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  • MacLehose Press

The Dawn of Language: Axes, lies, midwifery and how we came to talk

Sverker Johansson

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Language: history & general works

An erudite, tightly woven and beautifully written account of one of humanity's greatest mysteries - the origins of language.

An entertaining and stimulating deep dive for anyone who has ever contemplated not just why we speak the way we do, but why we speak at all. The book is divided into three parts - language, origin and origin of language - and is packed with colourful examples.

Part 1 - Language as an isolated phenomenon - How do languages develop, what are the differences and similarities between the languages spoken around the world? Chapters on the origin and use of grammar.

Part 2 - Evolution of man - Intellectual development (from Neanderthal to social guru), but also physiological changes in evolution (e.g. brain capacity compared to apes) that have a bearing on our ability to develop language. "Nature versus nurture" is also discussed; to what extent is language development dependent on genes and environment? Both play a role, but perhaps have less impact than initially you think.

Part 3 - Origin of language - How language has evolved; who was "the first speaker", what was his/her first message? How has language developed further, and how is it changing now? How globalization has influenced language? How does programming language relate to "normal" language development? Which aspects of language ensure that robots are not yet intelligent enough to handle the complex issues or reconstruct language development?

Whereas Harari's Sapiens perhaps uses different theories to speculate how certain developments came about, Johansson's is approach to language is analytical and research-based. The result is a full picture of language development, a refreshing addition in an area in which theories of "linguist king" Noam Chomsky have predominated for years. The Dawn of Language is for the general reader and student alike.

Sverker Johansson's claim to fame otherwise is to have invented the LSJBot, which has written 8% of all articles on Swedish Wikipedia. He is also a physicist, has conducted research at CERN and participated in EVOLANG, a leading international research conference on language.


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