The Story of Human Language : The Great Courses: Linguistics

  • by The Great Courses, John McWhorter
  • Narrated by Professor John McWhorter
  • Series: The Great Courses: Linguistics
  • 18 hrs and 15 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

Language defines us as a species, placing humans head and shoulders above even the most proficient animal communicators. But it also beguiles us with its endless mysteries, allowing us to ponder why different languages emerged, why there isn't simply a single language, how languages change over time and whether that's good or bad, and how languages die out and become extinct. Now you can explore all of these questions and more in an in-depth series of 36 lectures from one of America's leading linguists.
You'll be witness to the development of human language, learning how a single tongue spoken 150,000 years ago evolved into the estimated 6,000 languages used around the world today and gaining an appreciation of the remarkable ways in which one language sheds light on another.
The many fascinating topics you examine in these lectures include: the intriguing evidence that links a specific gene to the ability to use language; the specific mechanisms responsible for language change; language families and the heated debate over the first language; the phenomenon of language mixture; why some languages develop more grammatical machinery than they actually need; the famous hypothesis that says our grammars channel how we think; artificial languages, including Esperanto and sign languages for the deaf; and how word histories reflect the phenomena of language change and mixture worldwide.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

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Audible Editor Reviews

One of the leading linguistics lectures on audio, The Story of Human Language is narrated by well-known American Linguist and Commentator John McWhorter and is part of The Great Courses' Linguistics series. These lectures are an essential historical audiobook for Linguistics students and any people who are simply fascinated by the study of languages. Listeners' questions on languages are covered entirely in these 36 lectures. Hear of the development of languages over time, how and why languages change and why some die out completely. This book helps to piece the puzzle together of understanding human identity. A truly fascinating listen. Available now from Audible.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Fascinating Overview Of World Languages

This course is about languages: how they change over time, how they relate to each other and how they are created and disappear. If you are interested in how your language fits into the larger picture of the world's languages (all 6000 of them!) then this is a great place to start.

As the course is in English, the lecturer does return to English several times as it is a perfectly good example of how a language changes, absorbs new words and grammar, and has many different dialects. However, this course is certainly not Eurocentric. Many of the interesting examples the prof. is interested come from places very distant from Europe - for example a long discussion of the different creoles in Suriname is extremely interesting.

I feel I have learned more from this course than any of the other great courses. The facts discussed are all very interesting on their own but they are placed into a much larger systemic understanding of language change which makes them not only lone facts, but parts of a bigger whole. The course is superbly written, often witty and with analogies and metaphors that make even the most confusing aspect of language seem simple to grasp.

I can't really explain all of the topics discussed, but needless to say he covers the entire globe, the full range of bizarre grammars and tone systems (and clicks!), and explains very well how these could have arisen and how we can make sense of the mess that is human language.

I wholeheartedly recommend it!
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- Chris

entertaining and interesting

I greatly enjoyed this. Professor McWhorter was lively in his delivery, throwing in odd quirky comments, such as likening languages to his cat, but keeping the pace of information going well.

I had thought I might want to alternate with listening to fiction, but this kept me engrossed while cycling and interested enough to swop over to listening to this rather than the radio while driving.

For those wanting to judge the level you could probably put it as being similar to the In Our Time programmes, although of course those are debate, whereas this is a series of many short lectures.
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- Catriona

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-07-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses