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The Unfolding Of Language

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  2,650 ratings  ·  217 reviews
'Language is mankind's greatest invention - except of course, that it was never invented.' So begins Guy Deutscher's fascinating investigation into the evolution of language. No one believes that the Roman Senate sat down one day to design the complex system that is Latin grammar, and few believe, these days, in the literal truth of the story of the Tower of Babel. But the ...more
Paperback, 360 pages
Published June 1st 2006 by Arrow (first published January 1st 2005)
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4.18  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,650 ratings  ·  217 reviews

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Dec 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language
I admit it, I love language. Despite this, I've been astonishingly slow to pick up the overall history and shape of language. I've picked bits of the history of English (Celts, Germans, French, vowel shift) but never the overall picture of how languages change. I didn't even realize that, beyond "we are lazy buggers and mangle words", that it had been codified.

Boy, was I wrong!

As I read this book, I kept pausing to relate bits of what I'd learned to my kids. The author points to two great tecton
Nov 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I need to begin this review by stating emphatically what this book is not. Despite its somewhat misleading cover, it is not a scientific description of how language emerged in evolution, how grunting developed into speech. If that is what you are looking for, you will not find it here, as the author states there is no real evidence on which to determine that sequence of events. What this book is, however, is an utterly fascinating, well-grounded exploration of the basic principles which shape th ...more
John Brown
Oct 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can highly recommend it. I started (but did not finish) a PhD in Computational Linguistics, and was put off by the unnecessary complexity of Head Driven Phrase Structure Grammar. Since then I have read a lot of linguistic books to try to understand the motivation for such complexity.
Deutscher keeps things simple, whilst answering all sort of questions that had occurred to me concerning the evolution of languages. The level of treatment is just a bit deeper than Pinker's "The Language Instinct"
Jul 06, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: early-man, research
Dr. Deutscher has done a scholarly, thorough discussion on the roots of language, but I believe he started too late in time. I'm of the persuasion that language involves more than the spoken word. I find body language (which proponents argue communicate half of what we speak), facial expressions (think FACS, FBI, microexpressions), movement to be as telling of a person's intentions as words. Sometimes more so. Yet, he argues language was born when we could prove it was born--"...for how can anyo ...more
Mar 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Qué cosita más grande de libro. No puedo recomendarlo suficiente: para cualquiera que esté interesado en el lenguaje.
Y si lees esto en Goodreads, es más que posible que lo estés...
Simon Cleveland, PhD
A couple of days ago I finished reading 'The Unfolding of Language : An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention' by Guy Deutscher. Wow, it's exhausting just to say the name, imagine what it felt like to read the book. But, seriously the work is intellectually challenging and often provoked me to engage in thoughts on the ever changing state of human language. And yes, metaphors are the erodent of language (in case you were wondering). Many times I found myself reminiscing about the com ...more
Sep 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
By far the best tour of linguistics for the layman, as pertaining to the development of language. Many books which delve into this meaty topic provide a lot of cute examples of etymology, without a really coherent exposition of the processes that have shaped the structure of language, and how linguists uncovered them.
Professor Deutscher does a lively job of bringing the general reader's attention to the tendencies that have shaped the development of language -- erosion, emphasis, and metaphor.
Kathrin Schröder
Guy Deutscher Du Jane, Ich Goethe Eine Geschichte der Sprache

neu aufgelegt unter dem Titel:

Die Evolution der Sprache: Wie die Menschheit zu ihrer größten Erfindung kam bei DTV erscheint dort September 2018

Genre: Sachbuch Linguistik

Dieses Buch habe ich überwiegend mit Lust gelesen.

Guy Deutscher kannte ich von seinem Werk "Im Spiegel der Sprachen" in dem aus der Sicht eines Linguisten dargestellt wird, wie das unterschiedliche Denken in verschiedenen Sprachen die Sicht auf die Welt verändern.

Jul 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a delightful and fascinating book. It's very readable and entertaining and I don't think that I will ever look at language quite the same way again. I wished, quite early on in the book, that I had read it(or had it to read) twenty years ago when I was teaching English in Japan. It made a lot of issues and problems that my students were facing much clearer to me, and if nothing else I wish I'd been able to explain to my students WHY English spelling is so screwy.

