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The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher

The Unfolding of Language (2005)

by Guy Deutscher

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7802511,816 (4.18)55
  1. 20
    The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language by John McWhorter (keristars)
    keristars: Great companion books - two perspectives of virtually the same thing. McWhorter's looks more at the sheer variety (or lack thereof) of languages, while Deutscher's looks at the complexity within a single language.
  2. 00
    The Seeds of Speech by Jean Aitchison (SomeGuyInVirginia)

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» See also 55 mentions

English (22)  German (2)  Italian (1)  All languages (25)
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Couldn't get into it. I'm still curious to read theories about how language first started, but this promised to be a treatise on linguistic analysis, with a chapter at the end that goes back in time only as far as the 'me Tarzan' stage.
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
This is a good book and the German translation is very well done. But after a while the details end up being more than I really eant to know. ( )
  MarthaJeanne | Apr 5, 2014 |

I love reading about linguistics - it's one of those intellectual paths not taken for me, but as long as I can remember I've been fascinated by the relationships between words and especially words and grammar in different languages. Here, Deutscher runs through the basics about where we think languages have come from and how words and sentences are constructed - though even there there is some new information for me, I had not realised the importance of the 1927 discovery of Hittite with respect to Saussure's 1878 theory of Indo-European pharyngeals - and then turns his attention to how grammar changes over time.

Deutscher's approach to linguistic change was all new to me and quite fascinating. It is a given that people writing about their own language at every point of recorded history bemoan the fact that in modern days it's not spoken or written as well as it used to be; also linguistic reconstructions of extinct languages always seem to generate the impression that they were better ordered and more complex than their descendants today. Yet we also see new linguistic structures developing at the same time - he looks for instance at the future tense in French, at the use of "gonna" and "got" in English, and in considerable depth at the historical development of tense markers in Semitic verbs - mainly Arabic, but also Hebrew which has changed a lot in only the last century. In the end he makes a very good case that there is basically an equilibrium between language speakers unconsciously eroding old grammatical structures out of sheer laziness, but then being compelled to invent new elements to cover nuances of meaning that are needed - and these new elements emerge only gradually, so that "going to" shifts quite imperceptibly from only indicating movement to becoming an equivalent marker for "shall/will". ( )
1 vote nwhyte | Mar 9, 2014 |
For once the blurb quotes are real: this book WILL stretch your mind. A great overview of how language evolved, and is still evolving. Its examples span the globe, with prominent places for Indo-European, Semitic and Turkish. This is the best book on language that I've read in a long time; it answered many questions that I've been having for a long time, and provided just as many unexpected additional insights. The writing is accessible and clear, with just enough summarising to ensure that the reader takes all its points in. Language aficionados will love this. ( )
  fist | Dec 23, 2012 |
Utterly fascinating. Deutscher contemplates how such complex grammatical structures as the Semitic verb could have arisen, why irregularities seem to keep cropping up, and what the grand trajectory of language looks like. The tone of this book is light and engaging.
1 vote ftong | May 18, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Guy Deutscherprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fyfe, LisaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pfeiffer, MartinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Janie

maṣṣar šulmim u balāṭim ina rēšiki ay ipparku
First words
This Marvellous Invention'
Of all mankind's manifold creations, language must take pride of place. Other inventions – the wheel, agriculture, sliced bread – may have transformed our matreial existence, but the advent of language is what made us human. Compared to language, all other inventions pale in significance, since everything we have ever achieved depends on language and originates from it. Without language, we could never have embarked on our ascent to unparalleled power over all other animals, and even over nature itself.
A Castle in the AirC'est un langage estrange que le Basque
On dit qu'ils s'entendent, je n'en croy rien.

Basque is really a strange language . . .
It is said they understand one another,
but I don't believe any of it.

         Joseph Justus Scaliger (1540-1609)

Everyone knows that the words of a language, from its aardvarks to its zucchini, lend meaning to our utterances, and allow us to understand one another. And it is because foreign languages use so many strange words that we cannot understand them without years of labour. Even Joseph Scaliger, the most erudite scholar of his day, a polyglot not only fluent in Latin, Greek and most of the modern languages of Europe, but also self-taught in Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic and Persian, still had to give up on Basque, because it used completely different words for absolutely everything. The effort of memorizing many thousands of words so overwhelms our perception of what language learning is all about that it may easily lead to the impressions that knowing a language just comes down to knowing its words. Surely, if one could only recognize the meaning of each word, all one would need to do is add all these meanings up somehow, in order to grasp the sense of a whole sentence. But if this is so, and language ultimately amounts to just words, then isn't the quest for the origin of structure merely an intellectual wild goose chase?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805080120, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:15 -0400)

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The elusive forces of creation at work in human communication are exposed in an investigation into how the destruction and creation in language are intimately entwined and how these processes are continuously in operation, generating new words, structures, and meanings.… (more)

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