Language Evolution

Language Evolution

Yesterday I finished reading Language Evolution by Morten H. Christiansen and Simon Kirby. The book contains 17 chapters written by scholars from a range of fields, including archaeology, biology, cognitive science, linguistics, neuroscience and psychology, and discusses the latest theories and current controversies in the field of language origins and evolution.

It’s very interesting and I’d certainly recommend it. However, quite a few of the chapters contradict previous ones or seek to prove them wrong, and by the time I’d finished it, I wasn’t at all sure which of many theories to believe.

They’re definitely a lot more sophisticated than the old bow-wow, ding-dong and yo-he-ho theories, which suggest that we got language by imitating animal noises or other natural sounds; that language began as instinctive responses to stimuli; or that it began as a way to facilitate cooperative labour.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
This entry was posted in Evolution, Language.

0 Responses to Language Evolution

  1. Jane says:

    Is this a book that would be accessible to a linguistics layman?

    I’m a writer by profession, I’m fairly proficient in a few languages, and my undergrad degree was in anthropology; I love reading popular scientific texts about about cultural evolution (Jared Diamond’s work, for example), and want to learn more about the evolution of language / languages. However, I’m (obviously) not a linguist or academic.

    If this book wouldn’t be appropriate for someone like me, can you recommend one that might be?

    In the meantime, I’m very happy to have found your blog!

  2. GeoffB says:

    Some books are written to dispense facts. Too many are written to make us think they’re dispensing facts when they’re handing down opinion. And then there are those that make us part of the conversation about questions that aren’t yet actually solved or settled. These are the best books for truly learning, because you have to think, not just take notes. By reading against the grain – having an imaginary conversation with the author where you challenge his points and decide where you are and aren’t convinced, rather than trying to master his mindset – you can have a richer experience of reading and learning. It was good of the editors to offer a work exploring multiple viewpoints, instead of directing you toward one viewpoint, so that you would be forced to challenge the authors, at least in light of what other authors said. Now that you’ve read the whole thing, if you feel it’s worth it, it would be good to go back and re-read it. You might be surprised at how much you’ve learned and how much of it goes together in light of your fuller perspective.

  3. Simon says:

    Jane – this book is accessible to the linguistics layman, though I found a few chapters – the ones going into neurology and computational modelling particularly, quite heavy going.

    A few other books about language origins and evolution that I would recommend are listed in my book store here, here and also here

  4. Kwill says:

    A very readable (and recent book) on language evolution, in particular, is Christine Keannelly’s “The First Word” – it explores the topic of language evolution in terms eminently suitable for the layperson and was a highly enjoyable read for me.