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The Talking Ape: How Language Evolved (Studies in the Evolution of Language): Robbins Burling
Oxford University Press, USA | ISBN: 0199279403 | 2005-11-01 | PDF (OCR) | 296 pages | 1.63 Mb
Humans never run out of things to say. We explain, we cajole, we gossip, and we flirt--all with the help of language. But how in the space of several million years did we evolve from an ordinary primate that that could not talk to the strange human primate that can't shut up? In this fascinating, thought-provoking book, Robbins Burling presents the most convincing account of the origins of language ever published, shedding new light on how speech affects the way we think, behave, and relate to each other, and offering us a deeper understanding of the nature of language itself. Burling argues that comprehension, rather than production, was the driving force behind the evolution of language--we could understand words before we could produce them. As he develops this insight, he investigates the first links between signs, sounds, and meanings and explores the beginnings of vocabulary and grammar. He explains what the earliest forms of communication are likely to have been, how they worked, and why they were deployed, suggesting that when language began it was probably much more dependent on words like "poke" or "whoosh," words whose sounds have a close association with what they refer to. Only gradually did language develop the immense vocabulary it has today. Burling also examines the qualities of mind and brain needed to support the operations of language and the selective advantages they offered those able to use them. Written in a crystal-clear style, constantly enlivened by flashes of wit and humor, here is the definitive account on the birth of language.
Simultaneously a study in evolution, language, the human psyche, and the challenges of intellectual rigor, this wonderful book is a thoughtful, thought-provoking, and even startling conversation about how we came to be the talking ape. While the book includes careful treatment (and frequent overturning) of competing theories and controversies within the discipline of linguistics, Burling moves deftly beyond them to work pragmatically at his subject for a general audience. He thinks crisply and writes enjoyably, and demonstrates fluency and fluidity handling a variety of topics in evolutionary theory. The topic overall, and this book in particular, offers much and will be a surprisingly rich exploration to the curious reader.