The Origins of Language: A Slim Guide by James R Hurford

My previous two books were long and academic in tone. This book is shorter (under 60,000 words) and more likely to be read by busy people (I hope). Here is a table of its contents.


1 The Prehistory of a Very Special Ape

2 Nature, Nurture and Language

  Genes and Culture
  What is a Language?
  Instinct and Learning
  Iterated Learning

3 How Trusted Talk Started
  Communication Basics
  One for All, and All for One

4 Concepts Before Language
  Meaning is no Mystery
  Beyond Here and Now
  Going Public with Thoughts
  More Abstract Thinking

5 We Began to Speak, and Hear Differently
  Human and Non-human Vocal Anatomy
  Questions about Hearing Speech
  Sensing Sounds
  Other Species' Perception of Speech
  Recognizing Speech and Other Noises

6 Coining Words
  What did the First Words Mean?
  Visible Gestures or Audible Speech?
  Articulate Sounds Emerge
  Groups Converge on Arbitrary Signs
  Words Affect Thought

7 Building Powerful Grammar Engines
  What is `Syntax'?
  Did Humans Start by Singing like Birds?
  Packaging Messages in Clauses and Sentences
  Making Grammar
  Civilization and Grammar

8 Pronunciation Gets Complex
  The Earliest Vowel and Consonant Systems
  The Next Consonants and a New Vowel
  People Make things Messier