- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Metropolitan Books (June 1, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805079076
- ISBN-13: 978-0805079074
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #953,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention 0th Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Using language himself in a lively and engaging way, Deutscher, an expert in Semitic languages at the University of Leiden in Holland, identifies two principles—the desire to create order out of chaotic reality, and the urge to vary the sounds of words and their meanings—providing the direction by which language developed and continues to develop. Rather than search for the prehistoric moment when speech originated, Deutscher says we can most profitably understand the phenomenon by taking the present as the key to the past. Using a wide array of examples, he delves into the back-formation of words (making a noun into a verb), the evolution of relative clauses from simple pointing words (that, this) and the turning of objects into nouns. On the question of whether language is innate, Deutscher takes a middle path, asserting that our brains are wired for basic language, but that linguistic complexity is brought about by cultural evolution. Deutscher's entertaining writing and his knack for telling a good tale about how words develop offer a delightful and charming story of language. (June 1)
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The linguistic chain that connects the boasts of an ancient Sumerian monarch to the jests of Groucho Marx is long and convoluted, but Deutscher retraces it, fascinating link by fascinating link, identifying the dynamic processes that have continuously transformed and renewed the world's diverse languages. Even when delving deeply into ancient manuscripts and temple engravings, Deutscher interprets every linguistic mutation as the consequence of evolutionary forces still observable in today's living languages. Readers see in linguistic fossils from Mesopotamia traces of the same conversion of living metaphor into conceptual lattice still taking place in modern English, German, and Indonesian. What Deutscher demonstrates most clearly is how linguistic structures that look like the product of deliberate artifice can emerge from entirely natural processes. Predictably, when he probes the linguistic developments before the advent of writing, the author must frequently substitute his own speculations for solid evidence. Entailing just enough technical detail to tempt readers into professional sources (listed at the book's conclusion), this introduction to fundamental linguistic principles opens to nonspecialists a rich theoretical vista. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
Chapter One: Castles In The Air, takes a close look at the structure of language, whilst the following chapter: Perpetual Motion, demonstrates linguistic development and change with particular reference to English, German, French and the Indo-European language family as a whole. Chapter Three: Forces Of Destruction, is a further investigation of how and why changes in sound and meaning take place, with many examples from Indo-European. Chapter Four examines interesting verbs like "To have/to hold" and the concepts of space and time in linguistic expression.
Chapter Five: Forces Of Creation, is a discussion of how new words and structures arise, how meanings change and how languages are enriched by these developments. Chapter Six looks at the need for order in languages and contains lots of interesting information on the Semitic family and its intricate verbal system. In essence, the effects of erosion interact with the mind's craving for order. There is thus a constant search for regular patterns and spontaneous analogical innovations arise. This is based on erosion + expressiveness and erosion + analogy.
The final chapter brings it all together and includes detailed discussions of possessives, quantifiers, plural markers, articles and the various interactions of verbs and nouns. This highly entertaining read is accessible to the non-linguist and explains many fascinating features of language and its structure. There are five appendices, copious notes, a bibliography and glossary of terms. The book concludes with an index.
I also recommend On The Origin Of Languages by Merritt Ruhlen, The Power of Babel by John McWhorter, How To Kill A Dragon by Calvert Watkins, and the work of that great pioneer of language classification, Professor Joseph Greenberg.