From Hand to Mouth: The Origins of Language

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Princeton University Press, 2002 - Science - 257 pages
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It is often said that speech is what distinguishes us from other animals. But are we all talk? What if language was bequeathed to us not by word of mouth, but as a hand-me-down?

The notion that language evolved not from animal cries but from manual and facial gestures--that, for most of human history, actions have spoken louder than words--has been around since Condillac. But never before has anyone developed a full-fledged theory of how, why, and with what effects language evolved from a gestural system to the spoken word. Marshaling far-flung evidence from anthropology, animal behavior, neurology, molecular biology, anatomy, linguistics, and evolutionary psychology, Michael Corballis makes the case that language developed, with the emergence of Homo sapiens, from primate gestures to a true signed language, complete with grammar and syntax and at best punctuated with grunts and other vocalizations. While vocal utterance played an increasingly important complementary role, autonomous speech did not appear until about 50,000 years ago--much later than generally believed.

Bringing in significant new evidence to bolster what has been a minority view, Corballis goes beyond earlier supporters of a gestural theory by suggesting why speech eventually (but not completely!) supplanted gesture. He then uses this milestone to account for the artistic explosion and demographic triumph of the particular group of Homo sapiens from whom we are descended. And he asserts that speech, like written language, was a cultural invention and not a biological fait accompli.

Writing with wit and eloquence, Corballis makes nimble reference to literature, mythology, natural history, sports, and contemporary politics as he explains in fascinating detail what we now know about such varied subjects as early hominid evolution, modern signed languages, and the causes of left-handedness. From Hand to Mouth will have scholars and laymen alike talking--and sometimes gesturing--for years to come.


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Review: From Hand to Mouth: The Origins of Language

User Review  - Katja - Goodreads

If you want to learn about the hypothesis that language as we know it evolved from gestures, I'd recommend "Origins of Human Communication" by Michael Tomasello, forget "From Hand to Mouth". So what ... Read full review


What Is Language?
Do Animals Have Language?
In the Beginning Was the Gesture
On Our Own Two Feet
Becoming Human
Signed Language
Its All Talk
Why Are We Lopsided?
From Hand to Mouth

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About the author (2002)

Michael C. Corballis was born in 1936 in New Zealand. He is a psychologist and author. Corballis earned a Master's degree in Mathematics at the University of New Zealand in 1959 and attained a Master of Arts in psychology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, in 1962. He then moved to McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where he gained a PhD in psychology in 1965,[citation needed] and taught in the Department of Psychology from 1968 to 1978. During his years as a professor at McGill, the main focus of his research was in cognitive neuroscience. He was appointed professor of psychology at the University of Auckland in 1978. His titles include Psychology of Left and Right , The Ambivalent Mind: The Neuropsychology of Left and Right, A Very Short Tour of the Mind, and The Wandering Mind: What the Brain Does When You're Not Looking. He was shortlisted for the 2015 Royal Society of New Zealand Science Book Prize.

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