The Domestication of Language

The Domestication of Language : Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal

2.89 (9 ratings by Goodreads)
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Language did not evolve only in the distant past. Our shared understanding of the meanings of words is ever-changing, and we make conscious, rational decisions about which words to use and what to mean by them every day. Applying Charles Darwin's theory of "unconscious artificial selection" to the evolution of linguistic conventions, Daniel Cloud suggests a new, evolutionary explanation for the rich, complex, and continually reinvented meanings of our words. The choice of which words to use and in which sense to use them is both a "selection event" and an intentional decision, making Darwin's account of artificial selection a particularly compelling model of the evolution of words. After drawing an analogy between the theory of domestication offered by Darwin and the evolution of human languages and cultures, Cloud applies his analytical framework to the question of what makes humans unique and how they became that way. He incorporates insights from David Lewis's Convention, Brian Skyrms's Signals, and Kim Sterelny's Evolved Apprentice, all while emphasizing the role of deliberate human choice in the crafting of language over time.
His clever and intuitive model casts humans' cultural and linguistic evolution as an integrated, dynamic process, with results that reach into all corners of our private lives and public character.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 288 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 27.94mm | 544.31g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 023116792X
  • 9780231167925
  • 1,817,042

Table of contents

1. Where Do Words Come From? 2. The Conventions of a Human Language 3. The Evolution of Signals 4. Varieties of Biological Information 5. The Strange Case of the Chimpanzee 6. The Problem of Maladaptive Culture 7. The Cumulative Consequences of a Didactic Adaptation 8. Meaning, Interpretation, and Language Acquisition 9. What's Accomplished in Conversation? 10. Recapitulation and Moral References Index
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Review quote

The Domestication of Language brings an important new perspective to an extraordinarily difficult and important topic: the evolution of language. Language is the result of intelligence: an invented social and communicative technology, invented not by a Promethean genius, but multi-generationally by us all as we respond to and experiment in our specific situations. Over many generations, we have converted our original, wild, native endowment of communicative capacity to something new, special, and transforming. -- Kim Sterelny, Australian National University A superbly original book and an exciting piece of philosophy. Cloud builds a serious account of the evolution of language that recognizes the long and complex process that links the prior state (nothing like language at all) to the end state (language of the kinds now in existence) and that responds to the points of greatest difficulty in that process. -- Philip Kitcher, Columbia University Cloud has done much more than given us a 'just-so story' about the evolution of language. He has identified the real obstacles it had to surmount and creatively drawn on the best hard science to show how it overcame them. -- Alex Rosenberg, Duke University This stimulating and engaging book lucidly defends a remarkable proposal. Just as a breeder of honeybees makes choices that influence the evolution of domesticated bees, all of us-by choosing which words and practices to employ and which ones to scowl, chuckle, or roll our eyes at-actively influence the evolution of our language and culture. -- Adam Elga, Princeton University A tour de force. Drawing on recent work in the philosophy of language, evolutionary biology, and ethology, Daniel Cloud has fashioned a new account of the origins of our capacity for linguistic communication. Cloud's book is both a wonderfully readable introduction to the topic and a bold and original work of scholarship. Any attempt to reconstruct the origins of language will be speculative, but this is the best sort of speculation: rigorous, scientifically informed, strikingly imaginative, and utterly plausible. -- Gideon Rosen, Princeton University [The Domestication of Language] presents an intriguing new theory of cultural evolution. -- Nikhil Sonnad Quartz This serious piece of academic writing is a must-read for those working on the frontiers of the philosophy of language. Library Journal If you're into the evolution of language, you'll love The Domestication of Language. Farnam Street A bold hypothesis and a book worth reading... Recommended. Choice The book is tightly argued. It builds wonderfully on the work of others and offers realistic aspirations for futher research agendas in various disciplines. Metapsychology
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About Daniel Cloud

Daniel Cloud teaches philosophy at Princeton University. He is also the author of.The Lily: Evolution, Play, and the Power of a Free Society
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Rating details

9 ratings
2.89 out of 5 stars
5 11% (1)
4 22% (2)
3 33% (3)
2 11% (1)
1 22% (2)
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