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The Talking Ape: How Language Evolved [Paperback]

Robbins Burling

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Book Description

April 15 2007 0199214034 978-0199214037 1
In this mind-opening book, Robbins Burling presents the most convincing - and the most readable - account of the origins of language yet published. He sheds new light on how language affects the way we think, behave, and relate to each other, and he gives us a deeper understanding of the nature of language itself. The author traces language back to its earliest origins among our distant ape-like forbears several million years ago. He offers a new account of the route by which we acquired our defining characteristic and explores the changing nature of language as it developed through the course of our evolution. He considers what the earliest forms of communication are likely to have been, how they worked, and why they were deployed. He examines the qualities of mind and brain needed to support the operations of language and the advantages they offered for survival and reproduction. He investigates the beginnings and prehistories of vocabulary and grammar; and connects workin fields extending from linguistics, sign languages, and psychology to palaeontology, evolutionary biology, and archaeology. And he does all this in a style that is crystal-clear, constantly enlivened by wit and humour.

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`Review from previous edition Robbins Burling does a superb job of explaining just what language is and how it might have originated. This is one of those popular science books that just reads itself - although Burling does use a little jargon, he employs it sparingly, and with careful explanation. The text along the way is easy to follow and the arguments are absolutely fascinating... A delightful book for anyone interested in language or the development of the human mind. Popular Science' Popular Science

A great book ... one of the most approachable books on the development of human language available. Oxbow

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Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Few topics about which scholars have puzzled can be quite so intriguing and so tantalizing, but at the same time so frustrating, as the evolution of the human capacity for language. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Exquisite Conversation About Language April 4 2006
By mlund - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Simultaneously a study in evolution, language, the human psyche, and the challenges of intellectual rigor, this wonderful book is a thoughtful, thought-provoking, and even startling conversation about how we came to be the talking ape. While the book includes careful treatment (and frequent overturning) of competing theories and controversies within the discipline of linguistics, Burling moves deftly beyond them to work pragmatically at his subject for a general audience. He thinks crisply and writes enjoyably, and demonstrates fluency and fluidity handling a variety of topics in evolutionary theory. The topic overall, and this book in particular, offers much and will be a surprisingly rich exploration to the curious reader.
5.0 out of 5 stars Language distinguishes us from all other animals and Burling does an excellent job of telling you what language is and how ... Oct. 2 2014
By David L. Carlson - Published on
This is a challenging, but rewarding effort to deal with a very difficult topic, how humans came to use language. Language distinguishes us from all other animals and Burling does an excellent job of telling you what language is and how it is different from other communication systems. He systematically uses data from studies of language acquisition and studies of nonhuman animal communication systems to construct a compelling model of how language developed, probably over many millennia. His position is that each stage of proto-language must be adaptive. He argues that natural selection operated more strongly on comprehension than on production since we often understand more of another language than we can speak. Language emerged gradually, it is a wholly new communication system, not a derivative of genetically-based animal calls systems (that he refers to as gesture calls), it began with words rather than syntax, and it was driven by social interaction rather than technology. The book is not a quick or easy read, but it will repay careful reading with a much better understanding of just how important and unique language is in every human society.
9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good book but...... July 21 2009
By J. R. Valery - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Burling's ideas about the evolution of language and his emphasis on meaning are very compelling.

A word of warning: His writing style is very dry, even by academic standards, so the book is actually very boring, though I recommend finishing it, as the ideas are good and relevant.

There is a major drawback in this book: It is unforgivable that, of all people, a linguist, misuses terminology such as "digital" and "analog" over and over again, to mean discreet and continuous. These terms come from electronics and mean, in order, "numerical" and "by analogy". Information is not digital unless it is described by numbers, unlike words; and not all analog systems and devices are continuous.

Go figure!

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