Adam's Tongue: How Humans Made Language, How Language Made Humans

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9780809016471: Adam's Tongue: How Humans Made Language, How Language Made Humans

How language evolved has been called "the hardest problem in science." In Adam'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 to thoroughly integrate 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.'

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About the Author:

Derek Bickerton is professor emeritus of linguistics at the University of Hawaii. His most recent book, Bastard Tongues, was published by Hill and Wang in 2008.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

 

Introduction
 

You can try this at home.

 

No specially constructed course, safety equipment, or medical assistance of any kind is required.

 

It’s what’s called a thought experiment. Thought experiments are vital to science. Without thought experiments, we’d never have had the theory of relativity. If Einstein hadn’t imagined what riding on a beam of light would be like, or what would happen if two gangsters shot at each other, one in a moving elevator, one outside, we’d still be stuck with the Newtonian universe.

 

This particular thought experiment is very simple. You just have to imagine for a moment that you don’t have language and nobody else has, either.

 

Not speech, mind you. Language.

 

For some people these are synonymous. My heart sinks every time I open a new book on human evolution, turn to the index, and find the entry "language: see speech." "You don’t see speech, you idiot," I feel like yelling. "You hear speech." You can have speech without it meaning a thing; lots of parrots do. Speech is simply one vehicle for language. Another is manual sign. (I’m talking about the structured sign languages of the deaf, like American Sign Language, not the ad hoc gestures hearing people use.) Language is what determines the meanings of words and signs and what combines them into meaningful wholes, wholes that add up to conversations, speeches, essays, epic poems. Language goes beyond that, even; it’s what makes your thoughts truly meaningful, what builds your ideas into structured wholes. (If you doubt this, or feel it’s a stretch, just read on to the end of the book.) Even if you think you think in images, language is what puts thoseimages together to make meaningful wholes, rather than just disordered, tangled messes.

 

Think of how, without language, you’d do any of the things you do, without thinking, every day of your life. Writing letters (e-mail or snail mail). Answering the phone. Talking to those you love. Following the instructions for assembling the newgadget you just bought. Reading road signs (okay, some are graphic symbols, but the meanings of such symbols are not transparent—you have to learn, through language, that a picture of something with a diagonal line through it means you’re not supposed to do that thing). Playing any game (you learned the rules, spoken or written, through language). Shopping (you couldn’t read the labels on the cans; indeed, there wouldn’t be any labels to read, if there was even a store to shop in). Rehearsing the excuses you’ll make to your boss for coming in late. The list goes on and on. When you get to the end of it, here’s what you’ll find: everything you do that makes you human, each one of the countless things you can do that other speciescan’t, depends crucially on language.

 

Language is what makes us human.

 

Maybe it’s the only thing that makes us human.

 

It’s also the greatest problem in science.

 

You don’t agree with that? Well then, what would you say were the greatest problems in science? How life began? How the universe began? Whether there’s intelligent life anywhere else in the universe? None of these are questions we could even ask if we didn’t have language. How we got language is a question that logically precedes all other scientific questions, because without language there wouldn’t be any scientific questions. How can we know whether our answers to those questions haveany validity, if we don’t even know how we came to be able to ask them?

 

Since the dawn of time humans have wondered what it means to be human. Every answer you can think of has been proposed, andsome you couldn’t have thought of. Plato defined humans as featherless bipeds and Diogenes refuted him with a plucked chicken. In 1758 Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who first classified species, termed us Homo sapiens—wise man—and later on, when the multiple-branching tree of human evolution was revealed, and we had to disentangle ourselves from Neanderthals and "early" Homo sapiens (presumed ancestor of both us and them), we became Homo sapienssapiens: wisest of the wise. (Look around you and tell me if you think that’s accurate.) Look up "human being" in the online Encyclopaedia Britannica and you’ll find "a culture-bearing primate that is anatomically similar and related to the other great apes but is distinguished by a more highly developed brain and a resultant capacity for articulate speech and abstract reasoning." "Resultant," indeed! This is one of those remarks that seem to make sense, like "The sun rises in the east," until you ask yourself, is that what really happened?

 

Darwin knew a century and a half ago that the Encyclopaedia had it backward—that it wasn’t a "highly developed brain" that gave us language (not speech!) and abstract thought, but language that gave us abstract thought and a highly developed brain. "If it be maintained that certain powers, such as self-consciousness, abstraction etc., are peculiar to man, it may well be that these are the incidental results of other highly advanced intellectual faculties, and these again are mainly the result of the continued use of a highly developed language."

