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The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language

by

The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language Cover

 

Staff Pick

The First Word is a fascinating search for the origins of language, which takes the reader through genetics, evolution, and the process of defining language itself. Christine Kenneally is a capable guide to answering this difficult and complex question; intelligent and thorough, she is a model of clarity, and her curiosity about language is definitely contagious.
Recommended by Jill Owens, Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

A compelling look at the quest for the origins of human language from an accomplished linguist.

Language is a distinctly human gift. However, because it leaves no permanent trace, its evolution has long been a mystery, and it is only in the last fifteen years that we have begun to understand how language came into being.

The First Word is the compelling story of the quest for the origins of human language. The book follows two intertwined narratives. The first is an account of how language developed — how the random and layered processes of evolution wound together to produce a talking animal: us. The second addresses why scientists are at last able to explore the subject. For more than a hundred years, language evolution was considered a scientific taboo. Kenneally focuses on figures like Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker, along with cognitive scientists, biologists, geneticists, and animal researchers, in order to answer the fundamental question: Is language a uniquely human phenomenon?

The First Word is the first book of its kind written for a general audience. Sure to appeal to fans of Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct and Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, Kenneally's book is set to join them as a seminal account of human history.

Review:

"This book grows out of Kenneally's conviction that investigating the evolution of language is a good and worthwhile pursuit— a stance that most in the field of linguistics disparaged until about 20 years ago. The result is a book that is as much about evolutionary biology as it is about linguistics. We read about work with chimpanzees, bonobos, parrots and even robots that are being programmed to develop language evolutionarily. Kenneally, who has written about language, science and culture for the 'New Yorker' and 'Discover' among others, has a breezily journalistic style that is occasionally witty but more often pragmatic, as she tries to distill academic and scientific discourses into terms the casual reader will understand. She introduces the major players in the field of linguistics and behavioral studies Noam Chomsky, Steven Pinker, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Philip Lieberman as well as countless other anthropologists, biologists and linguists. Kenneally's insistence upon seeing human capacity for speech on an evolutionary continuum of communication that includes all other animal species provides a respite from ideological declamations about human supremacy, but the book will appeal mainly to those who are drawn to the nuts and bolts of scientific inquiry into language." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"'This book grows out of Kenneally's conviction that 'investigating the evolution of language is a good and worthwhile pursuit' — a stance that most in the field of linguistics disparaged until about 20 years ago. The result is a book that is as much about evolutionary biology as it is about linguistics. We read about work with chimpanzees, bonobos, parrots and even robots that are being programmed to develop language evolutionarily. Kenneally, who has written about language, science and culture for the New Yorker and Discover among others, has a breezily journalistic style that is occasionally witty but more often pragmatic, as she tries to distill academic and scientific discourses into terms the casual reader will understand. She introduces the major players in the field of linguistics and behavioral studies — Noam Chomsky, Steven Pinker, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Philip Lieberman — as well as countless other anthropologists, biologists and linguists. Kenneally's insistence upon seeing human capacity for speech on an evolutionary continuum of communication that includes all other animal species provides a respite from ideological declamations about human supremacy, but the book will appeal mainly to those who are drawn to the nuts and bolts of scientific inquiry into language. (July 23)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"Her work stands out among numerous recent publications for its presentation of so many aspects of linguistic research. Its systematic explanation of large amounts of scholarship throughout makes it most appropriate for students and other scholars." Library Journal

Review:

"[A]n elegant parcel that makes the abstract concrete — and, like an imperative, it is eminently worthy of attention." Psychology Today

Review:

"The book's wit and sophistication will appeal to anyone interested in talking about talk." Slate

Review:

"[D]eftly traces [an] ideological shift, weaving history with hard science, to provide an expansive account of what we know about the beginnings of language and how we came to know it." Seed Magazine

Review:

"[L]ucidly explains how scientists explore language....Lively portrait of a fascinating new scientific field." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"[A] useful introduction to the exciting new field of evolutionary linguistics." Wired

Synopsis:

“The richest, freshest, most fun book on genetics in some time.” —The New York Times Book Review

 

We are doomed to repeat history if we fail to learn from it, but how are we affected by forces that are invisible to us? In The Invisible History of the Human Race, Christine Kenneally draws on cutting-edge research to examine how the latest discoveries in fields ranging from genetics to economics reveal where we come from—and where we may be heading. The rich legacy of humanity is a treasure trove that exists not only in the form of historical artifacts but also in our very DNA, our names, and even our emotions. From fateful ancient encounters to modern mass migrations and medical diagnoses, the forces that have shaped the world have ultimately shaped each human who inhabits it. Kenneally takes the reader from the massive global genealogical database assembled by the Mormon Church to dusty archives containing Australian prison records to the private companies that are capitalizing on our latest obsession with lineage. Deeply researched and carefully crafted, this is a profound exploration of the very roots of human identity. 

Synopsis:

A New York Times Notable Book

How biology, psychology, and history shape us as individuals

We are doomed to repeat history if we fail to learn from it, but how are we affected by the forces that are invisible to us? In The Invisible History of the Human Race

Christine Kenneally draws on cutting-edge research to reveal how both historical artifacts and DNA tell us where we come from and where we may be going. While some

books explore our genetic inheritance and popular television shows celebrate ancestry, this is the first book to explore how everything from DNA to emotions to names

and the stories that form our lives are all part of our human legacy. Kenneally shows how trust is inherited in Africa, silence is passed down in Tasmania, and how the

history of nations is written in our DNA. From fateful, ancient encounters to modern mass migrations and medical diagnoses, Kenneally explains how the forces that

shaped the history of the world ultimately shape each human who inhabits it.

The Invisible History of the Human Race is a deeply researched, carefully crafted and provocative perspective on how our stories, psychology, and genetics affect our

past and our future.

