The Origins of Meaning: Language in the Light of Evolution

Hardcover | August 30, 2000

byJames Hurford

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In this, the first of two ground-breaking volumes on the nature of language in the light of the way it evolved, James Hurford looks at how the world first came to have a meaning in the minds of animals and how in humans this meaning eventually came to be expressed as language. He reviews amass of evidence to show how close some animals, especially primates and more especially apes, are to the brink of human language. Apes may not talk to us but they construct rich cognitive representations of the world around them, and here, he shows, are the evolutionary seeds of abstract thought -the means of referring to objects, the memory of events, even elements of the propositional thinking philosophers have hitherto reserved for humans. What then, he asks, is the evolutionary path between the non-speaking minds of apes and our own speaking minds? Why don't apes communicate the richnessof their thoughts to each other? Why do humans alone have a unique disposition to reveal their thoughts in complex detail? Professor Hurford searches a wide range of evidence for the answers to these central questions, including degrees of trust, the role of hormones, the ability to read minds, andthe willingness to cooperate. Expressing himself congenially in consistently colloquial language the author builds up a vivid picture of how mind, language, and meaning evolved over millions of years. His book is a landmark contribution to the understanding of linguistic and thinking processes, and the fullest account yetpublished of the evolution of language and communication."A wonderful read - lucid, informative, and entertaining, while at the same time never talking down to the reader by sacrificing argumentation for the sake of 'simplicity'. Likely to be heralded as the major publication dealing with language evolution to date. Frederick J. Newmeyer, University ofWashington

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In this, the first of two ground-breaking volumes on the nature of language in the light of the way it evolved, James Hurford looks at how the world first came to have a meaning in the minds of animals and how in humans this meaning eventually came to be expressed as language. He reviews amass of evidence to show how close some animals...

James R. Hurford is Professor of General Linguistics, University of Edinburgh. He is co-editor, with Kathleen Gibson, of OUP's Studies in Language Evolution, co-founder, with Simon Kirby, of the Language Evolution and Computation Research Unit at the University of Edinburgh, and co-founder, with Chris Knight, of the EVOLANG series of ...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:408 pages, 9.21 × 6.14 × 1.02 inPublished:August 30, 2000Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199207852

ISBN - 13:9780199207855

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Table of Contents

Part I Meaning Beford Communication1. Let's Agree on Terms2. Animals Approach Human Cognition3. A New Kind of Memory Evolves4. Animals Form proto-propositions5. Towards Human SemanticsPart II Communication: What and Why?6. Communication by Dyadic Acts7. Going Triadic: Precursors of Reference8. Why Communicate? Squaring With Evolutionary Theory9. Cooperation, Fair Play and Trust in Primates10. EpilogueBibliographyIndex

Editorial Reviews

"This very readable and satisfying book is an examination of 'pre-linguistic animal concepts and social lives' which the author supposes 'take us to the brink of modern human language, when the species became for the first time language-ready' The argument, the evidence, and the style encourage the reader to give attention, read on, and look forward with interest to the promised continuation in the next volume. The wealth of studies presented and their informed, insightful, yet cautious interpretation provide probable insight into how and how readily language might have evolved out of animal prelanguage." --Linguist List "This work is a head-spinning, fact-packed examination of how human language came to be, before language was language and humans were human. Drawing from philosophers, linguists, biologists, psychologists, and a range of other thinkers Hurford has constructed the beginning of a unique, interdisciplinary story of the development of language as we know it today. Hurford shows how constant research is closing that gap, a project to which he hopes to contribute in this work and a forthcoming second volume. This first volume has something that everyone will appreciate. Theorists will swim inthe thoughtful examinations of Wittgenstein and Frans de Waal. Scientists will no doubt learn from the plethora of scientific experiments explored throughout. And the thinkers of tomorrow will be introduced to the possibilities of scholarship when one looks beyond rigid disciplinary boundaries." --Science & Spirit "A wonderful read lucid, informative, and entertaining, while at the same time never talking down to the reader by sacrificing argumentation for the sake ofsimplicity. Likely to be heralded as the major publication dealing with language evolution to date." --Frederick J. Newmeyer, University of Washington