The Unfolding of Language An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2005-06-01
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books
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Language is Mankind's Greatest invention-except of course, that it was never invented." So begins linguist Guy Deutscher's enthralling 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 then how did there come to be so many languages, and of such elaborate design? 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 shades of meaning?

Author Biography

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.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
A Castle in the Airp. 21
Perpetual Motionp. 45
The Forces of Destructionp. 73
A Reef of Dead Metaphorsp. 115
The Forces of Creationp. 144
Craving for Orderp. 171
The Unfolding of Languagep. 210
Epiloguep. 260
Flipping Categoriesp. 275
Laryngeals Again?p. 284
The Devil in the Detailp. 287
The Cook's Counterpointp. 294
The Turkish Mirrorp. 299
Notesp. 306
Bibliographyp. 329
Glossaryp. 341
Acknowledgmentsp. 347
Creditsp. 348
Indexp. 350
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


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
specific information
- 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

Excerpted from The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention by Guy Deutscher
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