About the Author

Christine Kenneally is Australian and received her Ph.D. in linguistics at Cambridge. She has written about language, science, and culture for publications such as the New Yorker, the New York Times, Scientific American, Discover, and Slate.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780670034901
Subtitle:
How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures
Publisher:
Penguin Books
Author:
Kenneally, Christine
Subject:
Etymology
Subject:
Life Sciences - Evolution
Subject:
Evolution
Subject:
Language and languages
Subject:
Life Sciences - Evolution - Human
Subject:
Linguistics
Subject:
Biology
Edition Description:
Paperback / softback
Publication Date:
20151117
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Pages:
368
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 18

Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Anthropology » Linguistics
History and Social Science » Archaeology » Ancient Languages
History and Social Science » Linguistics » General

The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 368 pages Viking Books - English 9780670034901 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

The First Word is a fascinating search for the origins of language, which takes the reader through genetics, evolution, and the process of defining language itself. Christine Kenneally is a capable guide to answering this difficult and complex question; intelligent and thorough, she is a model of clarity, and her curiosity about language is definitely contagious.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "This book grows out of Kenneally's conviction that investigating the evolution of language is a good and worthwhile pursuit— a stance that most in the field of linguistics disparaged until about 20 years ago. The result is a book that is as much about evolutionary biology as it is about linguistics. We read about work with chimpanzees, bonobos, parrots and even robots that are being programmed to develop language evolutionarily. Kenneally, who has written about language, science and culture for the 'New Yorker' and 'Discover' among others, has a breezily journalistic style that is occasionally witty but more often pragmatic, as she tries to distill academic and scientific discourses into terms the casual reader will understand. She introduces the major players in the field of linguistics and behavioral studies Noam Chomsky, Steven Pinker, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Philip Lieberman as well as countless other anthropologists, biologists and linguists. Kenneally's insistence upon seeing human capacity for speech on an evolutionary continuum of communication that includes all other animal species provides a respite from ideological declamations about human supremacy, but the book will appeal mainly to those who are drawn to the nuts and bolts of scientific inquiry into language." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "'This book grows out of Kenneally's conviction that 'investigating the evolution of language is a good and worthwhile pursuit' — a stance that most in the field of linguistics disparaged until about 20 years ago. The result is a book that is as much about evolutionary biology as it is about linguistics. We read about work with chimpanzees, bonobos, parrots and even robots that are being programmed to develop language evolutionarily. Kenneally, who has written about language, science and culture for the New Yorker and Discover among others, has a breezily journalistic style that is occasionally witty but more often pragmatic, as she tries to distill academic and scientific discourses into terms the casual reader will understand. She introduces the major players in the field of linguistics and behavioral studies — Noam Chomsky, Steven Pinker, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Philip Lieberman — as well as countless other anthropologists, biologists and linguists. Kenneally's insistence upon seeing human capacity for speech on an evolutionary continuum of communication that includes all other animal species provides a respite from ideological declamations about human supremacy, but the book will appeal mainly to those who are drawn to the nuts and bolts of scientific inquiry into language. (July 23)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Her work stands out among numerous recent publications for its presentation of so many aspects of linguistic research. Its systematic explanation of large amounts of scholarship throughout makes it most appropriate for students and other scholars."
"Review" by , "[A]n elegant parcel that makes the abstract concrete — and, like an imperative, it is eminently worthy of attention."
"Review" by , "The book's wit and sophistication will appeal to anyone interested in talking about talk."
"Review" by , "[D]eftly traces [an] ideological shift, weaving history with hard science, to provide an expansive account of what we know about the beginnings of language and how we came to know it."
"Review" by , "[L]ucidly explains how scientists explore language....Lively portrait of a fascinating new scientific field."
"Review" by , "[A] useful introduction to the exciting new field of evolutionary linguistics."
"Synopsis" by ,
“The richest, freshest, most fun book on genetics in some time.” —The New York Times Book Review

 

We are doomed to repeat history if we fail to learn from it, but how are we affected by forces that are invisible to us? In The Invisible History of the Human Race, Christine Kenneally draws on cutting-edge research to examine how the latest discoveries in fields ranging from genetics to economics reveal where we come from—and where we may be heading. The rich legacy of humanity is a treasure trove that exists not only in the form of historical artifacts but also in our very DNA, our names, and even our emotions. From fateful ancient encounters to modern mass migrations and medical diagnoses, the forces that have shaped the world have ultimately shaped each human who inhabits it. Kenneally takes the reader from the massive global genealogical database assembled by the Mormon Church to dusty archives containing Australian prison records to the private companies that are capitalizing on our latest obsession with lineage. Deeply researched and carefully crafted, this is a profound exploration of the very roots of human identity. 

"Synopsis" by ,
A New York Times Notable Book

How biology, psychology, and history shape us as individuals

We are doomed to repeat history if we fail to learn from it, but how are we affected by the forces that are invisible to us? In The Invisible History of the Human Race

Christine Kenneally draws on cutting-edge research to reveal how both historical artifacts and DNA tell us where we come from and where we may be going. While some

books explore our genetic inheritance and popular television shows celebrate ancestry, this is the first book to explore how everything from DNA to emotions to names

and the stories that form our lives are all part of our human legacy. Kenneally shows how trust is inherited in Africa, silence is passed down in Tasmania, and how the

history of nations is written in our DNA. From fateful, ancient encounters to modern mass migrations and medical diagnoses, Kenneally explains how the forces that

shaped the history of the world ultimately shape each human who inhabits it.

The Invisible History of the Human Race is a deeply researched, carefully crafted and provocative perspective on how our stories, psychology, and genetics affect our

past and our future.

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