on 20 December 2005
Burling's relatively short volume is very readable, non-technical attempt to mark a path looking at real world forces in connection with the evolution of speech. Centrally, and without bold claims, he stresses the importance of cognitive evolution proceeding physiological evolution: shared meaning, and the understanding of intention must proceed more sophisticated communication practices.
He repudiates the position of those who believe in the necessity of rapid phological evolution: again, as so often demonstrated in evolutionary studies, a rudimentary, or more basic form of an "organ" often serves a demonstrably useful role. Burling paints a highly plausible picture of progressive, incrementally more sophisticated stages of vocal communication appearing amongst our ancestors.
He also rejects Klein's concept of the cognitive "big-bang" taking place around 50,000 years ago: evidence now strongly supports an earlier still impressive degree of cultural sophistication.
This volume is a very important addition to the literature on this topic, and I think one of the most careful and convincing in its approach. Anyone interested in the field will be virtually compelled to read it because of Burling has grasped the nettle and laid out a fairly detailed trajectory for the evolution of this most human of skills, but besides the compulsion on the grounds of keeping abreast with the field, this book is a pleasant and relaxed exposition.
Certainly a more detailed level of mechanistic explanation is warranted than what he has provided here, but he's shone a light onto "a" path of evolution: its now down to others to challenge his model or assist with substantiating it.
on 18 January 2011
Easily readable book which adds a new (for me, at least) angle on the difficult question of the original development of human language.The idea that human language is NOT a development of animal grunts, growls and snarls (we still have these in our laughs, yawns, and other 'gesture calls') but is rather something quite separate, is interesting and really illuminating for the subject.
on 22 March 2009
I'd start by saying that this is a topic that fascinates me. I bought this book, as I've a fair knowledge of evolution and modern linguistics and thought this would be a good read. How wrong can one be!
The author seems overly concerned with being right ; not a problem in itself, but it does lead to much of the writing being a rebuttal of other opinion. Second, it is overly repetitive (in much the manner of a person trying to hard to convince an audience), with a point being hammered home long after I've either agreed with it or set it aside.
I found myself skipping the ends of paragraphs and then the ends of chapters. At the last, I skipped the end of the book - I decided it was not really worth the effort of ploughing through the stylistically poor penmanship, only to discover that the author was telling me the same thing for the third time, pointing out that another scholar was wrong or just stating the obvious.