The Unfolding of Language
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: LanguageLanguage 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.

The Unfolding of Language Details

TitleThe Unfolding of Language
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMay 2nd, 2006
PublisherHolt Paperbacks
ISBN-139780805080124
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Humanities, Language, Linguistics, Science, History, Biology, Evolution

The Unfolding of Language Review

  • Nathan
    January 1, 1970
    I admit it, I love language. Despite this, I've been astonishingly slow to pick up the overall history and shape of language. I've picked bits of the history of English (Celts, Germans, French, vowel shift) but never the overall picture of how languages change. I didn't even realize that, beyond "we are lazy buggers and mangle words", that it had been codified.Boy, was I wrong!As I read this book, I kept pausing to relate bits of what I'd learned to my kids. The author points to two great tecton I admit it, I love language. Despite this, I've been astonishingly slow to pick up the overall history and shape of language. I've picked bits of the history of English (Celts, Germans, French, vowel shift) but never the overall picture of how languages change. I didn't even realize that, beyond "we are lazy buggers and mangle words", that it had been codified.Boy, was I wrong!As I read this book, I kept pausing to relate bits of what I'd learned to my kids. The author points to two great tectonic forces in language: contraction and metaphor. As we lazily pronounce words, they shrink because we favour the shorter versions. As we need new meanings (either for new concepts or simply because old meanings have lost rhetorical force) we create them from old words, using metaphor. These forces, erosion and construction, keep languages alive.Deutscher backs this up with oodles of evidence. The killer revelation for me is that erosion is PREDICTABLE. Holy shit! As languages emerged from their common indoeuropean ancestor, their consonants all decayed in similar ways. For example, 'p' becomes 'f'. So the relationship between "Father" and "Pater" is as between "fish" and "pesce", "food" and "ped-", "first" and "premier". Entire relationships between equivalent words in different languages became apparent to me within the space of one chapter.This rule is so solid that it predicted the existence of a new consonant in indoeuropean, the "missing link" between some equivalent words in modern languages. The story of how that was found is one of many "holy crap!" moments in this book. Oh, and who discovered that law of decaying consonants? One of the Brothers Grimm. Language is beautiful, it's alive, and it's fascinating. Read this book.
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  • ☕Laura
    January 1, 1970
    I need to begin this review by stating emphatically what this book is not. Despite its somewhat misleading cover, it is not a scientific description of how language emerged in evolution, how grunting developed into speech. If that is what you are looking for, you will not find it here, as the author states there is no real evidence on which to determine that sequence of events. What this book is, however, is an utterly fascinating, well-grounded exploration of the basic principles which shape th I need to begin this review by stating emphatically what this book is not. Despite its somewhat misleading cover, it is not a scientific description of how language emerged in evolution, how grunting developed into speech. If that is what you are looking for, you will not find it here, as the author states there is no real evidence on which to determine that sequence of events. What this book is, however, is an utterly fascinating, well-grounded exploration of the basic principles which shape the course of language development, followed by a theoretical account of how language likely evolved from the basic "man rock throw" level to its current state, by applying those same principles. Using examples from various languages around the world at different stages throughout recorded history, the author presents a very logical and convincing explanation as to how languages have developed and changed through three simple principles: economy, expressiveness and analogy. Through these simple principles one can explain the emergence of case systems, word classes, and even complex grammatical structures; in fact all the elements which are present in language. I highly recommend this book to all fellow linguaphiles!
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  • John Brown
    January 1, 1970
    I can highly recommend it. I started (but did not finish) a PhD in Computational Linguistics, and was put off by the unnecessary complexity of Head Driven Phrase Structure Grammar. Since then I have read a lot of linguistic books to try to understand the motivation for such complexity.Deutscher keeps things simple, whilst answering all sort of questions that had occurred to me concerning the evolution of languages. The level of treatment is just a bit deeper than Pinker's "The Language Instinct" I can highly recommend it. I started (but did not finish) a PhD in Computational Linguistics, and was put off by the unnecessary complexity of Head Driven Phrase Structure Grammar. Since then I have read a lot of linguistic books to try to understand the motivation for such complexity.Deutscher keeps things simple, whilst answering all sort of questions that had occurred to me concerning the evolution of languages. The level of treatment is just a bit deeper than Pinker's "The Language Instinct" and his "Words and Rules", but the book is just as enthralling.We learn why all the cases of Sanskrit and its descendent Latin arose, and why they then disappeared, and why they reappeared again in French verbs. We also learn how "heute tag", "aujourd'hui" and "today" all sprang from "hodie" which came from "hoc die".The book is pure Linguistics, with nothing on Neuroscience (see Dehaene) or psycholinguistics (for a Linguist who recognizes this psychological branch, see the two books by Jackendoff), or Phonetics. I had previously read 3 books on Phonetics and could think of lots of concrete explanations for processes Deutscher describes generically.The Psychologists all say "the two-year old is a little covariance machine". Deutscher has a terrific example regarding word morphology and "threek" as opposed to "fork".So Deutscher's book has got it all for me, with links into all these other branches of knowledge.
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  • Jacqui
    January 1, 1970
    Dr. Deutscher has done a scholarly, thorough discussion on the roots of language, but I believe he started too late in time. I'm of the persuasion that language involves more than the spoken word. I find body language (which proponents argue communicate half of what we speak), facial expressions (think FACS, FBI, microexpressions), movement to be as telling of a person's intentions as words. Sometimes more so. Yet, he argues language was born when we could prove it was born--"...for how can anyo Dr. Deutscher has done a scholarly, thorough discussion on the roots of language, but I believe he started too late in time. I'm of the persuasion that language involves more than the spoken word. I find body language (which proponents argue communicate half of what we speak), facial expressions (think FACS, FBI, microexpressions), movement to be as telling of a person's intentions as words. Sometimes more so. Yet, he argues language was born when we could prove it was born--"...for how can anyone presume to know what went on in prehistoric times without indulging in make-believe?" "...impressive range of theories circulating for how the first words emerged: from shouts and calls; from hand gestures and sign language; from the ability to imitate...The point is that as long as there is no evidence, all these scenarios remain 'just so' stories." Or deductive reasoning. Something the modern brain excels at. This despite the fact that his cover includes the popular ape-man image.Still, he adds humor and a highly intelligent discussion I thoroughly enjoyed.
