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

3.35  ·  Rating details ·  557 ratings  ·  97 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 (first published September 21st 2017)
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☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣
In order to get into this one, one has to understand that everything we know on the topic, is a conjecture. There is no hard and absolute proof, and can't be with all the distance in time and space with our ansestors.

Yes, many scientists, including paleoanthropologists and the like would go butt heads with me on this one. See, it's their job making their research 'proof-based and scientific and on...'. Still, one has to be realistic about things, including the veracity and interpretation and pe
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
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"In the beginning was the Word." John 1:1
"No, it wasn’t." Dan Everett
That is why it was called Babel – because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Genesis 11:9

Our human ancestors Homo Erectus invented language and culture. We, Homo Sapiens have just made them better.

We are the crown of creation
Humans have become, for better or worse, lords of the planet. If the dinosaurs were still alive today, humans would
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
Lis Carey
This is such a frustrating book.

Everett has a lot to say, that's of interest, about the history of human language, and makes an interesting, and to me persuasive, case that language goes back to Homo erectus, if not further. One thing he points to, hardly the only one, is the H. erectus population on the the island of Flores. They must at some point have arrived in numbers sufficient to establish a viable population, which would mean a minimum of fifty men, women, and children arriving together
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
"Recursion is not the biological basis for language. It is an enhancement of human thought."
Dan Everett

"Recursion is not the basis of human language. One language shows that. Language does not seem to be innate."
Dan Everett
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
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
Anders Brabaek
Sep 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
Primary themes:
1) Language predates homo sapiens
2) Language makes no sense without culture

Sentence to sentence this book is ok, but as a collected whole it was boring to me, and I struggled to get through it.
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
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
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"
Bastard Travel
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Lemme summarize:

"Nobody knows, but it predated homo sapiens. Also, FUCK Chomsky!"

I like this guy.
Bart Jr.
Sep 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
How Language Began by Daniel Everett

How Language Began is an excellent exposition of the possible manner in which language originated. Many linguists believe that the explosion of symbolic art and other artifacts, traced to times between 40,000 and 100,000 years ago, signaled the rise of language. The author of How Language Began, Daniel Everett, contrary to this hypothesis, situates the origin of language some 2 million years earlier, in the time of Homo erectus.

He argues that Homo erectus had
Tim Pendry

Daniel Everett's book is a curious one - at one level, he has a thesis (that 'Homo Erectus' possessed language), at another level it is a succession of basic primers on all the academic disciplines surrounding language and its place in human culture, at a third, it is about culture in general.

The thesis, his McGuffin, you can take or leave. I was unpersuaded. It struck me that he had redefined language as something so simple (perhaps not without cause) that the proposition was close to meaningl
Peter Herrmann
Dec 12, 2018 rated it did not like it
Unreadable. I gave up half way through. Not because it is complex (I read lots of complex books on scientific and related topics), but because it is a collection of assertions with little to back them up. Also it is poorly organized: for example he'll make an allusion to some concept or finding (an allusion that I, and probably many readers, haven't heard before), but then, before elaborating, he goes on to make another point (or two or dozen) ... and maybe 25 page later (or never) he doubles ba ...more
José Angel Hernández
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: completed
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...
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.
Heather Hobbs
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: linguistics
Really informative! I enjoyed reading it.
Sotiris Makrygiannis
Could say that is a good summary of our knowledge on how the skill of language was developed.
That language is a reflection of culture is an obvious fact
Tyler Horton
Dec 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"But the use of the word 'invention' here is not a metaphor. It means what it says - human communities created symbols, grammar and language where there had been none before." (xviii)

This is an ambitious book which attempts to give an account of the origin of human language from an evolutionary perspective. Daniel Everett teaches Cognitive Science at Bentley University and has published widely both at the academic and more popular level.

The core of his argument here is that "language is a cultu
Caitrin Edmond
Feb 24, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wowee, a very very interesting read.

After having heard my lecturers bang on about “colourless green ideas sleep furiously” it was nice to read about it from someone who is top of the current linguistics game haha

Took me a while as Part 1 was all about evolution which I feel like I’ve read so much about already (your standard bill Bryson’s etc) but once I got past that Everett got into some really analytical discussions. I thought I knew a lot about linguistics before, turns out i knew nothing.

May 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
I struggled to finish this book because it is VERY repetitive, and I think it could have been structured better. Probably needs to be be re-edited and a second edition could be much better.

Having said that, the Author's arguments were very persuasive, logical, and concrete in my opinion. He brings a lot to the table by his exposure to Amazonian tribes that he stayed with in Brazil, and learned their languages. All of the evidence to support his theory are in depth, and gave me the ability, as a
Everett looks at how humans began communicating and how this language continues to develop and grow. Some fascinating facts and a very interesting book.
Jacques Coulardeau
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing

This book is essential in today’s linguistics where we are shifting away from Chomsky’s modern – in fact pre-postmodern – Universal Grammar’s innate theory of language though Chomsky does not choose between innate by creation (by God of course) or by genetic evolution (Darwin’s natural selection). The result is the same: by the decision of a supernatural being or by the natural selection of some genetic mutation, Homo Sapiens became lan
Nov 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
I really liked his book on the Pirahã. That was well written and I learned a lot. And I especially liked that he was not afraid to openly say that Chomsky was wrong.
When I heard that he was writing a book on the origin of language I was looking forward to it. I had my doubts though when I heard that he was actually writing two books at the same time.
And reading this book it does seem that he had just one main ambition, somehow filling 300 pages and making the deadline. What a pity.
Like other com
May 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'm not sure I agree with all the hypotheses but elegantly written. ...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
I really liked Don't Sleep, There are Snakes, and this book starts with the attention-grabbing story of how Everett's dad was killed by a rattlesnake. But an explanation of how the capacity to use language evolved requires a much more systematic telling than Everett gives it--I'd recommend Henrich's The Secret of Our Success, which covers some of the same cultural evolutionary ground.

The book begins with a discussion of the chemical origins of life in the Proterozoic, which struck me as overshoo
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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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