 

Nobody followed up on this. It was bad enough having an ape as one’s great-granddaddy—worse still if all that really divided us was that we could talk and he couldn’t. It was much more flattering to our self-esteem to suppose that our marvelous brains and minds just...grew somehow, got smarter all by themselves, and then started pouring out a cornucopia of thought and invention, science and literature, all the things that proved us the wisest of the wise. So we heard endlessly thatwhat distinguished us as humans was our consciousness, our self-consciousness, our foresight, our hindsight, our imagination, our ability to reason and to plan, and on and on. Not one word about how any of these miraculous abilities evolved. Thatmight have forced us to really look at language and how language began and what it did for us. But the belief that languagewas merely one of many outputs of our wonderful brains, though not quite universal, was widespread enough to make language origins look like an isolated problem, one you could split off from the rest of evolution, even the rest of human evolution, and crack at leisure, when there wasn’t anything more pressing to be done.

 

One thing writers on language origins all-too-often ignore, but that I want to emphasize throughout this book, is that language evolution is part of human evolution, and makes sense only if considered as a part of human evolution.

 

Another thing that discouraged people from coming to grips with language evolution was that it was such a hard problem. Insoluble, some said. In 1967 the psychologist Eric Lenneberg published a book, for the most part excellent, called Biological Foundations of Language. Now you’d think in a book with that title there would be, somewhere, some hint or at leasta guess as to how those foundations got founded—how the mills of biological evolution managed to grind out such a unique product. But there isn’t: Lenneberg concluded (always a rash move in science) that here was a question that could never be answered. Even two students of language evolution, writing very recently, described the origin of language as "the hardest problem in science." Language leaves no fossils. You can’t do experiments (at least not ethical ones). Language is a population of one, a truly unique trait. And that’s something all scientists dread, because it means you can’t use comparative methods, and comparing things that are similar but differ slightly from one another forms one of the most fruitful procedures known to science.

 

It’s hardly surprising, then, that attempts to explain how language evolved—and there’s been a growing number of these over the past few years—should have gone off in dozens of different directions. Nor is it surprising that these explanations have shied away from the very heart of the problem. You can read endless accounts of what skills and capacities our ancestors had to have before they could get language, or what selective pressures might have favored the emergence of language; you can read accounts, not quite endless and usually sketchier, of how language developed once it had begun. But you will read little, and that little extremely vague, about what I once called "the magic moment"—the moment when our ancestors first broke away from the kind of communication system that had served all other species well for at least half a billion years.

 

How language evolved isn’t just a hard problem in itself. It’s been made much harder to solve by two factors, both of which are actually quite irrelevant to it, but which we’ll have to deal with if we are to start with a clear idea of what the problem really is (and also of what it isn’t). One factor concerns the way in which evolution in general, and therefore human evolution in particular, has been presented by the neo-Darwinian consensus of the last century. I’ll get to that ina moment. First I want to deal with an issue that will seem to many, perhaps most, as ...

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Descrizione libro Hill Wang Inc.,U.S., United States, 2010. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. How language evolved has been called the hardest problem in science . In ADAM 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 to thoroughly integrate 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. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780809016471

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Descrizione libro Hill Wang Inc.,U.S., United States, 2010. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. How language evolved has been called the hardest problem in science . In ADAM 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 to thoroughly integrate 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. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780809016471

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Descrizione libro Hill Wang Inc.,U.S., United States, 2010. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. How language evolved has been called the hardest problem in science . In ADAM 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 to thoroughly integrate 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. Codice libro della libreria BTE9780809016471

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Descrizione libro Hill & Wang. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Paperback. 304 pages. Dimensions: 8.2in. x 5.6in. x 0.8in.How language evolved has been called the hardest problem in science. In Adams Tongue, Derek Bickertonlong a leading authority in this fieldshows 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 isnt the only thing that sets us apart from other speciesour 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 unitswordsautomatically opened a new and different cognitive universe, one that yielded novel innovations ranging from barbed arrowheads to the Apollo spacecraft. Written in Bickertons lucid and irreverent style, this book is the first to thoroughly integrate 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. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Codice libro della libreria 9780809016471

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