The Truth about Language: What it is and Where it came from

Michael C. Corballis

While birds can chirp and monkeys can chatter, only humans possess the extraordinary power to tell stories and offer explanations, to explain and persuade, to baffle and bullshit that we call language.

How come? Where did language come from? In this book, Michael Corballis takes on what has been called the hardest problem in science.

From God to Noam Chomsky, many have suggested that language arose suddenly in a way that cannot be explained through ordinary evolutionary processes. Corballis argues otherwise. He uncovers the precursors of language in the ability of mice and other animals to engage in ‘mental time travel’, the use of gesture by apes, the capacity of chimpanzees to step into the shoes (or paws) of others, and the increasing need for social co-operation as hominins left the forest. By adding voice and grammar, language enabled humans to take all those capacities up an evolutionary notch. Now we could share stories, we could work collaboratively in groups, and – as different languages became standardised – we could even learn to dislike different groups and different cultures. We were human.

Language fills our daily lives with talk and gossip, our televisions with soap operas and sports commentators, our lecture halls with bespectacled wisdom and our libraries with books like this. 



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Michael C. Corballis  is professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Auckland. He was president of the International Neuropsychological Society in 2009/10 – the first southern hemisphere president; was a council member of the Royal Society of New Zealand; and is an elected fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association, the Association of Psychological Scientists and the New Zealand Psychological Society. As well as more than 400 scientific articles and book chapters, Professor Corballis is known for writing books and articles that are ‘informative and entertaining’ (American Scientist) and for telling ‘a captivating story’ (New York Times). He is the author of From Hand to Mouth and The Recursive Mind (both Princeton), The Lopsided Ape (Oxford), and Pieces of Mind and The Wandering Mind(Auckland University Press). His work has been translated into many languages., 

April 2017, 228 x 152 mm, 272 pages, New Zealand rights only
Paperback, ISBN 978 1 86 940 863 3, $39.99