The author doesn't try
Andrew Breslin
This started out as a strong 4-star book, possibly going up to a 5, but as I slogged through the details on fricatives and declension and glottal stops and the structure of Semitic verbs, it steadily declined and by the end I was tempted to give it a 2. Rather than any indication of inconsistent effort and presentation on behalf of its skilled author, I think this simply reflects the fact that linguistics is fascinating from a distance and dreadfully dull up close.

I love etymology. I love tracin
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fabulous. Though I did get tired around the 80% mark. This book is especially for those who feel that the quality of modern language (be it English or otherwise) is deteriorating and is poorer than in the past. There was never a golden period where people spoke and wrote perfectly simply because there is no "pure" language. Language has always morphed and mutated due to people's need for economy, expressiveness and analogy. (read the book, I don't want to get into the details here).
I totally re
Serena.. Sery-ously?
Mar 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014, eng_2014
Disponibile una copia nuova per lo scambio causa errore nell'ordine su amazon!

Se la lingua e il linguaggio vi incuriosiscono, se qualche volta vi siete chiesti perché il verbo essere inglese è l'unico ad avere forme differenti al passato [was/were] o quali siano le forze scatenanti che modificano in continuazione una lingua.. Allora questo libro fa al caso vostro!!

Credo che in quasi cinque anni di carriera universitaria questo sia il libro che ho letto con più piacere in assoluto, quello che no
Andre Correa
I've learned a bunch of interesting things through this book, like how the forces of destruction and construction are continuously combined to shape language and the ubiquitous presence of metaphors all along. Another interesting aspect is the realization of mankind's inclination for doing more with less and the need for order reflected in the constant evolution of language. It's also worth noticing the highly complex framework of Semitic languages as well as how basic choices in the verb-object ...more
Ovidiu Oprea
Aug 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book is an overview of how language developed and how it changes through the ages. It is easy to read even for someone who has never read any linguistics books. The author is very playful with his subject. The vocabulary is very down-to-earth because all the complexities of linguistics are broken down into pieces of information that one can easily relate to because of everyday experience with language, while the reader is still informed about the major theories and the theoreticians of lingu ...more
Brian Cloutier
Jan 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
The kind of 5 star book which makes me want to go back and knock down some of my past reads by a star or two.

I'm a sucker for books which invoke systems and forces and tendencies, this book has all of those; it's fun to imagine the erosion of linguistics. He paints a great picture of how it's possible for a community to unconsciously build grand structures such as the latin case system or the semitic system of verb stems and, still unconsciously, grind them back down to nothing.

This book is wri
Nancy Mills
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well worth reading. Probably the most in-depth book on linguistics that I have yet read, and occasionally challenging but always intriguing and entertaining.
Gives a great answer to the question of why language seems to go from beautifully constructed to a big tangle of broken rules. Language is constantly eroding (going to becomes "gonna") but also constantly being added to. Nouns become verbs and verbs force themselves into nounship, words merge, people impose a template used on one word onto a
Feb 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book answers questions like how languages change over time, in particular, how do complex grammatical features come into being, how close languages diverge over time, and what are some of the laws that govern all these changes. It's an absolutely fascinating read, and a real eye opener, and what's very special about it is that it all sounds very much common sense - nothing is too complicated, the whole book almost is kind of obvious - the way Sherlock Holmes' insights are obvious to Dr. Wat ...more
Aug 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic, funny, and insightful book drawing on a vast amount of material to answer the seemingly unanswerable question? How does language come to be and what makes it change? Not as overtly partisan as Steven Pinker (an innatist) , Deutcher opens up more avenues for exploration, and his wit is just as sparkling.
Jan 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook, scribd
Cullen Mackenzie
I have read and reread this book, and am constantly recommending it to anyone who had even the slightest interest in Linguistics. It is a magical journey into what makes languages.
Apr 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I got this book with the expectation that it would be about the evolution of language, i.e. the transformation from a no-language-equipped brain into a language-equipped brain, but it is about how languages mutate into some other languages, e.g. Indo-European => Germanic => English. I got misled by the cover. However, I find the ‘The Unfolding of Language’ really fascinating and remarkably entertaining. I was intrigued by how Deutscher was able to demystify technical concepts in a way that ...more
Mar 22, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those particularly interested in how languages develop.
[22 Mar 2019]
This is not a good book for reading on a kindle or a phone, or even a small tablet. The problem is that the text is strewn with examples that the text discusses. These examples, which are often in languages other than English, are actually graphics so they do not expand when the main text expands and they started out as really small text. Mostly they are unreadable. If you have a touch screen it helps because you can expand the graphic a little bit, but it's annoying to have to sele
Matthijs Krul
Jan 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very readable popular introduction to language change. Unlike many such books, it doesn't just focus on sound change, but has at least as much discussion of grammaticalization. Unfortunately, for me the book was not as useful as I had hoped since much of it is at such a basic level that if you have any prior linguistics knowledge, you may find the first few chapters kinda frustrating (he elaborately explains what a case system is, etc). Also, presumably out of a desire to be accessible - or mayb ...more
John Fredrickson
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language, non-fiction
This is an excellent book on the dynamics of language change. One hears forever about how language is experiencing decay in these times - this book looks into some of these symptoms of decay, and explains why this is a misreading of language change. The book uses English examples in abundance, but also delves into the sentence and word structures of wildly different languages, particular Semitic and Turkish, but also others.

