and probably accurate) answers than those of philosophers, anthropologists, and political scientists addressing those same questions.
Another benefit of this book is that it is actually broader in scope than Diamond's more recent books. The latter chapters of the book deal with the same subjects as Guns, Germs, and Steel (why some civilizations grew rapidly) and Collapse (how civilization risks its existence through ecological destruction). However, the first half of the book, deals with different topics, from evolutionary explanations for alcoholism to why humans have sex in private. In fact, if you only have time to read one of Diamond's book, I recommend The Third Chimpanzee as it includes a broader range.
This addition of the book also includes a useful postscript which addresses some of the advances in our understanding of these topics since the book was first written.