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The Seeds of Speech

The Seeds of Speech
Language Origin and Evolution


Part of Canto

  • Date Published: May 2000
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521785716

£ 19.99

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About the Authors
  • Human language is a weird communication system: it has more in common with birdsong than with the calls of other primates. In this wide-ranging and accessible overview, first published in 2000, Jean Aitchison explores the origins of human language and how it has evolved. She likens the search to a vast pre-historic jigsaw puzzle, in which numerous fragments of evidence must be assembled. Such evidence is pieced together from a mixture of linguistic and non-linguistic sources like evolution theory, archaeology, psychology, and anthropology. She explains why language is so strange, outlines recent theories about its origin, and discusses possible paths of evolution. Finally, Jean Aitchison considers what holds all languages together and prevents them from becoming unlearnably different from one another. The Seeds of Speech is a fascinating book that will appeal to everyone who is interested in the origins and evolution of human language, including linguists, anthropologists, psychologists, archaeologists, and the general reader.

    • 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
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    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 Times

    '… 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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    Product details

    • 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

  • Author

    Jean Aitchison, University of Oxford

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