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“A model of popular-science writing” STEVEN POOLE

Who was “the first speaker” and what was their first message?

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

Drawing on evidence from many fields, including archaeology, anthropology, neurology and linguistics, Sverker Johansson weaves these disparate threads together to show how our human ancestors evolved into language users. The Dawn of Language provides a fascinating survey of how grammar came into being and the differences or similarities between languages spoken around the world, before exploring how language eventually emerged in the very remote human past.

Our intellectual and physiological changes through the process of evolution both have a bearing on our ability to acquire language. But to what extent is the evolution of language dependent on genes, or on environment? How has language evolved further, and how is it changing now, in the process of globalisation? And which aspects of language ensure that robots are not yet intelligent enough to reconstruct how language has evolved?

Johansson’s far-reaching, authoritative and research-based approach to language is brought to life through dozens of astonishing examples, both human and animal, in a fascinatingly erudite and entertaining volume for anyone who has ever contemplated not just why we speak the way we do, but why we speak at all.

Translated from the Swedish by Frank Perry

Reviews

Popular science of the highest order. All the necessary ingredients are there: a well-read author, an educational mindset and good, fluent prose.
Svenska Dagbladet
A formidable educational journey . . . This is the book the linguists have needed for so long.
Expressen
Johansson writes with enthusiasm and a desire to impart his knowledge . . . The delight is contagious.
Språktidningen
A fascinating overview of human language
Smålandsposten
An elegant intellectual thriller . . . A model of popular-science writing in its imperturbable, reasonable weighing of competing ideas . . . [A] fascinating story in its own right
Steven Poole, Guardian