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The Origin of Language: Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue [Paperback]

Merritt Ruhlen
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Aug 1996
Using plentiful, engaging, and challenging examples, Ruhlen teaches how to classify languages and decipher their roots. Walks readers through the fascinating steps of tracing the origins and development of all the 5,000 languages known to have been spoken in human history. Covers the latest discoveries in genetics and evolutionary biology as well as the raging debates in the linguistic world over the theory of the "mother tongue." Introduces a major emerging synthesis in the scientific world regarding the three fields of linguistics, evolutionary biology, and archeology, explaining how this synthesis is changing our understanding of human civilization's development.


Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Inc (1 Aug 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471159638
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471159636
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.4 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 601,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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From the Back Cover

The Origin of Language

A critically acclaimed journey back through time in search of the Mother Tongue and the roots of the human family

"Invites the reader to learn and apply the common process used by linguists." --Science News

"This book represents exactly the kind of thinking that is needed to pull historical linguistics out of its twentieth-century doldrums. . . . [W]ithout a doubt, a very readable book, well adapted to its popularizing aim." --LOS Forum

"Believing that doing is learning, Ruhlen encourages his readers to try their hand (and eye) at classifying languages. This exercise helps us appreciate the challenges inherent in this fascinating and controversial science of comparative linguistics." --Booklist

"Ruhlen is a leader in the new attempt to write the unified theory of language development and diffusion." --Library Journal

"A powerful statement [and] also a wonderfully clear exposition of linguistic thinking about prehistory. . . . [Q]uite solid and very well presented." --Anthropological Science

About the Author

MERRITT RUHLEN, Ph.D., is one of the world's foremost linguists, and his work has been featured in nearly every recent major article on the history of language. Dr. Ruhlen received his Ph.D. in linguistics from Stanford University, and studied linguistics at the University of Paris, the University of Bucharest, and the University of Illinois. He has published more than forty articles, monographs, and books on various topics in linguistics.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Inasmuch as written language, so far as anyone knows, is only about 5,000 years old-and spoken language by itself leaves no historical trace at all-one might imagine that language would have little to tell us about human prehistory. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing read 6 July 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Having been interested in linguistics for some time I thought that I would pick up this book and I found it very interesting. The interactive part of the book giving the reader the opportunity to classify languages without prior knowledge of which language or language family they were dealing with was a great idea as it didn't prejudice one's views with regards to how languages are related to each other.
Towards the end of the book it was hard getting to grips with the attacks on the linguistic academic community and how everyone wants to protect their own specialist areas. That aside I couldn't fault the book in any other area.
This is a definite read and will leave the reader wanting to read more on the history of languages and linguistics.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant popular science 8 Dec 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Being a bilingual and a sometime translator, I have always had a certain fascination for linguistics itself. Some years ago there was an article in, I think, Scientific American about this line of research, with a fascinating connection with glottochronological theory dating the Mother Tongue at the same very approximate time, 200 000 years ago, that mitochondrial genetic research has placed the individual mother from which all present human females are descended! Ruhlen's work wet my appetite enormously. Developments that might long be buried in academic journals are bought to light, and the presentation actually makes the reader acquire something resembling a living skill in the subject. You can work out the connections yourself between languages you never heard of.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't live up to its potential. 21 Mar 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This book would have been much more enjoyable if it included a 1 or 2 page appendix describing the phonetic system used. I tried to read it on a plane, but without a self-contained way to sound out his examples, it was not as much fun as it could have been. In addition, much space seems to be devoted to the adolescent sniping that seems to be extremely prevalent in the academic linguistics community. It serves as a vivid reminder why I never got along all that well in the academic world. Nonetheless, there is some interesting material presented.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Concise, informative, readable 29 Jan 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Having a love of languages I found this book very interesting. From my own knowledge I was able to identify the families of the languages in the first table before it was explained and don't see any reason to believe this would not also be true in the other language groups that I am not familiar with (contrary to the one star reviewer). This book gave me what I was looking for - a concise introduction to world language distribution.

I also feel that it was necessary to alert the reader to the opposing views which one might find elsewhere, although this was maybe not so elegantly done as it might have been. The connection between language, linguistics and politics is another issue for other books.

This one seems to me a great introduction and walks the difficult line between scientific jargon and readibility very well
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Confusing and factional 6 Nov 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book invites the lay reader to classify languages by presenting the reader with a table of words from those languages. This is a waste of time, because current forms of words dont necessarily reflect the origin and it is hardly posssible to classify them with just a few nouns. The rest of the book is devoted to attacks on the good faith of those academics whose positions differ from the "obvious truth" that common sense has revealed in these examinations.
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