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How Language Began: The Story of Humanity's Greatest Invention
Everett, Daniel L.
Liveright / WW Norton / Softcover / 2019-12-01 / 1631496263
Language and Literacy / Forthcoming
price: $36.30 (may be subject to change)
352 pages
Not Yet Published

At the time of its publication, How Language Began received high acclaim for capturing the fascinating history of mankind’s most incredible creation. Deemed a “bombshell” linguist and “instant folk hero” by Tom Wolfe (Harper’s), Daniel L. Everett posits that the near- 7,000 languages that exist today are not only the product of one million years of evolution but also have allowed us to become Earth’s apex predator. Tracing 60,000 generations, Everett debunks long- held theories across a spectrum of disciplines to affi rm the idea that we are not born with an instinct for language. Woven with anecdotes of his nearly forty years of fi eldwork amongst Amazonian hunter- gatherers, this is a “completely enthralling” (Spectator) exploration of our humanity and a landmark study of what makes us human.

An ambitious text.... Everett’s amiable tone, and especially his captivating anecdotes from his field studies in the Amazonian rain forests, will help the neophyte get along. It’s worth it in the end to get a glimpse of conversation through his eyes, as humanity’s most impressive collective invention. — Melissa Dahl, New York Times Book Review

Very few books on the biological and cultural origin of humanity can be ranked as classics. I believe that Daniel L. Everett’s How Language Began will be one of them. — Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University

When I first became interested in cultural evolution, cognitive revolutionaries would say that Noam Chomsky had proved that an innate language acquisition device was the key to linguistics. Daniel Everett is a leader of the counterrevolution that is putting culture and cultural evolution back at the center of linguistics, and cognition more generally, where I think it belongs. How Language Began is an accessible account of the case for a culture-centered theory of language. — Peter Richerson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California Davis

Moving far outside historical linguistics, Everett credits Homo erectus with having invented language nearly two million years ago. This communicative invention came not—in Everett’s view—in one revolutionary breakthrough but, instead, at the slow pace typical of evolution, as early hominids gradually organized themselves in ever-more-complex social groupings, eventually learning to fashion culturally weighted symbols and then to manipulate such symbols in communicative strings, so setting the evolutionary stage for the planet’s only loquacious species: Homo sapiens. . . . Certain to spark that liveliest form of language—debate! — Bryce Christensen (Booklist)

[Everett] mixes esoteric scholarly inquiry with approachable anecdotal interludes to surmise how humans developed written and spoken language and why it became vital for survival and dominance. As in his previous books, Everett energetically attacks the long-accepted theory of Noam Chomsky that humans are born with the language instinct, including innate rules of structure....That Everett is skilled at leavening an intellectually challenging treatise with humor is evident on the first page of the introduction. — Kirkus Reviews

Provocative and ambitious. . . . Applying semantics, linguistic theory, cultural history, and popular culture, [Everett] makes a convincing case for the multimodal nature of language--a phenomenon that engages 'the whole person--intellectual emotions, hands, mouth, tongue, brain.' . . . This volume will be of interest to linguists, cultural critics, and anthropologists as well as informed readers interested in the evolution of language. — Herbert E. Shapiro (Library Journal)

How Language Began occupies a rare literary space that explains complex issues clearly to general readers while being an original contribution to scholarship...the arguments he marshals and insights he provides are impressive...anyone interested in language would gain from reading this book. — Oliver Kamm (Times)

Ambitious...the subject-matter is completely enthralling...Everett is at the very top of his intellectual game. — Harry Ritchie (Spectator)

Important and fascinating. — Adrian Woolfson (Prospect)

About the Author:

Daniel L. Everett is the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Bentley University. He has published over 100 articles and twelve books on linguistic theory, including The Dark Matter of the Mind: The Culturally Articulated Unconscious. He lives in Waltham, Massachusetts.

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