Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “How Language Began: The Story of Humanity's Greatest Invention” as Want to Read:
How Language Began: The Story of Humanity's Greatest Invention
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

3.28  ·  Rating details ·  265 ratings  ·  60 reviews

How Language Began revolutionizes our understanding of the one tool that has allowed us to become the "lords of the planet."


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),

...more
Kindle Edition, 348 pages
Published November 7th 2017 by Liveright
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about How Language Began, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about How Language Began

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.28  · 
Rating details
 ·  265 ratings  ·  60 reviews


More filters
 | 
Sort order
☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~  ⚡ϟ⚡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
...more
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
...more
Keith Swenson
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
...more
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
...more
Peter Bradley
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Please give my Amazon review a helpful vote - https://www.amazon.com/gp/review/R2B0...

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
...more
Keith Akers
Jun 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ushan
Mar 13, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Gail Wanner
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mehrsa
Jun 23, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Anders Brabaek
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.
mytwocents
Dec 23, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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"
...more
Bart Jr.
Sep 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
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
Jo
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
CHOMSKY'S UG BLACK BOX IS JUST A SECULAR CREATIONIST OPINION

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
...more
Liedzeit
Nov 14, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Clint Joseph
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
...more
Peter Herrmann
Dec 12, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lukasz
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bardzo fascynująca książka z dziedziny lingwistyki. Jak sam tytuł wskazuje ksiązka opisuje historię powstania języka. Ostatnio zafascynowała mnie lingwistyka, sam język, komunikacja. Postanowiłem więc zgłębić temat, sięgnąć po fachową ksiązkę, która pomoże mi zrozumieć to, jak powstał język, jedno z najważniejszych odkryć, wynalazków człowieka.

Nie powinno być wątpliwości, iż język to najważniejszy wynalazek człowieka. Pojawienie się języka umożliwiło powstanie kolejnych wynalazków, narzędzi, sam
...more
José Angel Hernandez
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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.
Brad
Sep 09, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Decent book with some very interesting portions. On the whole it would be a 3/5 stars.
James Cummings
2.5 stars
Carol Lavoie
Some nonfiction reads like a textbook, others like an adventure. This is the former.
Judith
Sep 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lots of linguistics!!! Culture necessary for language.
Nat
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
...more
Cary
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
Ahmad
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
...more
Maria
Dec 30, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While this author provides an alternate explanation to that of Chomsky’s Universal Grammar (UG) assertions, the evidence he provides to disputes UG is to merely state that he is correct and other scientists are wrong. While he provides cultural scenarios that he deems likely to have happened with Homo Erectus, in particular, he doesn’t quite make the link from cultural necessity to language invention clear beyond: if they needed to work together to complete more complex tasks, such as building b ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Recursive Mind: The Origins of Human Language, Thought, and Civilization
  • Historical Linguistics: An Introduction
  • A Natural History of Latin
  • Vanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World's Languages
  • Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin
  • When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge
  • Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins
  • An Introduction to Sociolinguistics
  • How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever
  • The Ruins of Empires
  • Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870
  • Science in Wonderland: The Scientific Fairy Tales of Victorian Britain
  • Sexual Revolution in Early America
  • Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science
  • Funerals to Die For: The Craziest, Creepiest, and Most Bizarre Funeral Traditions and Practices Ever
  • The Atlas of Languages: The Origin and Development of Languages Throughout the World
  • Written in Stone: A Journey Through the Stone Age and the Origins of Modern Language
  • The Linguistics Wars
See similar books…
70 followers
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.

“Ability to think in complex ways must precede talking in complex syntactic constructions” 1 likes
“The current Sahara desert was then non-existent. Instead, all of North Africa was covered in lush forests that stretched across the Middle East and on through Asia. Flora and fauna were rich throughout large swathes of the world that are today barren deserts. This ecological-climatological fecundity dramatically contrasts” 1 likes
More quotes…