It is interesting to read examples of how language 'simplifies' over tim
Enrique Mañas
Apr 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are a linguistic aficionado, you have always been looking for the holy grail of the linguistics book. That imaginary unit whose existence is in question. That volume that formulates a unifying theory for the language development. Such a grueling task among the ocean of selection.

I am not sure if The Unfolding of Language or any other book fall into this category, or is only our human impetus to categorize everything with the taxonomic persistence of a botanic. Regardless of whether this b
Sep 01, 2018 marked it as xx-dnf-skim-reference  ·  review of another edition
Couldn't get into it. I'm still curious to read theories about how language first started, but this promised to be a treatise on linguistic analysis, with a chapter at the end that goes back in time only as far as the 'me Tarzan' stage.
Kenghis Khan
Although it dealt, rather deftly, with a fascinating topic, Deutscher's book is too encumbered by a corny, smug sense of humor and weak writing throughout that makes this a hard book to recommend. What makes this review so frustrating to write is that Deutscher does so many things right. The idea of erosion and elaboration as the driving force of linguistic change is powerfully conveyed. His treatment of the evolution of the Semitic verb system is superb, and of all the accounts of Saussure's la ...more
Sep 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
It's the first time I've picked up a book on linguistic history, and I have simply had my mind blown. As someone who always had a nagging feeling that languages must have somehow developed their complexity - in part - due to a few bright ones sitting down and writing up some rules, you get insights into the development of language that demonstrate that this simply isn't necessary for the development of language into the set of complex structures and rules that we observe today. The chapter devot ...more
Cole Simmons
Sep 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Because written records don't start until a couple thousand years ago, language is notoriously hard to study. We frankly don't know how much of it evolved. To compensate for this, Deutscher looks at modern clues: if we can assume that the forces that change language today are the same as those that have done so throughout history, we can recreate the steps through which language has changed.

As a child, he imaged a grand Roman counsel deciding on the wildly complex Latin declensions (nouns, prono
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ok this book was simply AMAZING. I feel that anyone, ANYONE, endeavoring to learn a new language should FIRSTLY read this book! It is essentially an eagle eye's view over language itself, and the author exposes plainly and very easily (to follow) how language originated, from what and why we talk the way we do. It might sound odd to you, but halfway through this book my entire foundations of my view and understanding of life and the mind were shaken. I just never contemplated linguists or langua ...more
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Question 2 13 Feb 02, 2017 05:41PM  
Madison Mega-Mara...: The Unfolding of Language 1 4 May 01, 2012 12:10PM  
  • Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World
  • The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language
  • The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language
  • Bastard Tongues: A Trailblazing Linguist Finds Clues to Our Common Humanity in the World's Lowliest Languages
  • In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language
  • The Stories of English
  • The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World's Most Endangered Languages
  • Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages
  • Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World's Undeciphered Scripts
  • Language Change: Progress or Decay?
  • Historical Linguistics: An Introduction
  • Limits of Language: Almost Everything You Didn't Know You Didn't Know about Language and Languages
  • Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z
  • The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of "Proper" English, from Shakespeare to South Park
  • In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology and Myth
  • You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity
  • Language Myths
  • The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World
There is more than one author with this name
For the physics professor, please see: Guy Deutscher

Guy Deutscher is the author of Through the Language Glass and The Unfolding of Language. Formerly a Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge and of the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Languages in the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, he is an honorary Research Fellow at the School of Language
“Really, it is unfair to say that English spelling is not an accurate rendering of speech. It is – it's only that it renders the speech of the 16th century.” 5 likes
“the names we use for things bear no inherent relation to the things themselves.” 2 likes
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