The Unfolding of Language

The Unfolding of Language

An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention

Book - 2005
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"Language is mankind's greatest invention--except, of course, that it was never invented." So begins linguist Deutscher's 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 discoveries in 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"). He shows how the processes of destruction and creation are continuously in operation, generating new words, new structures, and new meanings.--From publisher description.
Publisher: New York : Metropolitan Books, 2005
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780805079074
Branch Call Number: 401 D4896u 2005
Characteristics: 358 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm


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Jun 11, 2017

Fascinating information and insights. The book presents an interesting theory of language development and gives clear demonstrations of the different processes at work. I just put a hold on his 2010 book, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages.

If you already have some knowledge of the history of the English language, the first few chapters will be review. But I learned a lot about the linguistic methods of deducing earlier forms of words, even when there are no surviving records -- quite exciting.

The author's style was something I had to get past but this book is worth it. He seemed to be afraid that readers would be daunted by in-depth discussions of linguistics and quit reading, so he kept adding some cutesy humor to jolly us along. Toward the end of one chapter, he told readers that it would be okay to skip to the next chapter if we weren't up to reading one detailed discussion of Semitic languages. He also resorted to an unfortunate mechanism: pretending to report from a linguistics conference where a young linguistics professor presents a paper on this topic and then demolishes "straw-man" critics.

My advice to the author: trust your readers and your excellent material, and stick to straightforward writing.

SFPL_danielay Feb 29, 2016

Deutscher explains how language and grammatical structures evolve and changeover time. Well written and an entertaining read despite the sometimes difficult subject.

Feb 20, 2010

An excellent introduction to linguistics, this book explores language and its fluidity. The author chooses different styles and examples, infused with humor, to illustrate what could otherwise be dry concepts. I particularly enjoyed the fact that he looked at various languages and did not take a solely anglo-centric approach. Some chapters are longer than others, but all are instructive. The epilogue does a great job of recapitulating. It has even given me tools which I can concretely apply at work - invaluable!


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