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Grooming, Gossip, And The Evolution Of Language

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  380 Ratings  ·  37 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
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
Jun 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
May 20, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Meha Jadhav
Sep 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Robin Dunbar essentially elaborates on his theories of how and why language developed. Initially he discusses the why question and in this he talks about many of the characteristics that make us human: from language, bipedalism and big brains to gossiping. Later he talk about the ‘how’. Initially humans had one language which then spilt into many others. He discusses why there is a high rate of dialect formation and how it is important in maintaining kinship. Finally, he uses the theories of lan ...more
Shiloh Cleofe
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating subject that does a deep dive into how and why we use language. Really makes you think about what we spend you time talking about with others and why. The correlations to other primate societies are very interesting and encourage you to look at language a different way.
This was a fascinating book that I initially approached with some scepticism. The thesis is summed up succinctly on page 192 of the second edition, which I’ll paraphrase here.

The central argument involves four key points. The first is that social group size of primate species is correlated with the size of the neocortex. The second is that extrapolating this data from monkeys and apes to humans predicts an expected human social group size of 150. The third is that physical grooming among primate
Nov 05, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Gideon Maxim
Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant theory. Well told.

Definitely incomplete in terms of evolutionary mechanics (sort of like theories of natural evolution before natural selection was added). Of the various theories on human language's evolution (that I've read about), this one seems the most plausible to me. Still missing a key ingredient, but feels right (which of course is a terrible metric for scientists; though as a layman, I'm okay with it).

This book is for a lay audience. I've tried reading his academic papers.
Sep 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"[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
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)
Brian Melendez
Jul 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Parker Donat
May 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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'
Mike Farrell
Apr 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dunbar's name is known to almost all psychology and animal behavior enthusiasts. But in this comprehensive book, RD covers a wide range of topics in Anthropology, Social Psychology, Animal Behavior, Linguistics, Neuroscience, Evolutionary Biology and even a little Molecular Biology in the context of the development of language. This is an essential introductory as well as advanced reference book.

A must read for all interested in why we speak or not speak a language
Aug 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
Sep 12, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
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
Megan Goeke
Apr 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dunbar really presented his theory of evolution of language in a manner that the non-anthropologist can understand.
Jan 22, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book. It's currently sitting in my hall bath for others to skim through when they "have a few minutes."
Julia Bainbridge
Mar 13, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the most interesting subjects to me.
Nov 18, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exactly what the title says
Jun 26, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fellow simians
I learned the intricacies of grooming at a distance, and the virtues.
Ismail N.
Apr 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recommend reading this with Freud's "Civilization and its Discontents."
Jan 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: scienceandnature
Katanya Robin Dunbar, kumpul2 lebih dari 4 orang udah gak efektif lagi komunikasinya.......
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.
Apr 26, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Not what I was expecting. It reads like a textbook. It's much too weighty for me.
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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 I.M. Dunbar

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