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  • Leemaslibros
    January 1, 1970
    Qué cosita más grande de libro. No puedo recomendarlo suficiente: para cualquiera que esté interesado en el lenguaje. Y si lees esto en Goodreads, es más que posible que lo estés...
  • Simon Cleveland, PhD
    January 1, 1970
    A couple of days ago I finished reading 'The Unfolding of Language : An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention' by Guy Deutscher. Wow, it's exhausting just to say the name, imagine what it felt like to read the book. But, seriously the work is intellectually challenging and often provoked me to engage in thoughts on the ever changing state of human language. And yes, metaphors are the erodent of language (in case you were wondering). Many times I found myself reminiscing about the com A couple of days ago I finished reading 'The Unfolding of Language : An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention' by Guy Deutscher. Wow, it's exhausting just to say the name, imagine what it felt like to read the book. But, seriously the work is intellectually challenging and often provoked me to engage in thoughts on the ever changing state of human language. And yes, metaphors are the erodent of language (in case you were wondering). Many times I found myself reminiscing about the complexity of the ancestral expressions. By the way, anyone who thinks modern language is more intricate than say Latin or ancient Babylonian needs to pick up this book. Mr. Deutscher's analysis seemed logical enough to make me a believer that dead languages were a lot more eloquent than modern ones. But this is where interesting stops and tedious begins. I felt this book was geared toward students in linguistics as oppose to the average reader (my apologies to the author, but I'm a graduate in business). At times it seemed Mr. Deutscher couldn't make up his mind on what to include in the actual body of the book and what to leave in the Appendixes (and trust me, there is a lot that should've been left in the Appendixes). For example, consonances and grammatical rules of African languages did little to entice my eagerness to immerse myself in the constructs of language. Often I had to go back and reread some pages forcing myself to ascertain their usefulness and applicability in my daily life (unsuccessfully, if I may add). I expected the 'evolutionary tour' to include historical aspects of the human evolution, but...oh well. Unfortunately, I wouldn't recommend this book. Instead, for those readers interested in introductory material into the evolution of language (masterfully coupled with historical analysis) I recommend Genes, Peoples, and Languages by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza.
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  • Jan
    January 1, 1970
    By far the best tour of linguistics for the layman, as pertaining to the development of language. Many books which delve into this meaty topic provide a lot of cute examples of etymology, without a really coherent exposition of the processes that have shaped the structure of language, and how linguists uncovered them. Professor Deutscher does a lively job of bringing the general reader's attention to the tendencies that have shaped the development of language -- erosion, emphasis, and metaphor. By far the best tour of linguistics for the layman, as pertaining to the development of language. Many books which delve into this meaty topic provide a lot of cute examples of etymology, without a really coherent exposition of the processes that have shaped the structure of language, and how linguists uncovered them. Professor Deutscher does a lively job of bringing the general reader's attention to the tendencies that have shaped the development of language -- erosion, emphasis, and metaphor. A lesser popularizer of linguistics might again provide us with some whimsical just-so-stories of how certain words got that way (and indeed, Deutscher does it with an amiable sense of humor), but his true achievement is showing us how these forces may have made grammar the way it is (though skirting neurology and trying not to delve too unnecessarily into the story of "generative grammar"), as well as giving a pleasant taste of the massive dose of inspiration that 19th-century European linguists required to arrive at these insights (I'm looking at you, Saussure).This brings us to the word "evolutionary" in the title. Having built the groundwork for understanding how sounds and sense might shift in our own sloppy present-day English, he presents an example of language structure that could only have been carefully planned out: the imposing edifice of Semitic verb structure, possessed of such elegance that it must have been handed down on stone tablets, right? Wrong. In any case, the arguments are sophisticated, but they follow along the same lines as less daunting aspects of our own familiar English. Meanwhile, the writing style ought to leave any lover of language feeling that they've just had a genial chat with a great conversationalist.
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  • Kathrin Schröder
    January 1, 1970
    Guy Deutscher Du Jane, Ich Goethe Eine Geschichte der Spracheneu aufgelegt unter dem Titel:Die Evolution der Sprache: Wie die Menschheit zu ihrer größten Erfindung kam bei DTV erscheint dort September 2018Genre: Sachbuch LinguistikDieses Buch habe ich überwiegend mit Lust gelesen.Guy Deutscher kannte ich von seinem Werk "Im Spiegel der Sprachen" in dem aus der Sicht eines Linguisten dargestellt wird, wie das unterschiedliche Denken in verschiedenen Sprachen die Sicht auf die Welt verändern.Diese Guy Deutscher Du Jane, Ich Goethe Eine Geschichte der Spracheneu aufgelegt unter dem Titel:Die Evolution der Sprache: Wie die Menschheit zu ihrer größten Erfindung kam bei DTV erscheint dort September 2018Genre: Sachbuch LinguistikDieses Buch habe ich überwiegend mit Lust gelesen.Guy Deutscher kannte ich von seinem Werk "Im Spiegel der Sprachen" in dem aus der Sicht eines Linguisten dargestellt wird, wie das unterschiedliche Denken in verschiedenen Sprachen die Sicht auf die Welt verändern.Dieses Buch bildet die Basis: Was ist Sprache, wie verändert sie sich, wie ist sie entstanden? Er erzählt in anschaulichen Beispielen, nutzt Beispiele aus den unterschiedlichsten Sprachen der Welt und der Weltgeschichte, macht mal eben so das semitische Verbchaos einleuchtend und baut aus einer fragmentarischen Basisgeschichte aus dem Anfang der Sprache auf, wie sich diese nach und nach logisch entwickelt.Gibt es Worte, deren Bedeutung sich im Laufe der Geschichte gewandelt oder sogar umgedreht hat, war Sprache irgendwann einmal strukturierter und logischer, also gab es irgendwann einen Idealzustand von Sprache? Warum können wir nicht ableiten, wie Sprache entstanden ist, aber sehr wohl herleiten, wie sie von 2-Wortsätzen (Stadium Ich-Tarzan) zu komplexen Strukturen gelangte? Dieses Buch ist von einem Autoren, der auf englisch schreibt und denkt, der Übersetzer hat die zentralen Beispiele und Erklärungen überall wo dies stimmig möglich war, vom Deutschen ausgehend formuliert. Wußten Sie z.B., dass Türkisch und Englisch in der Satzreihenfolge sich spiegeln und Deutsch eine Zwischenposition einnimmt?Dabei ist das Buch gleichermaßen unterhaltend und fordernd. Es lohnt sich es mit einem wachen Geist zu lesen und viel Neues zu entdecken und Altes wiederzufinden.
