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on 14 March 2016
A very interesting book but unfortunately all of the quotes and tables of examples given in the book appear in font so tiny that it is unreadable. So every time the author referenced another language to make a point, I needed a magnifying glass to see what he said.
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on 11 June 2014
This book is informative, interesting and superbly written. The author's depth of knowledge is astounding and he manages to convey the sometimes difficult, and dry, concepts in an engrossing way.

That in itself would be sufficient recommendation to buy it, but it also delivers a message. I can see the average buyer of this book being someone who considers themselves a language purist to a greater or lesser extent - I did. But after reading it I now appreciate just how dynamic language is, always has been and must always be. So no longer will I complain about incorrect use of words, poor grammar or even made up words - it's all good, it's all necessary.

One of the best books I have ever read.
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on 23 February 2015
Originally ordered this as university course reading, but pleased to say it was entertaining enough that it actually kept me reading beyond the scope of my course. Easy enough to understand for the casual reader but well thought out and thorough. Some quite amusing anecdotal portions break up the more technical parts nicely (a poem by the author as a child on learning English brought a smile or two).
Maybe skip this if you're already a linguist, though.
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on 20 October 2013
Was there a golden age of language, which has sadly declined to our current language? Certainly the linguists of the 18th Century looking at the complex synthetic grammars of Sanskrit, Hebrew, Greek and Latin thought that was the case. Deutscher demonstrates, by looking at the way languages change, that the evolution of language is a continuous process, and gives some interesting hypotheses into how languages could develop from simple hominid communication of the 'Me Tarzan, you Jane' type into languages as known today. He also gives a view of how semitic languages with their 3-consonant roots and vowel templates could have arisen. With some interesting digressions into languages with grammatical distinctions unknown in Indo-European languages, it makes for a fascinating read.
My one complaint, which could dock 'half a star' is that Deutscher can be a little condescending at times. Anyone interested enough to buy this book can surely cope with a discussion on syntax.
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on 22 February 2016
Amazing book for linguistics enthusiasts who do not know where to start reading!
Can be slowly progressing sometimes, but necessary this was necessary to understand better the rest.
I would absolutely recommend it.
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on 20 December 2014
This book was deep, spanning the languages of Europe and touching on other areas. I've learnt a lot and, from a non-linguist's view point, the mechanisms of language evolution described by Guy seem sound. I'm going to have to read it again to get the details straight, but as I said, there is a lot to this book. It would be nice if the origins could have been pushed back to the earliest H. sapiens but that is probably beyond current science.
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on 1 July 2015
Many interesting points but also a lot of conjecture and supposition, as well as some fairly obvious things nonetheless detailed to death. Often over-written and long-winded, and boring in places. Can't see the tables and glosses properly on my Kindle. For the specialist I'd say. Cautiously recommend.
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on 3 August 2014
This is one of the few books I can really say have widened my horizons dramatically while simultaneously being a rather easy read.

I gained an overview of how and why languages change with time. The general principles that seem to apply universally were illustrated with specific historic examples from old documents in English, German and other languages, giving a nice balance between overview and detail.

To me, this book was worth many times it's purchase price of around £7.
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on 23 April 2012
I have really enjoyed the Unfolding of Language as it is a well written and stimulating book. It is easy to read and uses simple examples to advance the author's ideas. I was familiar with some of the concepts in the book beforehand which was what intrigued me to buy it, however there were still many fascinating examples and theories that I was unfamiliar with, which made it a rewarding read. As a fan of languages I found the book a wealth of information on the bizarre methods languages use to convey their meanings and how these might have come about originally.

I was however surprised by some obvious omission from the book, which left me feeling that Guy was searching for answers in the distant past when examples in living language were far more revealing.

A case in point is the change of p to f and f to h for which he uses the example of German "vater" compared to the Latin "pater". However far more frequent and varied changes occur in Welsh (and other celtic languages) as part of the everyday language. Welsh has a well developed system of mutations, namely soft, nasal and aspirant. The mutations may be sumarised as






etc. Where "dd" is pronounced as "th" in the english word "them" and "f" is pronounced as the english sound "v". This is a good example of Guy's softening of consonants.

So for the Welsh speaker the concept of Grimm's Law is enshrined in their language. As such I think it makes a better example then the Latin-German example and is a curious omission form the book.

In a later section of the book, Guy talks about the principle of erosion where consonants are removed over time to make the words easier to speak. Here again he makes a rather obvious omission. Scottish Gaelic has a peculiar spelling orthography which retains the old consonants long after their pronunciation has been lost. Take for example the word "leabhar" which means "book" and is similar in orthography to the Latin "liber" However the Gaelic pronunciation is "lyower", the "b" sound having been eroded by the surrounding vowels. Medial "bh" sounds are silent in Gaelic". This is not an isolated example in the language either. Examples include "adhaircean" [arkun] ="horns" ; "mathair" [ma-er] = mother. The list is endless.

Finally when talking about creating grammar from changes in pronunciation, again an obvious example in Scots Gaelic springs to mind.

The past tense was formed using the particle "do" as is "do buail mi" ="I struck". The "b" of "buail" was eroded because it was stuck between two vowels and so became "bh" [v]. "do bhuail mi". Eventually speakers stopped saying the "do" because the aspiration of the "b" to "bh" was sufficient to mark the past tense and in modern Gaelic "bhuail mi " is the past tense. However when the verb starts with a vowel (which can't be aspirated) the "do" remains. However the general rule of aspiration is still applied but in this case it is the "do" that aspirates to "dh" and the past tense of a verb beginning with a vowel is "dh'innis me" = "tell me".

Again these are examples from a living language where these changes occur dynamically on a daily basis. It seems strange that he does not mention these important examples and chooses to search in long dead languages for proof of the theories.

Having said all that I am still going to buy his other book on why language looks different to speakers of different languages. He really is an inspiring writer!
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on 14 November 2013
I wrote a longer review on GoodReads, where everybody seems to love the book.
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.
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