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rugcat
02-11-2008, 06:27 AM
I just finished The Unfolding Of Language, Guy Deutscher, about the development (and degradment, if that's a word) of language I found it fascinating and convincing.

Is anyone familiar with it, and more importantly, for those with more knowledge of this field than I, is it the solid piece of work it seems, or is it more like watered down simplistic claptrap for the unsuspecting layman. (Which would be me.)

Dawnstorm
02-11-2008, 06:36 PM
Hi,

I don't know the book, and historical linguistics isn't an area I know much about, but from what I read about the book it looks sound and gets good reviews from peers, including this one (http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-2681.html).

Thanks for bringing the book to my attention. It sounds interesting.

DamaNegra
02-13-2008, 11:15 AM
Hmmm I'd be wary of anyone who describe the evolution of a language as 'degrading' it.

Dawnstorm
02-13-2008, 04:02 PM
Hmmm I'd be wary of anyone who describe the evolution of a language as 'degrading' it.

So would I, if said person were using that as a value judgement. From the reviews I gather that "development" and "degradement" are complementary processes: languages get less complex on the one hand, and more complex on the other (for example, how English lost a lot of its morphology, and as a result got more creative with syntax; things like that).

But, as I said, I haven't actually read the book.

Shweta
02-13-2008, 04:14 PM
Theories about the Evolution Of Language are really popular in the field at the moment.

The only problem is that there are at least a dozen entirely plausible ones, all different, that take into account different aspects of linguistic usage and of evolutionary data. It's all a guessing game, and there is no consensus.

I've read/heard a few different stories for language development at this point (the one I like best is that we started off signing and went from there to spoken language).

Given that though, I don't know this book. However, it looks from the review like it's assuming an innate language module, which there's actually no psychological/neurological/evolutionary evidence for, and plenty against. So I'd be skeptical, if the argument rests on that in any form.

Dawnstorm
02-13-2008, 08:09 PM
Given that though, I don't know this book. However, it looks from the review like it's assuming an innate language module, which there's actually no psychological/neurological/evolutionary evidence for, and plenty against. So I'd be skeptical, if the argument rests on that in any form.

From the review: "Deutscher seeks to explain the structure of language as a consequence of cultural, rather than biological, evolution."

To me, this suggests a social rather than cognitive model.


started off signing

At first I read singing. :D

rugcat
02-15-2008, 07:26 AM
Theories about the Evolution Of Language are really popular in the field at the moment.

The only problem is that there are at least a dozen entirely plausible ones, all different, that take into account different aspects of linguistic usage and of evolutionary data. It's all a guessing game, and there is no consensus.

I've read/heard a few different stories for language development at this point (the one I like best is that we started off signing and went from there to spoken language).

Given that though, I don't know this book. However, it looks from the review like it's assuming an innate language module, which there's actually no psychological/neurological/evolutionary evidence for, and plenty against. So I'd be skeptical, if the argument rests on that in any form.Actually, no. He lays out the argument, citing Chomsky and others, but freely admits there is no actual evidence and presents problems with that model as well as advantages.

He seems quite fair minded as opposed to being wedded to any particular theory. I was mostly wondering how accurate his explanations of various theories was, considering that he's writing for the layman.

Shweta
02-15-2008, 07:43 AM
cool beans. Got slightly misled by the review, which talks about how it frees up the universal grammar to do other stuff. :)

And wouldn't know about accuracy without reading it, sorry.

If you're interested in social/cultural stories, Michael Tomasello's The Cultural Evolution of Human Cognition is a lovely little book. It might tie in nicely with this one, from the sound of it.

Qbynewbie
09-22-2010, 01:12 AM
I've just about finished reading The Unfolding of Language (http://www.amazon.com/Unfolding-Language-Evolutionary-Mankinds-Invention/dp/0805080120). :) I'm on an eight-day business trip, so I left it at home precisely because I have so little left to read in the book; no sense carrying a book I've already finished. I'll finish it next week at home.

I think the book is quite good. There are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments in the book (pretty good for a book on linguistics :D) and a fair number of "Oh, my God, I didn't know that!" moments, the kind where a light bulb goes on as you make a connection that you hadn't seen before. In the first two chapters alone, he discusses something like twelve different languages. He never talks down to his readers, he describes various theories and possibilities and he demonstrates many of the processes through which language has evolved and continues to evolve.

Discovering that the Grimm brothers (they of the fairy tales) were linguists and made a fundamental contribution to linguistics was interesting. Seeing how that contribution shows exactly how some English words have ended up they way they are was even more interesting. He sprinkles the book with many interesting tidbits, like the fact that English pronunciation has continued to change since the St. James Bible was published in the early 1600s but that single book helped to stabilize the spelling of English. Consequently, we end up with words like "cough" and "bough" that are pronounced differently but spelled similarly. How interesting to know that many of our spellings preserve the actual pronunciation from the early 1600s. :)

The book is a good read and one that I think anyone who is interested in words and language would enjoy. At $12 on Amazon, I think it's well worth the price and the time spent reading it. :)