The Unfolding Of Language Paperback – 1 Jun 2006
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"'Highly original... Brilliant... How did...regular and complex languages come to exist? Deutscher's chosen task is to unravel [a] paradox, and he does so brilliantly, witholding the secret with great skill. If I told you how it works, you wouldn't buy the book. Both clever and convincing... this book will stretch your mind' Independent on Sunday"
"'He really ought to be read...by anyone who persists in complaining that the English language is going to the dogs...Interesting and substantial' Sunday Telegraph"
"'Powerful and thrilling' Spectator"
"'I was enthralled by Guy Deutscher's The Unfolding of Language, a history of how words came to take the forms they do, and therefore a history of the forms of the human mind.'" (A.S. Byatt in the Guardian 'Books of the Year)
"Fascinating... Any curious reader...will find something worth knowing in The Unfolding of Language'" (Boston Globe)
'Enthralling' A.S. Byatt
A brilliant and original exploration of how languages evolve and have evolved, comparable to Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct in its accessibility, wit and ambition.
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I buy Kindle books because it allows me to have the text size set to a large size which is good for my declining sight. However, whoever designed the layout of this book for the Kindle format had no consideration for the needs of visually disabled readers. The main text is excellent and can be easily read but the problem is that the author uses a different text size for the examples which he gives. And those examples always appear in microscopic print which make them impossible to read, even trying with two magnifying glasses. To say that this is a very poor design is a gross understatement and it means that I am losing a lot of what the book is saying. Very disappointing and thus the reason for only two stars.
The book is very well written but isn't an easy read because it contains so much information. Including a fantastic story about a mammoth.
I have only two quibbles to preserve me from total intimidation:Jonathan Swift was a satirist, so I doubt he "embarked on what would go down in posterity as one of the most astoundingly bigoted rants in the distinguished history of that genre" - I suspect a joke has been missed by one of us. And I know just enough Chinese to realise that "sange" in "sange zhongtou" doesn't quite mean "three" - "san" is three; "ge" is a (separate) measure word meaning, roughly, "of". So "three of hours". But those gave me my only passing moments of smugness within this torrent of information and education.
He takes examples from all sorts of sources, travelling from reconstructed Proto-Indo-European to the Semitic Languages and to Turkish, with lots of stops on the way to illustrate the his points. The chapters covering Indo-European are actually a really nice, concise introduction to language reconstruction for anyone new to the topic, and Guy's style won't break your head while you get used to the heady concepts.
The chapter on the Semitic consonantal root is particularly fascinating and clearly put across, and the mock lecture transcript of the chapter on erosion is good fun.
All in all, a great, informative read, which doubles as pop science book and a natty intro to some big concepts in language study too.
The book is not hung up on the Chomskyite approach, and is deeper than Pinker's two books on language. His thesis of language expansion and contraction is wholly convincing. The anecdote-like examples are fascinating, and should appeal to teachers, speech therapists, psychologists, parents of young children, etc. On GoodReads, a lot of teachers of English as a foreign language are wildly enthusiastic. Hundreds of reviews on GoodReads. Pick your discipline and see what people in it think.
Maybe skip this if you're already a linguist, though.