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The Origins of Grammar: Language in the Light of Evolution II (Oxford Studies in the Evolution of Language) [Hardcover]

James R. Hurford

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Book Description

22 Sep 2011 0199207879 978-0199207879
This is the second of the two closely linked but self-contained volumes that comprise James Hurford's acclaimed exploration of the biological evolution of language. In the first book he looked at the evolutionary origins of meaning, ending as our distant ancestors were about to step over the brink to modern language. He now considers how that step might have been taken and the consequences it undoubtedly had.

The capacity for language lets human beings formulate and express an unlimited range of propositions about real or fictitious worlds. It allows them to communicate these propositions, often overlaid with layers of nuance and irony, to other humans who can then interpret and respond to them. These processes take place at breakneck speed. Using a language means learning a vast number of arbitrary connections between forms and meanings and rules on how to manipulate them, both of which a normal human child can do in its first few years of life. James Hurford looks at how this miracle came about.

The book is divided into three parts. In the first the author surveys the syntactic structures evident in the communicative behaviour of animals, such as birds and whales, and discusses how vocabularies of learned symbols could have evolved and the effects this had on human thought. In the second he considers how far the evolution of grammar depended on biological or cultural factors. In the third and final part he describes the probable route by which the human language faculty and languages evolved from simple beginnings to their present complex state.

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Hurford's style is very clear and there is certainly no better introduction to linguistics around for evolutionarily inclined outsiders. (Mark Aronoff, Evolutionary Linguistics)

Hurford's scope is encyclopaedic (N.J. Enfield, Times Literary Supplement)

About the Author

James R. Hurford is Emeritus Professor of General Linguistics, University of Edinburgh. He is co-editor, with Kathleen Gibson, of OUP's Studies in Language Evolution, co-founder, with Simon Kirby, of the Language Evolution and Computation Research Unit at the University of Edinburgh, and co-founder, with Chris Knight, of the EVOLANG series of international conferences on the evolution of language. His books include The Linguistic Theory of Numerals (CUP, 1975), Language and Number: The Emergence of a Cognitive System (Blackwell, 1987), Grammar: A Student's Guide (CUP 1994), and The Origins ofMeaning (OUP 2007).

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Origins of Grammar 18 Jun 2012
By Diwiyana - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is the second volume of two on the evolutionary origins of language, the fourth or fifth I have read on the topic and by far the best. The author discusses the origin of words/vocabulary in the first volume and, in this second volume, the development of grammar or rules for putting words together. Along the way, he discusses recent discoveries about pidgins and creoles, the modern development of new sign languages, and something of the modern history of linguistics. A fascinating read with well argued points.
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