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The Seeds of Speech: Language Origin and Evolution (Canto) [Paperback]

Jean Aitchison
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 May 2000 0521785715 978-0521785716 New Ed
Human language is a weird communication system: it has more in common with birdsong than with the calls of other primates. In this wide-ranging and accessible overview, first published in 2000, Jean Aitchison explores the origins of human language and how it has evolved. She likens the search to a vast pre-historic jigsaw puzzle, in which numerous fragments of evidence must be assembled. Such evidence is pieced together from a mixture of linguistic and non-linguistic sources like evolution theory, archaeology, psychology, and anthropology. She explains why language is so strange, outlines recent theories about its origin, and discusses possible paths of evolution. Finally, Jean Aitchison considers what holds all languages together and prevents them from becoming unlearnably different from one another. The Seeds of Speech is a fascinating book that will appeal to everyone who is interested in the origins and evolution of human language, including linguists, anthropologists, psychologists, archaeologists, and the general reader.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; New Ed edition (4 May 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521785715
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521785716
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 856,100 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

'We must be grateful to Jean Aitchison for so very readably assembling a good deal of recent work that might seem to hint at how language began … liberally peppered with fetching quotations from all manner of sources, ranging from the cartoon character Charlie Brown through Lewis Carroll to Jonathan Swift's satirical novel Gulliver's Travels … the author goes out of her way to offer a restful read to all comers.' The Times

'… communicate[s] often quite complex ideas about language in a straightforward, intelligible, and often witty way … can be recommended to anyone with a curiosity about their language, where it came from, and how it reached its present state.' Child Language Teaching and Therapy

'She [Aitchison] carries her learning lightly and writes in a most comprehensible and often amusing way … I wished I had been able to ask the many questions that the book raised in my mind but that is an indication of Professor Aitchison's ability to make the reader think.' The Expository Times

Book Description

Human language is a weird communication system: it has more in common with birdsong than with the calls of other primates. In this wide-ranging and accessible overview, first published in 2000, Jean Aitchison explores the reasons why language is so strange, outlines recent theories about its origin, and discusses possible paths of evolution.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
We humans have evolved into quite strange beings. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not so wild 16 Jan 2012
Format:Paperback
Jean Aitchison is an awfully good guide to this potentially tricky (and dry) territory, helped out with eclectically chosen quotations (Douglas Adams, Charlie Brown), jolly pictures and diagrams of questionable utility. The's nary a shred of bio on her in my Canto edition but I'm pretty sure she's a she, not a Frenchman, in fact I suspect she's an australienne, and she's a jolly good egg as she steers us firmly but lightly between clashing theories across murky regions of almost pure surmise, more interestingly to the non-specialist on speech's origin (Ug!) than its evolution

Postscript: returning to this lucid, ordered world after flailing around in Wired for Culture (reviewed 26/2/12) is like coming within sight of dry land!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wilful Ignorance? 22 Nov 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this book to check on one tiny item which appeared to have been missed by Speech and Language experts in the United States. The item in question was the Long-birth interval "multi=age brood" characteristic which is unique to the human specie. According to palaeontologists this human characteristic evolved about two million years ago. In this context it can be shown that the multi-age brood led directly to the gradual acquisition of physiological characteristics needed for the pronunciation of more and more consonants. This was achieved by the normal process of genetic variation and natural selection.

I had previously purchased a book called The Origin of Speech by Professor Peter Macneilage which also omitted any reference to the multi-age brood characteristic. When I contacted Professor Macneilage, he admitted complete ignorance of the Long-birth interval multi-age brood.

There is a similar omission in this book which raises questions about the people involved. Are they living in an ivory tower? Or is this a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing?

Of course, the evolution of the Long-birth interval multi-age brood may have had nothing to do with the evolution of Speech and Language, but it should have been considered.

In this context, it is fair to say that just about every other proposal for the evolution of Speech and Language is considered in this book: and this makes for a erudite and readable account.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars these seeds bore fruit 20 May 2005
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Aitchison has written another page turner. If this book doesn't keep you up until 3am desperate to finish, nothing will. It is divided into four sections: puzzles, origin, evolution, and diffusion. Puzzles deals with the theories as to how language began and developed. What was it originally for? and touches a little on the area of psycholinguistics. The second section deals with the issue of where it began on earth and how it spread out. The issues of the first chapter are expanded on and answers provided. The third section details the evolution of language based on what we currently know about language creation among the higher apes and among indigenous peoples who are exposed to foreign languages (pidgins, creoles). The last section deals with the diffusion we know today and with the idea of a universal grammar that would unite all human language under certain principles.

As always Aitchison has managed to present a lot of information succinctly and without clouding the issues. A good introduction to the subject.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cerebellums, Chimpanzees, and Chomsky 6 Jan 2011
By Stephen Pellerine - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I like this book a lot. It starts with a statement/question on the first page

A natural curiosity: How did language begin? It is an amazing thought and question and admittedly if you are reading this review you have an interest in language/linguistics and have probably thought of this before, but many people have not. Just ask a few. The conversations that follow will be intriguing.

Other chapters in the first part of the book ask: What is language for? Why do languages differ? And Is Language and Independent Skill? It looks at the cerebellum, chimpanzees, and Chomsky - so a well rounded book considering the neurology and cultural underpinnings of how language may have evolved and why.

For the MA student in linguistics or TESOL this is a very useful reference/read - don't hesitate. For average civilian you may need a peculiar interest in linguistics to find this riveting - or an interest in a range of topics offered here during life. It is a great book.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars perfect 22 July 2013
By Rachel GrimaldI - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I needed this book for a research paper. It was delivered much faster than I expected and was in better quality than I expected as well. It was perfect!
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