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How Language Began: The Story of Humanity's Greatest Invention

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  89 Ratings  ·  20 Reviews
Mankind has a distinct advantage over other terrestrial species: we talk to one another. But how did we acquire the most advanced form of communication on Earth? Daniel L. Everett, a “bombshell” linguist and “instant folk hero” (Tom Wolfe, Harper’s), provides in this sweeping history a comprehensive examination of the evolutionary story of language, from the earliest speak ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published November 7th 2017 by Liveright
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Brian Clegg
As someone with an interest in both science and language, How Language Began seemed an ideal combination - which managed to intrigue and disappoint me in equal measures.

Let's get that disappointment out the way first, as it's hardly the fault of Daniel Everett. This isn't really science (and so the title of the book is rather misleading, but I suppose 'One possibility for how language began' wouldn't be as punchy). It's hard to see how this could be science. Our ideas on the exact detail of homi
Peter Bradley
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Please give my Amazon review a helpful vote -

How Language Began by Daniel L. Everett

Controversial and revisionist are two words that came to my mind while reading this book.

I can't claim any deep specialty in this area but I've read a few books on the subject of linguistics and thought I was keeping abreast of the subject. I thought that Noam Chomsky was widely accepted as setting the benchmark for linguistic study and that the idea that language develope
Keith Akers
Jun 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting and convincing book on the invention of language. There are several surprises in this book. First of all, language existed prior to homo sapiens, specifically in homo erectus. Secondly, what language requires, more than anything else, is culture; and homo erectus clearly had culture. Grammar is helpful but comes along later. This book is a bit technical and is not exactly "light summer reading." However, it is clearly written and interesting and does not require special te ...more
Keith Swenson
May 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
Started the book with great expectations, but that was dashed before page 135. Could not finish it (and that is rare for me).

The Author has a habit of making broad generalized claims without backing them up. For example he dismisses Wernicke's area and Broca's area as not functioning on language by simply saying "they don't" and then going on to a vague statement attributed to "several researchers ...".

He says "the brain does not appear to be organized into separate modules" without explaining
Dec 23, 2017 rated it did not like it
This is another pop science, hyped, empty, over-produced, under-researched, non-book that will make your wallet lighter and your brain emptier. Written in the style of a newspaper feature article, this book is just as disposable as your daily tabloid, but with less useful alternative uses.

Anybody picking this book up would be forgiven for thinking that D.Everett was a 21st century prophet, with selected praise including "A book whose importance is almost impossible to overstate" and "Revelatory"
Gail Wanner
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating overview of evidence for language in Homo erectus 2 million years ago! By showing that culture, symbols and language go together and that we have archaeological evidence of culture in several locations inhabited by H. erectus, the author makes a persuasive argument for at least a G1 level language (simple word strings). He also discusses the recent evidence for dispersal of H. erectus from Africa across much of Europe and Asia and to islands that could only be reached by some sort of ...more
Clint Joseph
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
Okay, so, I always get hooked by these types of book titles, and then am always immediately reminded out how of the shallow end I can find myself. But, here's the thing: I feel like if you have really mastered something, that is shown by your ability to explain it to someone like me, who maybe isn't the smartest guy on the block.

And here's the thing, I spent the vast majority of this book trying to figure out exactly what this guy was arguing. At some points, I was pretty sure he just really ba
This was... okay. I think the science behind it is quite reasonable. Certainly giving what we now know about human genetics and neurology it makes far more sense than the opposing view championed by Noam Chomsky and his disciples. That view -- than human ability to use language arose relatively recently and suddenly via a single mutation -- does not jive with the facts that there are no areas of the brain exclusively dedicated to language and language does not engage only one area of the brain, ...more
Mar 13, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: linguistics
I have lived in an English-speaking country for 29 years, from age 16 on. As soon as I open my mouth, people ask me where I am from. I was exposed to Ukrainian in early childhood, and have studied it as a school subject, but almost never used it in conversation. Yet even if I have an accent in the language, it is slight. My daughter knew no English until age 3, when she went to an American preschool, and came back singing "Do you know the muffin man?"; she never had an accent in English since. S ...more
Feb 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is a hidden gem, which is strange why nobody paid attention to it. Anyway, I digress.

The book discusses exactly what it says 'how language began'. It borrows scientific evidence and arguments from different fields such as anthropology, neuroscience, biology, sociology, psychology and so on. Starting at the biological level, the author narrates the common accounts of the biological conceptions of language (gene, the brain's areas for processing speech production ...etc.) What was intere
Paul Gibson
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Linguistics is outside my usual areas of studies except its bearing on Chinese. Although not a subject I've read much about, the book was fascinating to me. To make his points, the author touches upon many disciplines that span millions of years. He considers the areas of evolution and genetics beyond natural selection and survival of the fittest while considering the importance of the Baldwin effect, genetic drift, population bottlenecks, etc. He does all of this while challenging the idea of a ...more
Jan Havlis
Jul 28, 2018 rated it liked it
i have quite mixed feelings towards the book. on one side, it contains some interesting ideas and formulations, on the other, there are lots of trivialities, strange conclusions and also some misunderstandings (mostly in fields far from the author's). i thought the books will be more scientific, but it is rather popular. that is not bad per se, just a small disappointment (mostly cos of lacking citations to some interesting claims). the books is still inspiring, i would recommend it to lay perso ...more
Jun 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
Why is this book so bad? Let me count the ways:
1. The author assumes the reader to know exactly nothing at all about evolution and so tells us all about evolutionary theory that we already know even though we came here to learn about language.
2. While it is overly simplistic, it is also too academic and seems to be citing everybody's work without actually saying anything.
3. I read the entire book and am still not sure what is new in here or even what the author thinks is new.
4. It needed some
José Angel
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book from what appears to be a Linguistic Anthropologist, especially the thesis that language emerged not from Sapiens, but from Erectus...and always contingent upon social and cultural contexts. Also the most systematic critique of Chomskyean linguistics in a very clever and fascinating manner. Highly recommended...
Jeremy S
Nov 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned, big-thinking
This book started strong, blending insight and attention-grabbing anecdotes, but as it continued it became highly repetitive and a little less cohesive than I'd have liked. Overall interesting book, but definitely gets a bit harder to engage with as it goes on.
David Melbie
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Linguists
Recommended to David by: Library pick
Very provocative and interesting. Culture is the defining catalyst in the evolution of language. Fascinating.
James Cummings
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
Good idea for a book needs some editing
Lew Brown
The book answers my remaining questions about how we became human
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Aug 11, 2018
Andrew Krupnicki
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Jan 01, 2018
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Daniel L. Everett is dean of arts and sciences at Bentley University. He has held appointments in linguistics and/or anthropology at the University of Campinas, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Manchester, and Illinois State University.

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“But the fact remains that 2 million years ago in Africa, a Homo erectus community began to share information among its members by means of language. They were the first to say, ‘It’s over there,’ or, ‘I am hungry.’ Maybe the first to say, ‘I love you.” 0 likes
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