Adam's Tongue: How Humans Made Language, How Language Made Humans

Front Cover
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Mar 17, 2009 - Science - 304 pages
1 Review

How language evolved has been called "the hardest problem in science." In Adam's Tongue, Derek Bickerton—long a leading authority in this field—shows how and why previous attempts to solve that problem have fallen short. Taking cues from topics as diverse as the foraging strategies of ants, the distribution of large prehistoric herbivores, and the construction of ecological niches, Bickerton produces a dazzling new alternative to the conventional wisdom.

Language is unique to humans, but it isn't the only thing that sets us apart from other species—our cognitive powers are qualitatively different. So could there be two separate discontinuities between humans and the rest of nature? No, says Bickerton; he shows how the mere possession of symbolic units—words—automatically opened a new and different cognitive universe, one that yielded novel innovations ranging from barbed arrowheads to the Apollo spacecraft.

Written in Bickerton's lucid and irreverent style, this book is the first that thoroughly integrates the story of how language evolved with the story of how humans evolved. Sure to be controversial, it will make indispensable reading both for experts in the field and for every reader who has ever wondered how a species as remarkable as ours could have come into existence.

 

What people are saying - Write a review

Adam's tongue: how humans made language, how language made humans

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Bickerton (emeritus, linguistics, Univ. of Hawaii) has written an accessible and engaging book on a very complex topic: the evolution of language. Avoiding jargon, he grounds scientific detail in a ... Read full review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

It is a wonderful job.It is the first time to discuss about the language in this way.I think, Bickerton overcome the tunnel vision of mediocrity and idiocy of the modern linguists.They know everything about the language,without understanding anything.

Contents

Introduction
3
The Size of the Problem
16
Thinking Like Engineers
37
Singing Apes?
55
Chatting Apes?
73
Niches Arent Everything Theyre the Only Thing
92
Our Ancestors in Their Niches
109
Go to the Ant Thou Sluggard
128
The Challenge from Chomsky
169
Making Up Our Minds
192
An Acorn Grows to a Sapling
211
The Sapling Becomes an Oak
232
Notes
251
Bibliography
259
Acknowledgments
273
Index
275

The Big Bang
146

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2009)

Derek Bickerton is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Hawaii. His most recent book, Bastard Tongues, was published by Hill and Wang in 2008.

Bibliographic information