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The Origin of Language: Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue
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The Origin of Language: Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  144 Ratings  ·  15 Reviews
Using plentiful, engaging, and challenging examples, Ruhlen teaches how to classify languages and decipher their roots. Walks readers through the fascinating steps of tracing the origins and development of all the 5,000 languages known to have been spoken in human history. Covers the latest discoveries in genetics and evolutionary biology as well as the raging debates in t ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published August 15th 1996 by Wiley (first published April 1994)
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Jan 22, 2012 Manny rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in language
Recommended to Manny by: Anne
On 29 December 1566, Tycho Brahe, a young Danish nobleman who was studying at the University of Rostock, quarrelled with his third cousin Manderup Parsberg about the validity of a mathematical formula. Neither side would back down and they ended up fighting a duel over it, which resulted in Brahe losing part of his nose and being disfigured for life. He went on to become the greatest observational astronomer of his age, carrying out detailed measurements of planetary movements which after his de ...more
Jul 07, 2009 Sarah rated it really liked it
Don't read this book without a paper and pen, there are exercises that are worth the effort.
Michael Connolly
Feb 14, 2012 Michael Connolly rated it really liked it
One of the most fascinating books that I have ever read. The author was a student of the late Joseph Greenberg of Stanford University. Some of their theories are not widely accepted by academics. But if the out-of-Africa consensus among anthropologists is true, it seems plausible that all languages are related, and descend from an original, African language.
Greenberg is critical of linguists who require the reconstruction of a common ancestor language in order to prove that two languages descend
Sep 06, 2016 Jerry rated it really liked it
This is a very intriguing book about how languages can be compared to discover language families, and how the technique can then be extrapolated to discover families of families. For example, if you’re interested in a book like this you are probably familiar with the term proto-Indo-European in historical linguistics, the theorized language that preceded all of the Indo-European languages (such as English, Latin, Bengali, and so on).

Ruhlen argues (successfully, I think) that we can use similar t
Dec 22, 2009 Matthias rated it really liked it
Ruhlen provides the reader with proof that all extant languages are distantly related. He gives several tables, containing different words in various languages, and lets us come to “our own” conclusion that these languages and languages families, which are traditionally known to have nothing in common, are in fact related. Although it is too easy to lead someone to an “obvious conclusion” only by giving evidence consistent with his own views, his theories are actually quite plausible. Furthermor ...more
Jacques le fataliste et son maître
Decisamente chiaro, direi. Si tratta di un testo pensato come divulgativo: l’autore si rivolge ai non specialisti perché valutino con i propri occhi (con la propria ragione) se la sua teoria sull’unica origine di tutte le lingue sia sensata o meno.
Per far questo prepara dei veri e propri esercizi di comparazione fra lingue diverse, perché il lettore colga le somiglianze e operi gli opportuni raggruppamenti.
L’appello ai “non iniziati” è motivato dagli atteggiamenti di chiusura di una parte del mo
Aug 08, 2014 Snicketts rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, language
Interesting, in that it looks at the history of language classification in as much depth as the current theories. It touches on racism, colonialism and miscalculations before inviting you to have a go yourself at identifying language families from lists of similar meaning words. I found this exercise fascinating. It also tries to bridge the divide between archaeological evidence and linguistic evidence and underlines what strides can now be made by incorporating new DNA evidence into the mix. A ...more
Jean Gobin
Jun 30, 2013 Jean Gobin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Historical linguistic is a hot topic, with about a century of quarrels between different trends. M. Ruhlen exposes one of these theories, that all human languages derive from the some "mother language", and he has some help from biology to prove it.

The reading is interesting, with numerous examples of similarities and reconstructions of proto-languages. If you are interested in how our languages are constructed, this book is definitely worth of your library.
Aug 24, 2009 Liam rated it it was amazing
Professor argues that all languages originated from a single language in Africa. The people took the language throughout Africa, into the Middle East where it moved into Europe in different waves and into Asia. From Asia 3 migrations into the New World occurred. He believes Indo-europeanists don't compare their work with languages outside their purview because they are stubborn.
Aaron Jacob
Apr 28, 2012 Aaron Jacob rated it really liked it
this book was difficult for me to read, given i have no real linguistic background. i enjoyed it, but i may re-read it because it was a lot to swallow, and i'm not sure i comprehended it all. the linguistic symbols cause me great confusion.
Em Chitty
Nov 16, 2007 Em Chitty rated it it was amazing
Makes the argument through linguistic comparisons from all over the world that all language is originally one language--which conveniently dovetails with what is known now from DNA analysis, I believe. Fun to read because you do the comparisons yourself.
Sep 29, 2013 A. rated it really liked it
Shelves: لλܠल了
I do agree with the main point of the author, being that all languages are related, some just much more distantly than others - and that the walls and limitations put by indo-european linguists need to stop being the only norm. Recommended reading.
Mar 29, 2007 Roar rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: very few
Some of it is interesting, but the author sounds bitter about other scholars not agreeing with him.
Jan 20, 2016 Kathleen rated it liked it
An academic book geared somewhat for the layman. Very interesting approach and I think this author's theory has since proven to be pretty much spot on!
Matt Kowaleski
Jul 27, 2016 Matt Kowaleski rated it really liked it
This book was super-interesting. Some of Ruhlens theories about language groups seemed rather implausible, but they were still fascinating to consider
Matthew rated it it was amazing
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