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Grooming, Gossip, And The Evolution Of Language
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Grooming, Gossip, And The Evolution Of Language

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  232 ratings  ·  32 reviews
Why is it that among all the primates, only humans have language? According to Professor Robin Dunbar's new book, Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, humans gossip because we don't groom each other. Dunbar builds his argument in a lively discussion that touches on such varied topics as the behavior of gelada baboons, Darwin's theory of evolution, computer-gene ...more
Published (first published 1997)
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Corinne  E. Blackmer
A fascinating book that is well argued, and that has a compelling thesis. Robin Dunbar argues that language evolved, ultimately, from the grooming behavior of primates, which was used to give pleasure and to establish social bonds, as well as to cement social alliances. This enabled primates to survive by being able to distinguish friend from foe, and create cohort groups. In the meantime, the size of larger primates grew as primates traveled further afield in the search for food and, therefore, ...more
Panther
Aug 09, 2007 Panther rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: karen, jorn, elizabeth, dell
I read this book four years ago and I'm still all of a sudden getting whipped into a frenzy when something reminds me of it and then falling all over myself to explain some concept from the book to someone. Gossip: it's the glue holding social groups together! Also: notice how five people can hold one conversation but when a sixth joins, the group usually cleaves into two conversations.

Read "Chimpanzee Politics" first.
Julie
I admit to only skimming large portions of this book. I was intrigued by the "evolution of language" promise in the title because I am fascinated by the way language operates in communities. However, most of the book was dedicated to building a foundation of general evolutionary knowledge which, while interesting, was not what I was looking for. It seemed like just when the topic fully turned to language, the credits were rolling, and the next page was the bibliography.

In the last chapter of th
...more
Katja
The central argument of the book goes as follows (summarized on the first page of the final chapter): for primates, the social group size is limited by the neocortex size; for humans the value is around 150; there is a direct relationship between the grooming time and the group size; language evolved among humans to replace grooming because "the grooming time required by our larger groups made impossible demands on our time". I find this logic strange because it sounds like first there appeared ...more
Cheryl
Aug 06, 2013 Cheryl marked it as skimmed-reference-dnf  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to enjoy this, but I got to p. 38 and realized that the physical copy I was reading actually Stinks. Yes, like tomcat piss or something similar. Ironically apt, eh?

So, I peeked ahead some, and read a bunch of reviews here, and I realized that the reason I had only gotten that far, despite picking the book up several times, is that too much of it is background, nothing I've not read about before. And the thesis apparently doesn't get articulated until the last chapter.

Moreover, to this
...more
Tod
Dunbar's theories are intriguing and usually backed up by experimental findings (and dutifully noted when they aren't). His delivery is clearly focused on the layman, and his research has an honesty and a freshness that makes GGEL a quick and provocative read. Anthropology majors will have some key ideas turned upside down while reading these theories, which question the "patriarchal hunters and priests" paradigm we have traditionally been taught was the font of early language.

Dunbar's theories
...more
Mar
Among all your friends and acquaintances in real life, how many exactly are those with whom you carry close social relationships: those whom you know well enough that you can ask of them a favor, or whose discussion you can join uninvited without fear of getting shunned as epal or obtruder? Our individual answers will no doubt vary, but the eminent anthropologist Robin Dunbar would bet on an average that now carries his name – 150. Dunbar’s number.

There is nothing to read into the number by wa
...more
Ethan
"[B]eguiling language offers hope for a communal life that is more welcoming and more secure. Language preys on the emotions, capitalizing on the fact that words can be used to stir deep emotional feelings, to generate opiate highs when used in the right way ... The psychological mechanism that evolved to facilitate the bonding of communities has lost its way because those communities of common interest no longer exist. We are exposed to the risk of exploitation by strangers. In the small commun ...more
Cori
This was a wonderful book that spanned a great number of topics. I love learning interesting tidbits and this book was full of them.

