The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention

The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention

Hardback

By (author) Guy Deutscher

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Paperback $13.72
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books
  • Format: Hardback | 358 pages
  • Dimensions: 163mm x 248mm x 30mm | 662g
  • Publication date: 1 June 2005
  • ISBN 10: 0805079076
  • ISBN 13: 9780805079074
  • Sales rank: 1,640,325

Product description

Blending the spirit of Eats, Shoots & Leaves with the science of The Language Instinct, an original inquiry into the development of that most essential-and mysterious-of human creations: LanguageLanguage is mankind's greatest invention-except, of course, that it was never invented." So begins linguist Guy Deutscher's enthralling investigation into the genesis and evolution of language. If we started off with rudimentary utterances on the level of "man throw spear," how did we end up with sophisticated grammars, enormous vocabularies, and intricately nuanced degrees of meaning?Drawing on recent groundbreaking discoveries in modern linguistics, Deutscher exposes the elusive forces of creation at work in human communication, giving us fresh insight into how language emerges, evolves, and decays. He traces the evolution of linguistic complexity from an early "Me Tarzan" stage to such elaborate single-word constructions as the Turkish sehirlilestiremediklerimizdensiniz ("you are one of those whom we couldn't turn into a town dweller"). Arguing that destruction and creation in language are intimately entwined, Deutscher shows how these processes are continuously in operation, generating new words, new structures, and new meanings.As entertaining as it is erudite, The Unfolding of Language moves nimbly from ancient Babylonian to American idiom, from the central role of metaphor to the staggering triumph of design that is the Semitic verb, to tell the dramatic story and explain the genius behind a uniquely human faculty. Born in Israel in 1969, Guy Deutscher studied mathematics and earned a Ph.D. in linguistics at the University of Cambridge, where he became a research fellow in 1998. A widely acclaimed scholar of ancient Semitic languages, Deutscher is at the University of Leiden in Holland. Coming in paperback in May 2006 "Language is mankind's greatest invention—except, of course, that it was never invented." So begins linguist Guy Deutscher's enthralling investigation into the genesis and evolution of language. If we started off with rudimentary utterances on the level of "man throw spear," how did we end up with sophisticated grammars, enormous vocabularies, and intricately nuanced degrees of meaning? Drawing on recent groundbreaking discoveries in modern linguistics, Deutscher exposes the elusive forces of creation at work in human communication, giving us fresh insight into how language emerges, evolves, and decays. He traces the evolution of linguistic complexity from an early "Me Tarzan" stage to such elaborate single-word constructions as the Turkish sehirlilestiremediklerimizdensiniz ("you are one of those whom we couldn't turn into a town dweller"). Arguing that destruction and creation in language are intimately entwined, Deutscher shows how these processes are continuously in operation, generating new words, new structures, and new meanings. "A lively and thought-provoking exploration of why language change appears to be haphazard yet is fundamentally orderly. Exciting, witty, and a masterpiece of contemporary scholarship."—Elizabeth Closs Traugott, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and English, Stanford University "Any curious reader . . . will find something worth knowing in The Unfolding of Language."—Jan Freeman, The Boston Globe "A lively and thought-provoking exploration of why language change appears to be haphazard yet is fundamentally orderly. Exciting, witty, and a masterpiece of contemporary scholarship."—Elizabeth Closs Traugott, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and English, Stanford University "At last, an entertaining and readable book that presents the most current views on language and its evolution."—Joan Bybee, Professor of Linguistics, University of New Mexico "Thoroughly enjoyable . . . Deutscher is an erudite and entertaining guide through the paradoxes and complexities of language evolution."—Gene Gragg, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, University of Chicago "Languages are constantly changing—being endlessly reinvented and reworked by the people who use them. In his compelling new book, The Unfolding of Language, Guy Deutscher argues that the same simple processes that underlie the rich and dynamic variety of modern human languages can also explain the initial emergence of complex language from its primitive beginnings. Deutscher illuminates his absorbing analysis of humanity's 'greatest invention' with a detailed investigation of what he identifies as the three main forces of change: economy, expressiveness and analogy. The majority of the book consists of a captivating journey through linguistic history, as Deutscher illustrates these simple forces of change with numerous interesting examples from many different languages, both ancient and modern, familiar and exotic. In doing so, he explains such divergent linguistic phenomena as the development of case endings, how prepositions are created from words for parts of the body and, most impressively, the gradual evolution of the spectacular complexity of the Semitic verbal system. The Unfolding of Language is a stimulating, informative and immensely readable account of language change and evolution, which will appeal both to the professional linguist and to those interested in understanding more about why language is the way it is. Although he occasionally strays into a self-consciously erudite style of humor, Deutscher's writing is admirably accessible, and his enthusiasm for his subject is unmistakable and infectious. He has produced a fascinating book, which argues lucidly and persuasively that we can explain the remote history of language by understanding its recent past and its ongoing evolution."—Andrew D. M. Smith, American Scientist "The Unfolding of Language provides a thoroughly readable, popular-science style discussion of the evolution of language. Deutscher's central thesis is that the same processes of destruction and creation which account for attested change in language can also provide an explanation for the origins of linguistic structure . . . This is an extremely enjoyable book to read . . . It is not just an entertaining read, however, tackling as it does some complex subject matter in a manner which is always enthusiastic, always engaging, and ultimately, always understandable. The topics covered in chapters 1-5 may be fairly standard historical linguistics fare, but the wit and clarity of their exposition make this book worth a look for these alone . . . The chapters 'This Marvellous Invention' and 'The Unfolding of Language', where Deutscher tackles the origins of linguistic structure, make the book. These chapters broaden the scope of the book beyond the traditional confines of historical linguistics to deal with a question which will, I imagine, excite the imaginations of a wide readership . . . An excellent book."—Kenny Smith, Linguist List "Learning about the forces and processes involved in language evolution can be spine-tingling, and Deutscher packs The Unfolding of Language with thrill-rides such as a description of how the wearing away of complex forms (e.g., case endings in English) leads ultimately to new, if different, complexity; an explanation of why the ability to employ metaphor was essential to the development of language; a history lesson on how every generation—going back thousand

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