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  • Karen
    January 1, 1970
    This was a delightful and fascinating book. It's very readable and entertaining and I don't think that I will ever look at language quite the same way again. I wished, quite early on in the book, that I had read it(or had it to read) twenty years ago when I was teaching English in Japan. It made a lot of issues and problems that my students were facing much clearer to me, and if nothing else I wish I'd been able to explain to my students WHY English spelling is so screwy. The author doesn't try This was a delightful and fascinating book. It's very readable and entertaining and I don't think that I will ever look at language quite the same way again. I wished, quite early on in the book, that I had read it(or had it to read) twenty years ago when I was teaching English in Japan. It made a lot of issues and problems that my students were facing much clearer to me, and if nothing else I wish I'd been able to explain to my students WHY English spelling is so screwy. The author doesn't try to tackle how words evolved; he starts with what he refers to as the "Me Tarzan" stage, and shows how simply and easily more complex grammar evolved from there. And his chapters on how and why grammar and language devolves, how case endings for nouns got lost, pronunciation slips, and words change from one syntactic category to another are also both very clear and really fascinating.
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  • Andrew Breslin
    January 1, 1970
    This started out as a strong 4-star book, possibly going up to a 5, but as I slogged through the details on fricatives and declension and glottal stops and the structure of Semitic verbs, it steadily declined and by the end I was tempted to give it a 2. Rather than any indication of inconsistent effort and presentation on behalf of its skilled author, I think this simply reflects the fact that linguistics is fascinating from a distance and dreadfully dull up close.I love etymology. I love tracin This started out as a strong 4-star book, possibly going up to a 5, but as I slogged through the details on fricatives and declension and glottal stops and the structure of Semitic verbs, it steadily declined and by the end I was tempted to give it a 2. Rather than any indication of inconsistent effort and presentation on behalf of its skilled author, I think this simply reflects the fact that linguistics is fascinating from a distance and dreadfully dull up close.I love etymology. I love tracing a word’s evolution over the course of centuries, and seeing how certain words are rooted in other words. Like how the word “lyrics” is actually derived from the word for that ancient stringed instrument, a “lyre.” Neat! You might think this sort of thing is what linguistics is all about, but you'd be wrong. No, linguists actually pay a lot more attention to things like the shape and position of the tongue in the mouth when forming specific sounds, and why some sounds tend to morph over time into different sounds, and how essentially arbitrary endings get attached to verbs and nouns and grammatical rules evolve and persist, adding complexity without utility. These things aren’t nearly as interesting up close, in exhaustive detail, as they are from a distance in an overview. As an analogy: I love architecture. I can appreciate the beauty of a finely crafted building and both the creative vision and structural engineering involved. But I’m not particularly interested in the specific minutiae on how to put up drywall and mix concrete. It’s still worth reading and gives some fascinating insights into how languages emerge and evolve. If you really want to learn all about how to mix that concrete, you’ll like it even more.
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  • Balachander
    January 1, 1970
    Fabulous. Though I did get tired around the 80% mark. This book is especially for those who feel that the quality of modern language (be it English or otherwise) is deteriorating and is poorer than in the past. There was never a golden period where people spoke and wrote perfectly simply because there is no "pure" language. Language has always morphed and mutated due to people's need for economy, expressiveness and analogy. (read the book, I don't want to get into the details here). I totally re Fabulous. Though I did get tired around the 80% mark. This book is especially for those who feel that the quality of modern language (be it English or otherwise) is deteriorating and is poorer than in the past. There was never a golden period where people spoke and wrote perfectly simply because there is no "pure" language. Language has always morphed and mutated due to people's need for economy, expressiveness and analogy. (read the book, I don't want to get into the details here). I totally recommend this if you're curious about how something as complex as modern language can evolve, quite naturally, from some very primitive/simple beginnings.
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  • Serena.. Sery-ously?