The key points were: (view spoiler)
...more
Megan Goeke
Dunbar really presented his theory of evolution of language in a manner that the non-anthropologist can understand.
Brian Melendez
Language as a proxy for intimacy. Professor Dunbar's thesis is that language evolved as a substitute for physical intimacy (grooming, not sex) as the basis for bonding a social group. As human communities grew too large for each member to personally groom each other member, we developed language as a means of "grooming" verbally, if not physically, a greater number of companions. The structure of language, including the words that we use, is designed for the purpose of advancing the social and s ...more
Mike Farrell
Interesting, perhaps eccentric, thesis on the origin and utility of human language, well-founded in evidence gathered from a wide variety of fields, including linguistics, neurology, and evolutionary psychology. In some cases, Dunbar seems a bit dismissive of others' hypotheses, but at least he gives them consideration (his objections don't always convince; but a stronger case would certainly require a more technical, and therefore less entertaining presentation). Strongly recommended for anyone ...more
sillopillo
Analisi precisa e comprensibile sull'evoluzione.
Finalmente un libro semplice, completo e ben scritto che propone ipotesi circostanziate e credibili sui motivi che hanno portato gli essere umani a comunicare tra loro attraverso il linguaggio.
Illuminanti i vari esempio proposti nei quali il lettore riesce a calarsi completamente ed esclama: "Ecco, ora comprendo il perche' di certi comportamenti!"
A conclusione del tutto una riflessione sul fatto che pur credendoci esseri tanto evoluti al momento c'
...more
Lyn
got bored, stopped reading
Parker Donat
I loved this book! I found it a really interesting model for how we use language in our daily relationships. Are we grooming them with our words? Or are we gossiping to make friends? I think anyone who reads this will find that it resonates with them in accordance to their own relationships. If you don't like the thought of evolution and or lots of research, then this book might not be for you.

Robin Dunbar makes some great theories and research that if anyone interested in social behavior will
...more
Bob
Aug 25, 2008 Bob rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: women and men who want to understand them
Recommended to Bob by: killer reviews in major media
Women have an inherent superior ability in verbal skills
and when humans gather together in bird-like "leks,"
the men are all about competing for status
while the women are all about networking relationships.

Read this book if you know any women and wonder what it is with that characteristic need to "talk things over."

"I am woman. Know ye not that when I think I must speak?"
-Ramona or Rolanda, or some crazy chick from a Shakespeare play.
Yang
It's a fun book if you are interested in evolution theory and explaining all social phenomena from this mindset. The author argued "language" is an efficient tool to weave humans' social networks whereas other primates may only be able to achieve by grooming or other more time-consuming activities. The capacity of using language is connected with the neocortex ratio -that is convincing I would say.
Kris
The book is somewhat dated in the language and the conclusions in regards to the internet at the end, since it was written in the early 1990s. (I winced every time he referred to non-verbal deaf people as "dumb".) However, the most of it is still interesting and injected with a bit of humor to keep the pace moving.
Tyler
A good book. Unfortunately I left a third of it to finish in one day, so I felt a little rushed and bored of the constant theorizing, but overall it was very interesting and I felt confident about the author's experience as a researcher
Russell
I read this for a freshman course in psychology, and I was surprised to find that I enjoyed it. It’s an interesting read, if not an entertaining one.
Marc
Not a bad book, plenty of interesting ideas for speculation. Certainly a must read if you are into human evolution.
Lauren
Loved this book. It's currently sitting in my hall bath for others to skim through when they "have a few minutes."
Nurul
Katanya Robin Dunbar, kumpul2 lebih dari 4 orang udah gak efektif lagi komunikasinya.......
Julie
Not what I was expecting. It reads like a textbook. It's much too weighty for me.
Ismail N.
I recommend reading this with Freud's "Civilization and its Discontents."
Jonathan
Jul 15, 2007 Jonathan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fellow simians
I learned the intricacies of grooming at a distance, and the virtues.
Julia Bainbridge
One of the most interesting subjects to me.
Jane
Not my favorite language book, but it's okay.
Jamey
A tasty dish of argumentation.
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Robin Ian MacDonald Dunbar, British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist. He is a specialist in primate behaviour. Currently Professor of Evolutionary Psychology and head of the Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group at the Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford.
More about Robin Dunbar...
How Many Friends Does One Person Need?: Dunbar's Number and Other Evolutionary Quirks The Human Story Human Evolution: A Pelican Introduction (Pelican Books) The Science of Love and Betrayal Evolutionary Psychology: A Beginner's Guide

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