[UCP Books]: The Truth about Language: What It Is and Where It Came From by Michael C. Corballis

A sprightly, accessible account of how humans developed language—and how it made us what we are

"Using a wealth of well-researched anecdotes about Neanderthals, cave paintings, gesturing apes, and well-trained border collies (to name a few), Corballis exemplifies moments of the human and animal minds fine-tuning their abilities to communicate. His journey into the written world is equally broad and insightful. . . . Exhilarating and illuminating. Corballis’s deluge of well-organized facts and ideas are a thrill to read. . . . The truth about language is that there's still so much to learn. A fine, accessible introduction to a captivating, and still evolving, academic field."
Kirkus Reviews



The Truth about Language
What It Is and Where It Came From
Michael C. Corballis


Publication date: April 4, 2017 978-0-226-28719-5
International publication date: 18 April, 2017 $30.00/£22.50


“The one great barrier between the brute and man is Language. Man speaks, and no brute has ever uttered a word. Language is our Rubicon, and no brute will dare to cross it.”

That’s nineteenth-century Oxford professor of philology Friedrich Max Müller, furiously arguing against Charles Darwin’s then-new Origin of Species. Language, he said, was too huge, too complicated, too distinctive a difference between humans and animals to ever have emerged a bit at a time through natural selection. Preposterous!

More than a century later, we’re still having that argument, just in slightly different terms. Because in some ways, Müller was right: language really is that impressive a development, really does set us apart as a species. So how did it happen? Was it, as some scientists think, a “big bang” in our ancient ancestors, erupting suddenly and changing everything? Or was Darwin right after all—can language actually be explained through natural selection?

Michael Corballis is on Team Darwin here, and that means taking on such luminaries as Noam Chomsky and Stephen Jay Gould—and to do so, in wonderfully entertaining fashion, he consults not only the most up-to-date science, but also the genius of Sherlock Holmes, the legends of Gilgamesh, the flights of fancy of James Thurber, and so much more. Language, after all, is designed to communicate, and how better to use it than to tell the story of its development with wit, insight, and verve?


Michael C. Corballis is professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and the author of many books, including The Wandering Mind and A Very Short Tour of the Mind: 21 Short Walks around the Human Brain.


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