    January 1, 1970
    Disponibile una copia nuova per lo scambio causa errore nell'ordine su amazon! Se la lingua e il linguaggio vi incuriosiscono, se qualche volta vi siete chiesti perché il verbo essere inglese è l'unico ad avere forme differenti al passato [was/were] o quali siano le forze scatenanti che modificano in continuazione una lingua.. Allora questo libro fa al caso vostro!!Credo che in quasi cinque anni di carriera universitaria questo sia il libro che ho letto con più piacere in assoluto, quello che no Disponibile una copia nuova per lo scambio causa errore nell'ordine su amazon! Se la lingua e il linguaggio vi incuriosiscono, se qualche volta vi siete chiesti perché il verbo essere inglese è l'unico ad avere forme differenti al passato [was/were] o quali siano le forze scatenanti che modificano in continuazione una lingua.. Allora questo libro fa al caso vostro!!Credo che in quasi cinque anni di carriera universitaria questo sia il libro che ho letto con più piacere in assoluto, quello che non è pesato come un macigno o come un onere inderogabile e anzi, mi ha addirittura divertito tantissimo!! L'autore presenta con grande carisma un argomento complicato e intricato come lo sviluppo del linguaggio.. E' un libro adatto a tutti, sia quelli hanno alle spalle esami/letture di linguistica sia chi invece ne è completamente digiuno: tutto è spiegato con estrema chiarezza, ci sono numerosissimi esempi che vi permetteranno di comprendere i suoi ragionamenti e riportarli su un piano più "terreno" e legati all'esperienza quotidiana.Tolte le nozioni "base" che già conoscevo (ma presentate sotto una luce diversa molto più coinvolgente, come ad esempio il fatto che i fratelli Grimm, oltre ad essere degli scrittori erano anche dei pezzi grossi di linguistica che hanno rivoluzionato quel mondo :D), alcune mi hanno davvero sorpreso, ho aggiornato il repertorio del "Ma lo sai perché..."... Sia mai mi risultasse utile per corteggiare qualcuno!! =PUno dei capitoli più interessanti è sicuramente quello sull'analisi della struttura consonantica delle lingue semitiche: poiché il linguaggio è un mezzo per esprimersi, perché mai un popolo dovrebbe usare solo consonanti nella scrittura?! Domanda che, da brava studiosa di arabo, non mi ero mai posta.. E invece mi si è aperto un mondo interessantissimo!!Ho provato a coinvolgere mia mamma nel discorso e trasmetterle il mio entusiasmo per poter dire insieme "Ma che figata!", ma la sua risposta è stata: "Eh, sì.. Per me che non studio lingue semitiche tutto chiarissimo!" :D Ehm!!Tra tutte le chicche che potrete trovare in questo volume, ce ne sono alcune davvero curiose..Una di queste è appunto il verbo essere, l'unico che mantiene due forme distinte al passato: non è questo verbo ad essere l'eccezione ma gli altri verbi che hanno perso la distinzione! Nel passato infatti tutti i verbi inglesi avevano due forme al passato.. Il verbo "be" è rimasto così perché è quello più usato e quindi entrambe le forme venivano apprese e tramandate :)Un'altra parte super interessante è la spiegazione degli errori dei bambini quando apprendono la lingua.. Quante volte abbiamo riso per un "Io piangio" o un "Io vadavo" dei cuginetti o fratellini più piccoli? In realtà la loro è pura e semplice genialità.. Perché tutto ciò che fanno è applicare uno schema che hanno imparato (Io mangio/io giocavo) a tutte le parole che imparano!O ancora.. Quante volte avete detto/sentito che l'inglese non è una lingua come l'italiano perché non si legge come si scrive? In realtà ciò non è completamente esatto.. L'inglese infatti si scrive come si legge(va).. Nel XVI secolo!! :33Se leggete in inglese il libro non vi darà problemi perché è davvero chiaro.. Se invece non leggete in inglese, niente paura!!Ecco che Deutscher ha per voi una carta nascosta: "La lingua colora il mondo" un altro trattato di linguistica che è finito dritto dritto nella mia Wish list e che sono sicura riserverà altre sorprese linguistiche :3
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  • Andre Correa
    January 1, 1970
    I've learned a bunch of interesting things through this book, like how the forces of destruction and construction are continuously combined to shape language and the ubiquitous presence of metaphors all along. Another interesting aspect is the realization of mankind's inclination for doing more with less and the need for order reflected in the constant evolution of language. It's also worth noticing the highly complex framework of Semitic languages as well as how basic choices in the verb-object I've learned a bunch of interesting things through this book, like how the forces of destruction and construction are continuously combined to shape language and the ubiquitous presence of metaphors all along. Another interesting aspect is the realization of mankind's inclination for doing more with less and the need for order reflected in the constant evolution of language. It's also worth noticing the highly complex framework of Semitic languages as well as how basic choices in the verb-object order can ultimately define the overall structure of an idiom (Turkish vs English).The book demonstrates very well how complex and dynamic the edifice of language is.With all that good stuff, however, I felt disengaged on the second half of the book and skipped some parts, due to the enormous amount of details devoted to certain topics and the author's desire to go to the bottom of some idea. I am pretty sure such aspects are very relevant to people closer to the realm, but it's too much information for someone simply "touring" through.
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  • Ovidiu Oprea
    January 1, 1970
    The book is an overview of how language developed and how it changes through the ages. It is easy to read even for someone who has never read any linguistics books. The author is very playful with his subject. The vocabulary is very down-to-earth because all the complexities of linguistics are broken down into pieces of information that one can easily relate to because of everyday experience with language, while the reader is still informed about the major theories and the theoreticians of lingu The book is an overview of how language developed and how it changes through the ages. It is easy to read even for someone who has never read any linguistics books. The author is very playful with his subject. The vocabulary is very down-to-earth because all the complexities of linguistics are broken down into pieces of information that one can easily relate to because of everyday experience with language, while the reader is still informed about the major theories and the theoreticians of linguistics.The last chapter of the book is a very interesting experiment. Given a hypothetical basic vocabulary of our earliest ancestors and a proto-grammar, there is an attempt to reconstruct the paths along which language has become what it is today. It is a useful thought experiment that makes the reader become less intimidated by the huge complexity of language.
