30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
The secret life of languages
, 24 Jan. 2009
This review is from: The Unfolding Of Language (Paperback)
If nobody actually invented it, how could the bewildering variety, rich complexity and sheer expressiveness of human language 'mankind's greatest invention' have ever come about? Guy Deutscher takes us through an entertaining and plausible history of language's origins, explaining how the intricacy of for example Latin and Old English grammar could have emerged through a natural process of expressiveness and metaphor (creatively adding new words to phrases), analogy (ordering random variance into meaningful rules) and erosion (lazy speaking, losing endings and shortening words). He even explains how the weird and wonderful Semitic verb structure (where Hebrew and Arabic are forever united in parallel linguistic complexity) could have arisen. The first three quarters of the book reads like a novel, charting the exciting history of linguistics as well as language theory itself, only slowing in the final section where the author attempts to explain the strange source of subordinate clauses, a difficult area even for dedicated linguists to decipher. The ending, too, seems unexpectedly abrupt. If language is a flux of creation and destruction, why has there been a marked tendency in modern languages towards grammatical simplification with the case endings of Latin and Old English `rubbed off' in their modern counterparts? Is literacy the culprit? There are some quite interesting theories around but unfortunately they are skipped over here, leaving the reader with many questions unanswered. Nonetheless, this is still a cracking page-turning introduction to a fascinating area and not to be missed if you have any interest in the mysteries of language.
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