Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Truth About Language

The Truth About Language: What it is and where it came from by Michael C. Corballis
Auckland University Press, 17 APRIL 2017, $39.99

Michael Corballis answers some of the hardest questions in science – where did language come from and why do we like it so much? – with his usual verve and humour.

While birds can chirp and monkeys can chatter, only humans possess the extraordinary power to tell stories and offer explanations, to explainand persuade, to baffle and bullshit that we call language.

How come? Where did language come from? In this book, Michael Corballis takes on what has been called the hardest problem in science.From God to Noam Chomsky, many have suggested that language arose suddenly in a way that cannot be explained through ordinary evolutionary processes. Corballis argues otherwise. He uncovers the precursors of language in the ability of mice and other animals to engage in ‘mental time travel’, the use of gesture by apes, the capacity of chimpanzees to step into the shoes (or paws) of others, and the increasing need for social co-operation as hominins left the forest.

 By adding voice and grammar, language enabled humans to take all those capacities up an evolutionary notch. Now we could share stories, we could work collaboratively in groups, and – as different languages became standardised – we could even learn to dislike different groups and different cultures. We were human.

 About the author:
Michael C. Corballis was born and educated in New Zealand before completing his PhD in psychology at McGill University, Montreal in 1965. He taught there from 1968 to 1977, when he was appointed professor of psychology at The University of Auckland, where he is now emeritus professor. He has published eleven books and over 400 articles and book chapters on such topics as memory, language, brain asymmetry, and human evolution. His most recent books are The Recursive Mind (2011) and The Wandering Mind (2015).


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