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Adam's Tongue: How Humans Made Language, How Language Made Humans

by Derek Bickerton

How language evolved has been called "the hardest problem in science. " In Adam's Tongue, Derek Bickerton--long a leading authority in this field--shows how and why previous attempts to solve that problem have fallen short. Taking cues from topics as diverse as the foraging strategies of ants, the distribution of large prehistoric herbivores, and the construction of ecological niches, Bickerton produces a dazzling new alternative to the conventional wisdom. Language is unique to humans, but it isn't the only thing that sets us apart from other species--our cognitive powers are qualitatively different. So could there be two separate discontinuities between humans and the rest of nature? No, says Bickerton; he shows how the mere possession of symbolic units--words--automatically opened a new and different cognitive universe, one that yielded novel innovations ranging from barbed arrowheads to the Apollo spacecraft. Written in Bickerton's lucid and irreverent style, this book is the first to thoroughly integrate the story of how language evolved with the story of how humans evolved. Sure to be controversial, it will make indispensable reading both for experts in the field and for every reader who has ever wondered how a species as remarkable as ours could have come into existence. '

More than Nature Needs

by Derek Bickerton

The human mind is an unlikely evolutionary adaptation. How did humans acquire cognitive capacities far more powerful than anything a hunting-and-gathering primate needed to survive? Alfred Russel Wallace, co-founder with Darwin of evolutionary theory, saw humans as "divine exceptions" to natural selection. Darwin thought use of language might have shaped our sophisticated brains, but his hypothesis remained an intriguing guess--until now. Combining state-of-the-art research with forty years of writing and thinking about language evolution, Derek Bickerton convincingly resolves a crucial problem that both biology and the cognitive sciences have hitherto ignored or evaded. What evolved first was neither language nor intelligence--merely normal animal communication plus displacement. That was enough to break restrictions on both thought and communication that bound all other animals. The brain self-organized to store and automatically process its new input, words. But words, which are inextricably linked to the concepts they represent, had to be accessible to consciousness. The inevitable consequence was a cognitive engine able to voluntarily merge both thoughts and words into meaningful combinations. Only in a third phase could language emerge, as humans began to tinker with a medium that, when used for communication, was adequate for speakers but suboptimal for hearers. Starting from humankind's remotest past, More than Nature Needs transcends nativist thesis and empiricist antithesis by presenting a revolutionary synthesis--one that instead of merely repeating "nature and nurture" clichés shows specifically and in a principled manner how and why the synthesis came about.

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