Christine Kenneally's new book The First Word, released today by Penguin, takes the development of language back to its beginnings in prehistory:
"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. "
In her book, Kenneally describes the prejudice against the view that human language development exists in a continuum with other species:
"The study of language evolution was formally banned by the Linguistics Society of Paris over a hundred years earlier. The ban was never lifted, and over time it mutated into an uncomfortable taboo. Yet not long after I asked about it, a growing group of men and women began to defy the informal edict against language evolution and wrestle with its many mysteries. The young field of evolutionary linguistics was pretty confused, and a few years back, having begun to write a book about it, I was, too. "
Her book also describes "the first word" as man's mimickry of the sounds of natural phenomena. Imitating the sound of a tiger would be an effective way to warn another human of the animal's presence. Christine Kenneally is Australian and received her Ph.D. in linguistics at Cambridge.
Co co ri co!