The Unfolding of Language
An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention
By Guy Deutscher
(Metropolitan Books, Hardcover, 9780805079074, 368pp.)
Publication Date: May 19, 2005
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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Blending the spirit of Eats, Shoots & Leaves with the science of The Language Instinct, an original inquiry into the development of that most essential-and mysterious-of human creations: Language
Language is mankind's greatest invention-except, of course, that it was never invented." So begins linguist Guy Deutscher's enthralling 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 groundbreaking discoveries in modern 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"). Arguing that destruction and creation in language are intimately entwined, Deutscher shows how these processes are continuously in operation, generating new words, new structures, and new meanings.
As entertaining as it is erudite, The Unfolding of Language moves nimbly from ancient Babylonian to American idiom, from the central role of metaphor to the staggering triumph of design that is the Semitic verb, to tell the dramatic story and explain the genius behind a uniquely human faculty.
Born in Israel in 1969, Guy Deutscher studied mathematics and earned a Ph.D. in linguistics at the University of Cambridge, where he became a research fellow in 1998. A widely acclaimed scholar of ancient Semitic languages, Deutscher is at the University of Leiden in Holland.
“A lively and thought-provoking exploration of why language change appears to be haphazard yet is fundamentally orderly. Exciting, witty, and a masterpiece of contemporary scholarship.”
—Elizabeth Closs Traugott, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and English, Stanford University
“At last, an entertaining and readable book that presents the most current views on language and its evolution.”
—Joan Bybee, Professor of Linguistics, University of New Mexico
“Thoroughly enjoyable... Guy Deutscher is an erudite and entertaining guide through the paradoxes and complexities of language evolution.”
—Gene Gragg, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, University of Chicago