Blending the spirit of Eats, Shoots & Leaves with the science of The Language Instinct, an original inquiry into the development of that most essential-and mysterious-of human creations: Language
Language is mankind's greatest invention-except, of course, that it was never invented." So begins linguist Guy Deutscher's enthralling investigation into the genesis and evolution of language. If we started off with rudimentary utterances on the level of "man throw spear," how did we end up with sophisticated grammars, enormous vocabularies, and intricately nuanced degrees of meaning?
Drawing on recent groundbreaking discoveries in modern linguistics, Deutscher exposes the elusive forces of creation at work in human communication, giving us fresh insight into how language emerges, evolves, and decays. He traces the evolution of linguistic complexity from an early "Me Tarzan" stage to such elaborate single-word constructions as the Turkish sehirlilestiremediklerimizdensiniz ("you are one of those whom we couldn't turn into a town dweller"). Arguing that destruction and creation in language are intimately entwined, Deutscher shows how these processes are continuously in operation, generating new words, new structures, and new meanings.
As entertaining as it is erudite, The Unfolding of Language moves nimbly from ancient Babylonian to American idiom, from the central role of metaphor to the staggering triumph of design that is the Semitic verb, to tell the dramatic story and explain the genius behind a uniquely human faculty.
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Born in Israel in 1969, Guy Deutscher studied mathematics and earned a Ph.D. in linguistics at the University of Cambridge, where he became a research fellow in 1998. A widely acclaimed scholar of ancient Semitic languages, Deutscher is at the University of Leiden in Holland.
How do languages evolve? Why does language always change-and does it decline or does it progress? How did language ever become so complex? In The Unfolding of Language, Guy Deutscher responds to the big questions with big answers, along the way solving such mysteries as
- why German maidens are neuter but German
turnips are female
- how words manage to accomplish a complete
U-turn in their meaning over a relatively short
time-like the word "resent," which, in the
seventeenth century, meant "appreciate" or
"feel grateful for"
- why Islam, Muslim, and Solomon are all
variations on one Semitic root, s-l-m ("be at
- how the design of Sumerian (the language
spoken 5,000 years ago by the people who
kick-started history) is so sophisticated that even
a pause in the middle of a word can convey
- why we have feet and not foots
- how the French came to say "on the day of this day"
when they mean "today"
- why most of the world's languages don't have a verb for
"have"-and how one goes about expressing the notion
of possession without it
- why human intuition-as evidenced by all human
languages-discovered the connection between space
and time thousands of years before Einstein
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