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The Origin of Language

Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue


What can the classification of languages tell us about human origins and human prehistory? This book presents a popular account of the origin of language. It is intended for an audience with no prior knowledge of comparative linguistics, genetics or archaeology. The present volume is a reprint of the 2009 second edition of the book, and includes the text of the first edition (1994) with minor modifications, as well as the scientific evidence for monogenesis, and a Postscript recounting developments in the field since the original publication of the book.
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
Availability: In stock
SKU (ISBN): 978-1-4632-4495-8
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Publication Status: In Print
Publication Date: Apr 25,2023
Interior Color: Black
Trim Size: 7 x 10
Page Count: 319
Languages: English
ISBN: 978-1-4632-4495-8
$75.00
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This book, The Origin of Language: Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue, originally published in 1994 by John Wiley & Sons, was written in a more popular style, accessible to an educated general audience, than the more scholarly and academic tome of a similar title, On the Origin of Languages: Studies in Linguistic Taxonomy, published the same year. In The Origin of Language Ruhlen laid out the principles of linguistic genetic classification, i.e., classifying languages into families according to common origins rather than typological features. Ruhlen showed how simple this can be, especially for languages that have diverged for a few millennia, by juxtaposing short lists of basic (non-cultural) words like eye, fire, and tongue. He also showed that the same methods can be used to postulate older and deeper families, often called “macro-families” or “macrophyla,” by comparing reconstructed forms from lower-level families. Such deeper families (e.g., Nostratic, Dene-Caucasian, Nilo-Saharan, Austric) are generally more controversial than lower-level families, but Ruhlen did not shy from discussing them if he thought the evidence supported them. Ruhlen was also interested in other fields of anthropology, such as archaeology and human genetics, and brought these fields into play.

This book, The Origin of Language: Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue, originally published in 1994 by John Wiley & Sons, was written in a more popular style, accessible to an educated general audience, than the more scholarly and academic tome of a similar title, On the Origin of Languages: Studies in Linguistic Taxonomy, published the same year. In The Origin of Language Ruhlen laid out the principles of linguistic genetic classification, i.e., classifying languages into families according to common origins rather than typological features. Ruhlen showed how simple this can be, especially for languages that have diverged for a few millennia, by juxtaposing short lists of basic (non-cultural) words like eye, fire, and tongue. He also showed that the same methods can be used to postulate older and deeper families, often called “macro-families” or “macrophyla,” by comparing reconstructed forms from lower-level families. Such deeper families (e.g., Nostratic, Dene-Caucasian, Nilo-Saharan, Austric) are generally more controversial than lower-level families, but Ruhlen did not shy from discussing them if he thought the evidence supported them. Ruhlen was also interested in other fields of anthropology, such as archaeology and human genetics, and brought these fields into play.

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ContributorBiography

MerrittRuhlen

Merritt Ruhlen (1944–2021) was a linguist and anthropologist, well known for his books Guide to the World’s Languages, Vol. 1: Classification (1987), The Origin of Language: Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue (1994), On the Origin of Languages: Studies in Linguistic Taxonomy (1994), and numerous articles in journals, books, and encyclopedias. Ruhlen worked with Joseph H. Greenberg for three-and-a-half decades and became the principal advocate and defender of Greenberg’s methods of language classification. Ruhlen served as a lecturer in Anthropological Sciences and Human Biology at Stanford University, co-founder of the Evolution of Human Languages Project, advisor on the board of the Genographic Project, visiting professor at the City University of Hong Kong, and a Correspondant of the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. After a long illness Ruhlen succumbed on January 29, 2021 in his home in Palo Alto, Calif.

Preface 2010 (vii)
Preface 1994 (ix)

Prologue: What Do We Mean by the Origin of Language? (1)
   How, When and Where (2)
   How Classification Proceeds (5) 
   Why Classification Succeeds (10)

1 Language and History: Voices from the Past (15)
   European Languages (17)
   Why Languages Change (26)

2 Language Families: What is Known (29)
   African Languages (30)
   Asian Languages (37)
   Native American Languages (44)

3 Controversy: What is Debated (55)
   Families of Families (56)
   A History of Hysteria (67)

4 Native Americans: Language in the New World (73)
   Families Where There Were No Families (74)
   An Amerind Root and Its Progeny (82)
   The Forest for the Trees (87)

5 The Origin of Language: Are There Global Cognates? (89)
   The World’s Language Families (90)
   AQ’WA ‘water’ (95)
   TIK ‘finger, one’ (100)
   PAL ‘two’ (104)
   MAMA, PAPA, and KAKA (107)

6 A Window on the World: What Has Been Resolved (111)
   Sanctity at All Costs (112)
   Greenberg on the Griddle (114)
   The Global Configuration (123)

7 Genes: Biology and Language (131)
   Correlations on a Grand Scale (132)
   Correlations on a Local Scale (141)

8 The Emerging Synthesis: On the Origin of Modern Humans (143)
   An African Homeland? (144)
   The Remnant Dene-Caucasians (146)
   The Peopling of the Americas (147)
   The Bantu Expansion (151)
   The Austronesian Expansion (157)
   The Indo-European Expansion (160)
   The Origin and Spread of Modern Humans (168)

Epilogue: Reconstruction, Sound Correspondences, and Homelands (173)
   Reconstruction (174)
   Sound Correspondences (179)
   Analogy (182)
   Locating the Algonquian Homeland (184)

An Annotated Bibliography (191)

Appendices (201)
   Twenty Seven Global Roots (203)
   Postscript 2009 (243)

Index (285)

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