Origins of Language

Constraints on hypotheses

Sverker Johansson | University of Jönköping
ISBN 9789027238917 (Eur) | EUR 95.00
ISBN 9781588116291 (USA) | USD 143.00
ISBN 9789027238931 | EUR 38.00 | USD 57.00
ISBN 9789027294609 | EUR 95.00/38.00*
| USD 143.00/57.00*
Sverker Johansson has written an unusual book on language origins, with its emphasis on empirical evidence rather than theory-building. This is a book for the student or researcher who prefers solid data and well-supported conclusions, over speculative scenarios. Much that has been written on the origins of language is characterized by hypothesizing largely unconstrained by evidence. But empirical data do exist, and the purpose of this book is to integrate and review the available evidence from all relevant disciplines, not only linguistics but also, e.g., neurology, primatology, paleoanthropology, and evolutionary biology. The evidence is then used to constrain the multitude of scenarios for language origins, demonstrating that many popular hypotheses are untenable. Among the issues covered: (1) Human evolutionary history, (2) Anatomical prerequisites for language, (3) Animal communication and ape "language", (4) Mind and language, (5) The role of gesture, (6) Innateness, (7) Selective advantage of language, (8) Proto-language.
Publishing status: Available
Table of Contents
“Sverker Johansson offers us an impressive review of current theories on the origins of language, one of the most stimulating scientific debates of the nascent century. The book is clear, clever, exhaustive, and has the rare quality of being faithful to all the theories it describes. It is essential reading for all those who want to be part of the fascinating adventure of understanding the origins of humanity. This is a reference book, not only for students, but also for researchers in the field, and I will be digging frequently into this mind of knowledge.”
“Johansson's review of the existing theories of language evolution is excellent and provides a good introduction to the field. Even though he does not formulate a theory of his own, I find the constraints on theories of language evolution that he formulates very clear-headed and they should certainly serve as benchmarks for any researcher in the area.”
“Origins of Language: Constraints on Hypotheses presents a wake-up call for the discipline of linguistics to reassess its basic beliefs and strengthen its bond with sciences as opposed to the arts, the link that seemed to have been stronger throughout its history as a discipline. I recommend Johansson's work, as one of the texts in his first linguistics course, because it provides a good basis for the beginner in linguistics; it also can serve as a solid reference for the scholar.”
“Johansson's book – the first book-length, single-authored attempt I know of to synthesize this fascinating and rapidly growing field – makes several important contributions. First, it offers a good overview of the many relevant strands of data – from fossils, from genes, from brain imaging, from animal communication. [...] the very attempt to synthesize these diverse scientific fields is admirable and useful. The basic scientific attitude embodied in the book – survey the hypotheses, survey the data and then combine them to exclude some hypotheses – is certainly the correct way forward for the field. It is rather surprising that no one has done it before, and anyone interested in entering the field of language evolution should look to this book for an overview of some of the important debates”
“In total it is a valuable review - currently the most complete in its breadth and balance of any yet published - and I would consider using it in an upperdivision course.”
“[...] this is a brilliantly readable, amazingly succinct yet comprehensive overview of what is scientifically plausible – and utterly implausible – in terms of hypotheses about the evolution of language. It could easily be used as a textbook for a course in language evolution. [...] What we need is a way of pulling together the best from the totality of facts and good hypotheses which we already have from all the relevant disciplines. And broadly, this is what we get here.”
Cited by

Cited by 53 other publications

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Subjects & Metadata

Communication Studies

Communication Studies


BIC Subject: CF – Linguistics
BISAC Subject: LAN009000 – LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Linguistics / General
ONIX Metadata
ONIX 2.1
ONIX 3.0
U.S. Library of Congress Control Number:  2004066031 | Marc record