Daniel L. Everett
How Language Began:
The Story of Humanity's Greatest Invention
This event includes a book signing
February 26, 2020
Harvard Science Center
Hall C, 1 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA
This event is free; no tickets are required.
Harvard Book Store, the Harvard University Division of Science, the Cabot Science Library, and Mass Humanities welcome DANIEL L. EVERETT—celebrated linguist and author of Dark Matter of the Mind: The Culturally Articulated Unconscious—for a discussion of his latest book, How Language Began: The Story of Humanity's Greatest Invention.
About How Language Began
Mankind has a distinct advantage over other terrestrial species: we talk to one another. But how did we acquire the most advanced form of communication on Earth? Daniel L. Everett, a “bombshell” linguist and “instant folk hero” (Tom Wolfe, Harper’s), provides in this sweeping history a comprehensive examination of the evolutionary story of language, from the earliest speaking attempts by hominids to the more than seven thousand languages that exist today.
Although fossil hunters and linguists have brought us closer to unearthing the true origins of language, Daniel Everett’s discoveries have upended the contemporary linguistic world, reverberating far beyond academic circles. While conducting field research in the Amazonian rainforest, Everett came across an age-old language nestled amongst a tribe of hunter-gatherers. Challenging long-standing principles in the field, Everett now builds on the theory that language was not intrinsic to our species. In order to truly understand its origins, a more interdisciplinary approach is needed—one that accounts as much for our propensity for culture as it does our biological makeup.
How Language Began ultimately explains what we know, what we’d like to know, and what we likely never will know about how humans went from mere communication to language. Based on nearly forty years of fieldwork, Everett debunks long-held theories by some of history’s greatest thinkers, from Plato to Chomsky. The result is an invaluable study of what makes us human.
Praise for How Language Began
“An ambitious text . . . Everett’s amiable tone, and especially his captivating anecdotes from his field studies in the Amazonian rain forests, will help the neophyte get along. It’s worth it in the end to get a glimpse of conversation through his eyes, as humanity’s most impressive collective invention.” —Melissa Dahl, New York Times Book Review
“Very few books on the biological and cultural origin of humanity can be ranked as classics. I believe that Daniel L. Everett’s How Language Began will be one of them.” —Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University
“When I first became interested in cultural evolution, cognitive revolutionaries would say that Noam Chomsky had proved that an innate language acquisition device was the key to linguistics. Daniel Everett is a leader of the counterrevolution that is putting culture and cultural evolution back at the center of linguistics, and cognition more generally, where I think it belongs. How Language Began is an accessible account of the case for a culture-centered theory of language.” —Peter Richerson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California Davis
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The Harvard Science Book Talks series is a collaboration between the Harvard University Division of Science, Cabot Science Library, and Harvard Book Store. The series features talks by the authors of recently published books on a variety of science-related topics and is open to both the Harvard community and to the general public. Typically, lectures are followed by a book signing with the author and refreshments. Learn more and watch recordings of past talks here.
Mass Humanities conducts and supports programs that use history, literature, philosophy, and the other humanities disciplines to enhance and improve civic life in Massachusetts. Learn more at masshumanities.org.
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