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  • Brian Cloutier
    January 1, 1970
    The kind of 5 star book which makes me want to go back and knock down some of my past reads by a star or two.I'm a sucker for books which invoke systems and forces and tendencies, this book has all of those; it's fun to imagine the erosion of linguistics. He paints a great picture of how it's possible for a community to unconsciously build grand structures such as the latin case system or the semitic system of verb stems and, still unconsciously, grind them back down to nothing. This book is wri The kind of 5 star book which makes me want to go back and knock down some of my past reads by a star or two.I'm a sucker for books which invoke systems and forces and tendencies, this book has all of those; it's fun to imagine the erosion of linguistics. He paints a great picture of how it's possible for a community to unconsciously build grand structures such as the latin case system or the semitic system of verb stems and, still unconsciously, grind them back down to nothing. This book is written for amateurs, I don't know much about linguistics and never felt lost. It goes out of it's way to avoid using terms like relative clauses unless it really needs to and when it does gives great definitions.
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  • Nancy Mills
    January 1, 1970
    Well worth reading. Probably the most in-depth book on linguistics that I have yet read, and occasionally challenging but always intriguing and entertaining.Gives a great answer to the question of why language seems to go from beautifully constructed to a big tangle of broken rules. Language is constantly eroding (going to becomes "gonna") but also constantly being added to. Nouns become verbs and verbs force themselves into nounship, words merge, people impose a template used on one word onto a Well worth reading. Probably the most in-depth book on linguistics that I have yet read, and occasionally challenging but always intriguing and entertaining.Gives a great answer to the question of why language seems to go from beautifully constructed to a big tangle of broken rules. Language is constantly eroding (going to becomes "gonna") but also constantly being added to. Nouns become verbs and verbs force themselves into nounship, words merge, people impose a template used on one word onto another (mouse-mice, louse-lice, house-hice?) and if you dig deep enough the most irritating irregularities usually wind up making sense.
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  • Dmitry
    January 1, 1970
    This book answers questions like how languages change over time, in particular, how do complex grammatical features come into being, how close languages diverge over time, and what are some of the laws that govern all these changes. It's an absolutely fascinating read, and a real eye opener, and what's very special about it is that it all sounds very much common sense - nothing is too complicated, the whole book almost is kind of obvious - the way Sherlock Holmes' insights are obvious to Dr. Wat This book answers questions like how languages change over time, in particular, how do complex grammatical features come into being, how close languages diverge over time, and what are some of the laws that govern all these changes. It's an absolutely fascinating read, and a real eye opener, and what's very special about it is that it all sounds very much common sense - nothing is too complicated, the whole book almost is kind of obvious - the way Sherlock Holmes' insights are obvious to Dr. Watson in the hindsight. This is a sign of a book very well written.
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  • Tresy
    January 1, 1970
    A fantastic, funny, and insightful book drawing on a vast amount of material to answer the seemingly unanswerable question? How does language come to be and what makes it change? Not as overtly partisan as Steven Pinker (an innatist) , Deutcher opens up more avenues for exploration, and his wit is just as sparkling.
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  • Odo
    January 1, 1970
    4.5/5.0
  • Cullen Mackenzie
    January 1, 1970
    I have read and reread this book, and am constantly recommending it to anyone who had even the slightest interest in Linguistics. It is a magical journey into what makes languages.
  • Othman
    January 1, 1970
    I got this book with the expectation that it would be about the evolution of language, i.e. the transformation from a no-language-equipped brain into a language-equipped brain, but it is about how languages mutate into some other languages, e.g. Indo-European => Germanic => English. I got misled by the cover. However, I find the ‘The Unfolding of Language’ really fascinating and remarkably entertaining. I was intrigued by how Deutscher was able to demystify technical concepts in a way that I got this book with the expectation that it would be about the evolution of language, i.e. the transformation from a no-language-equipped brain into a language-equipped brain, but it is about how languages mutate into some other languages, e.g. Indo-European => Germanic => English. I got misled by the cover. However, I find the ‘The Unfolding of Language’ really fascinating and remarkably entertaining. I was intrigued by how Deutscher was able to demystify technical concepts in a way that I don’t think a non-linguist would have trouble taking in.Presumably to captivate the attention of the reader, Deutscher starts off with some controversial, yet engaging, issues in the field of linguistics such as ‘innateness’–that we, the human species, have a biological endowment underlying our capacity to acquire language–and whether or not there was a language’s architect–what/who? Deutscher, then, takes up the notion that knowing a language is not just knowing its words; otherwise, the permutation of words in a sentence would not necessarily affect the meaning of the entire utterance. Thus, there is another significant ingredient to be added to the recipe: rules, whereby the knowledge of how to order words in a complex expression is also a determining factor in getting the meaning of the whole expression. Deutscher also points out that though languages are similar in complexity of rules, they vary in their linguistic idiosyncrasies, such as syntax, morphology … etc., and he illustrates this fact with some examples from a couple of different languages.Chapter 2 is where the author starts probing into what the book is mostly about–i.e. language change–and it seems like an introduction for the following chapters. Deutscher states “What could these motives [of transforming language] be? This is a rather more involved question, and doing justice to it will occupy us in the next few chapters” (p. 62). Typological and historical linguistic perspectives pervasively permeate chapter 2 and beyond. Deutscher discusses some gradual changes languages have undergone. For instance, ‘kerd => herd => heart’ indicates some phonological metamorphoses occurred during the process of the English’s development from Indo-European. Similarly, Chapter 4 highlights the impact of metaphors on extending the semantic component of lexicons; language users fill their lexical gaps with transmuting tangible concepts into intangible ones. For example, ‘back’ used to refer to only the body part, but its meaning has extended to include the spatial and temporal terms: ‘behind’ and ‘ago’, respectively. The discussion over the change from content to structure occupies chapter 5. The following chapter is Semitic-specific: Deutscher attempts at unraveling the patterns the conjugations of Semitic verbs follow. In the last chapter, Deutscher talks about what he considers to be the natural principles of language: collocation of words, sequentiality of events, economy of words, and hierarchy of arguments. Then, a sophisticated grammar system existed and shaped the aforementioned principles. He also touches upon some properties of language, such as grammatical categories and subordinate clauses, that transformed language to the complexly-structured language we have today.
