How language evolved has been called "the hardest problem in science." InAdam's Tongue, Derek Bickerton--long a leading authority in this field--shows how and why previous attempts to solve that problem have fallen short. Taking cues from topics as diverse as the foraging strategies of ants, the distribution of large prehistoric herbivores, and the construction of ecological niches, Bickerton produces a dazzling new alternative to the conventional wisdom.
Language is unique to humans, but it isn't the only thing that sets us apart from other species--our cognitive powers are qualitatively different. So could there be two separate discontinuities between humans and the rest of nature? No, says Bickerton; he shows how the mere possession of symbolic units--words--automatically opened a new and different cognitive universe, one that yielded novel innovations ranging from barbed arrowheads to the Apollo spacecraft.
Written in Bickerton's lucid and irreverent style, this book is the first that thoroughly integrates the story of how language evolved with the story of how humans evolved. Sure to be controversial, it will make indispensable reading both for experts in the field and for every reader who has ever wondered how a species as remarkable as ours could have come into existence.
Aging linguistics iconoclast Bickerton (Bastard Tongues) is best known for his studies of pidgin languages and "protolanguage"; here, he embraces the concept of niche construction to explain the origins of language, arguing that, like any other aspect of biological evolution, language was required for survival by the species's environmental niche. Bickerton insouciantly critiques, and occasionally demolishes, his colleagues' pet theories (an entire chapter goes to the errors of Hauser, Chomsky and Fitch), arguing that language evolution cannot be separated from human evolution. The fact that captive primates can be taught symbolic language proves that capacity for language is not unique; therefore, the unique conditions of language's development must have been environmental. Bickerton believes diet was key: primarily meat eaters, proto-humans foraging for animal carcasses needed to communicate distances and locations, a system easily applied to every other aspect of their lives-inevitably shaping human evolution and environment. Bickerton's fascinating, bemusing, occasionally infuriating work follows so many challenging, intriguing avenues of exploration that the skeptics' objections-one wants to ask about, say, whale communication-will be forgotten, at least for a time.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
Hill and Wang
March 01, 2010
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.