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Human language is a weird communication system: it has more in common with birdsong than with the calls of other primates. Jean Aitchison explores the origins of human language and how it has evolved. She likens the search to a vast prehistoric jigsaw puzzle, in which numerous fragments of evidence must be assembled. Such evidence is pieced together from a mixture of linguistic and nonlinguistic sources such as evolution theory, archaeology, psychology, and anthropology. This is an accessible and wide-ranging introduction to the origins and evolution of human language.Read more
- Jean Aitchison has published widely on topics relating to human language and is well-known for her accessible, non-technical writing style; her books are widely read outside academia
- Huge interest in the origin and evolution of language; this book pulls together the evidence (linguistic, anthropological, psychological, sociological) more extensively than any other
- Pre-Canto edition of this book has sold well; publishing in Canto should widen readership still further
Reviews & endorsements
'We must be grateful to Jean Aitchison for so very readably assembling a good deal of recent work that might seem to hint at how language began … liberally peppered with fetching quotations from all manner of sources, ranging from the cartoon character Charlie Brown through Lewis Carroll to Jonathan Swift's satirical novel Gulliver's Travels … the author goes out of her way to offer a restful read to all comers.' The TimesSee more reviews
'… communicate[s] often quite complex ideas about language in a straightforward, intelligible, and often witty way … can be recommended to anyone with a curiosity about their language, where it came from, and how it reached its present state.' Child Language Teaching and Therapy
'She [Aitchison] carries her learning lightly and writes in a most comprehensible and often amusing way … I wished I had been able to ask the many questions that the book raised in my mind but that is an indication of Professor Aitchison's ability to make the reader think.' The Expository Times
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- Date Published: May 2000
- format: Paperback
- isbn: 9780521785716
- length: 296 pages
- dimensions: 213 x 137 x 15 mm
- weight: 0.41kg
- contains: 35 b/w illus. 5 maps 1 table
- availability: Available
Table of Contents
Part I. Puzzles:
1. A natural curiosity: how did language begin?
2. A peculiar habit: what is language for?
3. The bother at Babel: why do languages differ so much?
4. Distinct duties: is language an independent skill?
Part II. Origin:
5. The family tree: the evolutionary background
6. A devious mind: the basic requirements
7. Broken air: inherited ingredients
8. Small beginnings: first steps
Part III. Evolution:
9. The secong word: the emergence of rules
10. The tower of speech: expansion
11. Time travelling: extra attachments
12. Rebuilding on the high seas: keeping going
Part IV. Diffusion:
13. The widening circle: moving outwards
14. The hidden core: the hunt for universals
15. The real magician: ruling the rules
16. Unweaving the rainbow: separating the strands
17. The endless stair: past and future
Symbols used in the text
Notes and suggestions for further reading
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