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  • Betsy
    January 1, 1970
    [22 Mar 2019]This is not a good book for reading on a kindle or a phone, or even a small tablet. The problem is that the text is strewn with examples that the text discusses. These examples, which are often in languages other than English, are actually graphics so they do not expand when the main text expands and they started out as really small text. Mostly they are unreadable. If you have a touch screen it helps because you can expand the graphic a little bit, but it's annoying to have to sele [22 Mar 2019]This is not a good book for reading on a kindle or a phone, or even a small tablet. The problem is that the text is strewn with examples that the text discusses. These examples, which are often in languages other than English, are actually graphics so they do not expand when the main text expands and they started out as really small text. Mostly they are unreadable. If you have a touch screen it helps because you can expand the graphic a little bit, but it's annoying to have to select it to move it to different window, then expand until it's readable. And scroll around to read the whole thing. That being said, I enjoyed this book for the most part. It's a short book, less than 300 pages, and is well written in an engaging, relaxed style. For the most part it is accessible to the lay reader, but probably only if you're a little knowledgeable about language and are very interested in how languages develop. The author does get into the weeds occasionally and sometimes seems to belabor a point that is obvious. However, as he explains, the reason such developments seem obvious is that we're used to our language containing those devices, but that doesn't explain how they came to be common. So, although I found myself occasionally glazing over, I faithfully read all of it (except the Appendices, which really get into the weeds). The general point is that languages have never been consciously designed by a human agency, even those that are very complex and rule based. This book explains how even the most complex language features develop naturally though usage because of a few human impulses: erosion (laziness), the needs for more expressiveness, and the need for order, all of which occur without conscious intent. It was interesting and I recommend it to languaphiles. It's not that you won't understand it if you're not especially interested in language, it's that you'd probably be rather bored.
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  • Matthijs Krul
    January 1, 1970
    Very readable popular introduction to language change. Unlike many such books, it doesn't just focus on sound change, but has at least as much discussion of grammaticalization. Unfortunately, for me the book was not as useful as I had hoped since much of it is at such a basic level that if you have any prior linguistics knowledge, you may find the first few chapters kinda frustrating (he elaborately explains what a case system is, etc). Also, presumably out of a desire to be accessible - or mayb Very readable popular introduction to language change. Unlike many such books, it doesn't just focus on sound change, but has at least as much discussion of grammaticalization. Unfortunately, for me the book was not as useful as I had hoped since much of it is at such a basic level that if you have any prior linguistics knowledge, you may find the first few chapters kinda frustrating (he elaborately explains what a case system is, etc). Also, presumably out of a desire to be accessible - or maybe his publisher made him do it? - Deutscher avoids using proper linguistics terminology as much as possible. If you're used to basic linguistics terms, however, this is more a hindrance than anything, as it often makes it difficult to figure out in a more precise way what he's actually talking about. Also, if one can use words like 'auxiliary verb', why not also 'derivation' or 'inflection'?One big upside is that this book contains the clearest discussion of the evolution of a (northern) Semitic triconsonantal root system I've ever seen. He makes explicit how it is not really a kind of template system but emerges through a combination of extensive derivation and extreme levelling, departing from some really very simple sound changes. He also gives some clear refresher ideas about how grammaticalization arises in the first place, at a very general level, which is also good to keep in mind. For my purposes (conlanging), these were the primary uses of the book. However, for people not already familiar with language change and the processes involved, there probably isn't a better book to be found. For all the popularization, it is actually remarkably thorough and not too shallow.
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  • John Fredrickson
    January 1, 1970
    This is an excellent book on the dynamics of language change. One hears forever about how language is experiencing decay in these times - this book looks into some of these symptoms of decay, and explains why this is a misreading of language change. The book uses English examples in abundance, but also delves into the sentence and word structures of wildly different languages, particular Semitic and Turkish, but also others.It is interesting to read examples of how language 'simplifies' over tim This is an excellent book on the dynamics of language change. One hears forever about how language is experiencing decay in these times - this book looks into some of these symptoms of decay, and explains why this is a misreading of language change. The book uses English examples in abundance, but also delves into the sentence and word structures of wildly different languages, particular Semitic and Turkish, but also others.It is interesting to read examples of how language 'simplifies' over time - these examples are fairly easy to track and understand. What is somewhat more difficult to see and appreciate is that our (American) culture is making some verb form changes that make the language more irregular as well. The author documents cases of words and phrases that shift form and place in sentence structure in a variety of ways.
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  • Enrique Mañas
    January 1, 1970
    If you are a linguistic aficionado, you have always been looking for the holy grail of the linguistics book. That imaginary unit whose existence is in question. That volume that formulates a unifying theory for the language development. Such a grueling task among the ocean of selection.I am not sure if The Unfolding of Language or any other book fall into this category, or is only our human impetus to categorize everything with the taxonomic persistence of a botanic. Regardless of whether this b If you are a linguistic aficionado, you have always been looking for the holy grail of the linguistics book. That imaginary unit whose existence is in question. That volume that formulates a unifying theory for the language development. Such a grueling task among the ocean of selection.I am not sure if The Unfolding of Language or any other book fall into this category, or is only our human impetus to categorize everything with the taxonomic persistence of a botanic. Regardless of whether this book achieves it or not, it makes a damn good job.Through the entire book, you can see how language evolves from proto variants into the versions that we can recognize today. Deutscher is able to extract some fascinating rules that apply to many language families in the world. We lazily shorten words and favor succinct terms. Our languages are all strongly based on the power of the metaphor, way more than we are able to consciously recognize. Through erosion and construction we create languages. And the direction languages are taking is predictable, and so was it for the last hundreds of years.The book is unfortunately mostly focused on Indo-European and Semitic languages, and I missed more focus on the Asian families. All-in-all, a book full of surprises for the language lover.
