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The Ascent of Babel: An Exploration of Language, Mind, and Understanding Paperback – 6 May 1999

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Paperback: 274 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; New Ed edition (6 May 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198523777
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198523772
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 1.3 x 15.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 759,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


... fascinating... an extraordinarily accessible introduction to psycholinguistics, equally valuable to students of the subject, to linguists, psychologists and the general reader. Altmann's use of humorous examples makes it a pleasure to read. (New Scientist)

Using language fills most of our day, most of our life. Gerry Altmann seduces us with a surprisingly light touch in a witty, refreshing account of the intricacies of this most human of all skills. its feats and its failures. It is a masterful, state-of-the-art reflection of psycholinguistic science. (Willem Levelt, Max Planck Institute)

About the Author

Gerry T.M. Altmann is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of York.

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Bought for uni, easy book to read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars 4 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ascent of Babel: An Exploration of Language, Mind and Understanding 23 Sept. 2013
By Alice - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book arrived on time and it is in a good condition. The book itself is easy to read. I think it is a good book for fundamental psycholinguistics.
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars 25 Nov. 2014
By Leonard Dobrzynski - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, but might be a little dated. 12 Sept. 2004
By algo41 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Linguistics is the science of language, and psycho-linguistics is a branch of psychology attempting to understand how we acquire and process language, both oral and written. While this is a book about psycho-linguistics, it provides the reader with the necessary background in the relevant areas of linguistics. Psycholinguistics utilizes a variety of inputs: some very clever experimental tools, both high tech and low tech; studies of individuals with brain damage of some kind; computer investigations of artificial intelligence. Most amazing are the experiments with infants only a few days old. Gerry writes very clearly, and employs just enough repetition to reinforce ideas without being boring. Notwithstanding his efforts, and the significant progress that has been made, psycholinguistics at this point still seems to be more a collection of intriguing conclusions and experiments than a coherent whole. A previous reviewer mentioned that his Tower of Babel analogy adds nothing, and I quickly learned to skip his references to the Tower, but this is a very minor point. I found some of the sentences Gerry used for illustrating points more convoluted than I would have liked, but perhaps that was necessary. I had always thought I would be interested in linguistics, but while the book's discussions of linguistics were interesting, especially on the differences between languages, Gerry left me with no great desire to read another book on the subject, which was a disappointment. In summary, a very good book, but written in 1997, so perhaps a more recent book would be better.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good book, but could use some tweaking. 15 April 2000
By Michelle J. Boese - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book covers many topics of psycholinguistics in a way that someone with no background (except personal experience) can understand. Ch. 10 ("Exercising the vocal organs") is especially good in this respect because it covers the kinds of slips-of-the-tongue all of us can relate to, and then discusses the theoretical implications of the kinds of slips that are made. So this book will do fine if you want to learn a little bit about learning different sounds, finding meanings for words, and guessing meanings from grammar. Also, there is a chapter that quickly overviews different kinds of aphasias, dyslexias, and dysgraphias (problems with spoken language, problems with understanding written language, and problems with writing) as well as a nice not-over-technical chapter on computer modeling of how the brain might learn grammar. I feel so enriched! (8
The flow of the text is awkward: the transitions between chapters were okay, but within some chapters Altmann seems to ramble on somewhat. The book is quite readable if you don't do it all at one sitting, in which case this sort of thing might get annoying, but rather a chapter or two at a time, which fits well with the author's page vi suggestion that "the reader of this book should also skip [passages of the book] as necessary." This is not any less so for the fact that Altmann includes a preface, a pre-chapter called "In the beginning," and a chapter-one introduction to psycholinguistics. Altmann is also plagued the unfortunate "ascent of Babel" metaphor and feels obliged to waxing poetic on it between chapters.
It seems to me that Altmann glosses over controversy, for example as to the origins of the human race and human languages. I was a little surprised that there was no elaboration on what others tell me is not an open-shut case. I get the feeling that Altmann has a limited background on the topic, giving only 7 references in the bibliography for this chapter. Other chapters with sparse bibliography showings note that Altmann couldn't find further general reading, etc., and on average chapters 2 through 13 still have twice that many references, even though they cover much less academic terrain.
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