Blog Rating

Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

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Adrian Morgan


I must confess I don't read this blog regularly anymore, not because I lost interest but because after I bought your 2011 book I felt it was time to move on. There are simply too many interesting things in this world to keep up with them all indefinitely. But I still visit when someone shares a link on social media.

Earlier this year I read Lynne Kelly's book "The Memory Code", which is not directly relevant to your blog, but can be looked upon as a different chapter in the same epic story: the history of human communication. You tell the story of how language itself began; she tells the story of how humanity passed on information for tens of thousands of years and how the method of transmission was adapted to suit a changing lifestyle in the Neolithic.

Just a tip, in case you have the inclination to check it out. I don't think you would be disappointed, and it may influence your thinking in unforeseeable ways.

John Roth

Well, the origin of language is interesting, but there’s something I haven’t seen so far: a list of assumptions about what the Last Common Ancestor brought to the table.

Nobody investigating how language originated worries about how mouths evolved. All animals and even some plants have mouths. What we work on is how the intricate coordination between the diaphragm, windpipe, throat, larynx, mouth, tongue and lips evolved, and what purpose it served.

So far, so obvious. The reason I bring this up is that I encountered a bit of information a couple of years ago that takes one major item off the table. As you might suspect from my occasional comments, it has to do with the Natural Semantic Metalanguage.

Apparently researchers went through the massive number of tapes of wild chimpanzee behavior to see if they could infer what semantic primes they had to have to explain the behavior. The result is that they share about 50 of the 65 primes with us.

I have to say this finding applied a torque wrench to my thinking on the subject. Until then I had assumed that Chomsky was out to lunch for saying that language originated for thinking, and speech evolved later.

Ref: Anna Wierzbicka, “Imprisoned in English”, Chapter 13. Oxford University Press, 2014.


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