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  • Cheryl
    January 1, 1970
    Couldn't get into it. I'm still curious to read theories about how language first started, but this promised to be a treatise on linguistic analysis, with a chapter at the end that goes back in time only as far as the 'me Tarzan' stage.
  • Kenghis Khan
    January 1, 1970
    Although it dealt, rather deftly, with a fascinating topic, Deutscher's book is too encumbered by a corny, smug sense of humor and weak writing throughout that makes this a hard book to recommend. What makes this review so frustrating to write is that Deutscher does so many things right. The idea of erosion and elaboration as the driving force of linguistic change is powerfully conveyed. His treatment of the evolution of the Semitic verb system is superb, and of all the accounts of Saussure's la Although it dealt, rather deftly, with a fascinating topic, Deutscher's book is too encumbered by a corny, smug sense of humor and weak writing throughout that makes this a hard book to recommend. What makes this review so frustrating to write is that Deutscher does so many things right. The idea of erosion and elaboration as the driving force of linguistic change is powerfully conveyed. His treatment of the evolution of the Semitic verb system is superb, and of all the accounts of Saussure's laryngeal hypothesis I have encountered, Deutscher's account is by far the most eloquent. The "Me Tarzan" metaphor of a proto-human language is brilliant. Although Deutscher's fundamentally academic style won't earn him 5 good-read stars in my estimation, his penache for effective metaphor, persistent use of colorful terminology, and obvious mastery of the topic should have rendered this book a solid 4-stars.Why won't this book meri those 4 stars? The emphasis of economy of pronunciation and an apparent "innate urge" to be ever more, well, poetic among human societies is unconvincing. There are examples, for instance as expounded on in Trask's "Historical Linguistics" of how the social and historical pressures on language change go beyond the merely essentially biological and psychological attributes Deutscher highlights. This made the presentation seem quite one-sided. And although I forgive Deutscher his decision to not include the Piraha controversy in his discussion of recursion (I tend to sympathize with the view that the evidence against recursion is quite ambiguous), I felt that given how important this controversy has become it may have warranted a mention at least in his copious appendices. The fact that it was not clearly indicates, at least for me, the author's view on the matter, but this omission raises problems for what is a supposedly popularizing account.But all these are quibbles on some level that shouldn't detract from the rather solid scholarship presented here. Instead, I found reading this book rather frustrating. Frankly, this book had so much potential, and it is my anger at its clumsy presentation that gives it a 3-star review. The "Bakunian Linguistics" interview/PBS/BBC documentary whatever was obnoxious, and the fact that it warranted an appendix suggests the editor probably saw a red flag in this. Moreover, Deutscher emphasizes how important variation in language is in guiding language evolution, but entirely neglects socio-linguistics. This is like saying variation is the raw material of natural selection in evolutionary biology, but does not discuss selection operating on that variation. Ultimately, I found this the biggest disappointment, and frankly I think there are better introductions to historical linguistics for the lay reader out there.
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  • Malachy
    January 1, 1970
    It's the first time I've picked up a book on linguistic history, and I have simply had my mind blown. As someone who always had a nagging feeling that languages must have somehow developed their complexity - in part - due to a few bright ones sitting down and writing up some rules, you get insights into the development of language that demonstrate that this simply isn't necessary for the development of language into the set of complex structures and rules that we observe today. The chapter devot It's the first time I've picked up a book on linguistic history, and I have simply had my mind blown. As someone who always had a nagging feeling that languages must have somehow developed their complexity - in part - due to a few bright ones sitting down and writing up some rules, you get insights into the development of language that demonstrate that this simply isn't necessary for the development of language into the set of complex structures and rules that we observe today. The chapter devoted to the three-consonant templates that are used as a model for the wide range of cases used in Arabic is itself worth the cover price. So, the upside is that you learn something of the basics on what I suppose are the major tenets of language development and evolution. And you begin to appreciate the real detective work that went into making some of these discoveries. The downside is that the book goes into some detail (although this mainly in the appendices) that risks making the subject a bit tedious (as it did for me). But I will admit that this, along with Daniel Kahnman's Thinking Fast And Slow, has opened up a new horizon in terms of my personal perspective on human nature. Read it although, beware, it will require some effort (and it will probably be of interest more to language-leaning types).
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  • Cole Simmons
    January 1, 1970
    Because written records don't start until a couple thousand years ago, language is notoriously hard to study. We frankly don't know how much of it evolved. To compensate for this, Deutscher looks at modern clues: if we can assume that the forces that change language today are the same as those that have done so throughout history, we can recreate the steps through which language has changed.As a child, he imaged a grand Roman counsel deciding on the wildly complex Latin declensions (nouns, prono Because written records don't start until a couple thousand years ago, language is notoriously hard to study. We frankly don't know how much of it evolved. To compensate for this, Deutscher looks at modern clues: if we can assume that the forces that change language today are the same as those that have done so throughout history, we can recreate the steps through which language has changed.As a child, he imaged a grand Roman counsel deciding on the wildly complex Latin declensions (nouns, pronouns, or adjectives with the endings changed to reflect grammatical case and gender). A search for the true cause of evolution initiated a lifelong study of linguistics that led to him achieving a Ph.D in Linguistics at the University of Cambridge.The obvious explanations for the change of language today are technology and culture. But that doesn't account for the massive changes that every language on Earth underwent between 1000-2000 C.E., even the ones that had no contact with the outside world. The forces of change are the corollary of a tug of war between destruction and construction.DestructionThroughout time, great thinkers and writers have lamented their language as being past its "Golden Age." Even Cicero decried the Latin of his day as being on the downhill slide to barbarism. We see laziness (or, as Deutscher calls it, economy) morph words and cause irregularities that tear down an orderly system.In that regard, we have a bias. He points out that we can (and do) look at present irregularities in languages and trace them back to when they were part of a consistent system which has since been butchered, but have little inclination to do the reverse. If we see a verb in Latin with a logical and consistent set of case endings, we wouldn't think that it could be borne of an irregular system in an ancestor language.“Past irregularities are like footprints on a sand dune. Once a breeze has blown over them, there is no way of telling that they had ever been there.”Effort-saving measures are the primary driving force of destruction in language. Words that end in "ed" in English were formerly pronounced more like "lov-ed" than the present "lovd". Vowels are often either dropped or transformed into more easily pronounced variations.These philological discoveries are relatively new. Systematic relationships between relationships weren't really discovered until the early 1800s (Deutscher describes it like going from star-gazing to detailed astronomical research). Grimm's Law was the first detailed system of how sound change occurs. Not long after, Saussure predicted that Proto-Indo-European (the ancestor of most modern languages) had just one vowel, "e", that morphed into many in the daughter languages. Like discovering Neptune before we could see it, Saussure wasn't proven right until the 1900s when ancient Hittite cuneiform tablets were discovered.But if destruction by way of economy is such a prominent force, why haven't we resorted to communicating in monosyllabic grunts?ConstructionThe two forces of construction in language are expressiveness and analogy.Expressiveness is self-explanatory. When one word isn't sufficiently hyperbolic, we string them together in a redundant matter. Sometimes the phrase as a whole becomes commonplace.Analogy is our craving for order and regularity, turning previously irregular plural nouns like "boek" into "books". In early English, there was even a distinction between singular/plural in past tense verbs, ex: he “herde” but they “herden”.Metaphor, as a subset of analogy, lets us use words meant for concrete objects in the context of abstract notions, like using the parts of the body for spatial relations ("ahead of it", "at the foot of the bed"). Sometimes the original meaning is lost and only the metaphor prevails. "Like a reef borne of dead coral." However, our capacity for synchronic variation allows a word to exist in many forms/meanings at once and have the context be inferred by the situation/speaker.Some of these metaphors transition from one language to another when their speakers have contact with each other. Interestingly, that is not always the case. Using the phrase "going to" to mean not just an action, but a marker of future tense when paired with another verb ("going to go for a run"), happened in many languages around the world all at roughly the same time, even ones that had no contact with the outside world. Our capacity for metaphor is seemingly innate.Laziness breaks down and combines words, a desire for expressiveness leads us to string them together again, and analogy/metaphor gives existing words new meanings. It's all cyclical.The Unfolding of LanguageIn the last chapter, Deutscher walks through how language could have evolved from the so-called "Me Tarzan" stage (likely 40-100k years ago) to the present day.The basic building blocks are thing words, property words, and action words. Thing words are a subset of nouns, but many nouns nowadays represent abstract concepts rather than physical things. Property words describe the "things". They exist as a description ("the sharp stone") and an assertion of truth ("the stone is sharp"). These words often are derived from objects that bear that property strongly ("red" often comes from the word for "blood", "green" from "leaf", "small" from "child", etc.).A copula is a word like "is". In some languages, they never developed at all. Russians, for example, basically say "stone sharp".Quantifiers usually develop from simpler property words, like "all" from "whole". Then come plural markers that develop from either quantifiers or intrinsically plural words like "people." Definite articles ("the") come from pointing words, and indefinite articles ("a") from the word for "one".Nouns become verbs ("to cage"), and verbs become nouns ("explosion"). The former is easier / more frequent. The latter is called nominalization.Possession words become markers of obligation ("I have to do it").But finally, subordination, the ability to subsume entire clauses with another, is the crown jewel of language. An example is "My friend, ---who was late and still tired from the night before--- (subsumed), missed the bus". It allows us to build infinitely complex sentences.Obviously, this is a vast oversimplification and for every rule, there is a counter. But many of these rules can describe how we from from "Me Tarzan" to Infinite Jest.A couple of fun facts:* About half of the world's languages are Object -> Verb (English, Spanish, French, etc.) and half are Verb -> Object (Arabic, Japanese, Turkish, etc.). Because this is the very foundation on top of which the rest of sentences are built, to a speaker of an OV language, a VO sentence is totally backwards (and vice versa).* Semitic languages (Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic) have triads of consonants as the root of verbs, which are then put into templates of vowels (ex: "_e_a_") to indicate case.
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  • Wishkid
    January 1, 1970
    Ok this book was simply AMAZING. I feel that anyone, ANYONE, endeavoring to learn a new language should FIRSTLY read this book! It is essentially an eagle eye's view over language itself, and the author exposes plainly and very easily (to follow) how language originated, from what and why we talk the way we do. It might sound odd to you, but halfway through this book my entire foundations of my view and understanding of life and the mind were shaken. I just never contemplated linguists or langua Ok this book was simply AMAZING. I feel that anyone, ANYONE, endeavoring to learn a new language should FIRSTLY read this book! It is essentially an eagle eye's view over language itself, and the author exposes plainly and very easily (to follow) how language originated, from what and why we talk the way we do. It might sound odd to you, but halfway through this book my entire foundations of my view and understanding of life and the mind were shaken. I just never contemplated linguists or language, and was only ever fascinated with the topic. Believe me, this book took none of the fascination away but just added to it! All while giving me an entirely different perspective on language, mankind, and communications in general both past present and future. Seriously, Deutscher took a whole lot of linguistic knowledge and presented it in this very book right here beautifully, plainly, and he weaves a web of pure understanding and insight that I simply never would have without reading first this book. After having read this thing, (at the moment I am not even finished, not quite) I feel literally 100 percent more confident in picking up another language, and I have this understanding about language all across the world and how it changes that I truly hold dear. 5/5 would bang!
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