Books  Evolutionary Biology  Human Evolution & Anthropology 

The Evolution of Language

  • Explores a fascinating puzzle – how did we humans develop the ability to speak?
  • Unlike previous books, it combines insights from many different disciplines
  • A useful glossary of terms helps readers from all backgrounds understand the concepts

By: W Tecumseh Fitch(Author)

624 pages, 25 b/w illustrations, 6 tables

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | Apr 2010 | #219184 | ISBN-13: 9780521677363
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £34.99 $45/€38 approx
Hardback | Apr 2010 | #219183 | ISBN-13: 9780521859936
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £84.99 $109/€93 approx

About this book

Language, more than anything else, is what makes us human. It appears that no communication system of equivalent power exists elsewhere in the animal kingdom. Any normal human child will learn a language based on rather sparse data in the surrounding world, while even the brightest chimpanzee, exposed to the same environment, will not. Why not? How, and why, did language evolve in our species and not in others?

Since Darwin's theory of evolution, questions about the origin of language have generated a rapidly-growing scientific literature, stretched across a number of disciplines, much of it directed at specialist audiences. The diversity of perspectives – from linguistics, anthropology, speech science, genetics, neuroscience and evolutionary biology – can be bewildering. Tecumseh Fitch cuts through this vast literature, bringing together its most important insights to explore one of the biggest unsolved puzzles of human history.

"The evolution of language has been described as the hardest problem in science, fraught with conflict, entrenched views, and misunderstandings between the multifarious disciplines involved. Fitch guides us through this tangled and often treacherous domain with clarity, equanimity, and encyclopedic reach. No other book so completely, fairly, and eloquently presents contemporary notions as to how language evolved."
- Michael Corballis, University of Auckland

"Reconstructing the evolution of language is a daunting task but Tecumseh Fitch brings it off with style. An impressive synthesis."
- Robert Seyfarth, Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania

"Tecumseh Fitch's book reads like a novel, telling the story of the long and complex search for a theory of language evolution very clearly and engagingly [...] comprehensive, analytic, and fair."
- Merlin Donald, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario



Part I. The Lay of the Land
1. Language from a biological perspective
2. Evolution
3. Language
4. Animal cognition and communication

Part II. Meet the Ancestors
5. Meet the ancestors
6. The last common ancestor
7. The hominid fossil record

Part III. The Evolution of Speech
8. The evolution of the human vocal tract
9. The evolution of vocal control
10. Modelling the evolution of speech

Part IV. Phylogenetic Models of Language Evolution
11. Language evolution before Darwin
12. Lexical protolanguage
13. Gestural protolanguage
14. Musical protolanguage
15. Conclusions & prospects

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W. Tecumseh Fitch is a Reader in Psychology at the University of St Andrews. He studies the evolution of cognition and communication in animals and man, focusing on the evolution of speech, music and language. He is interested in all aspects of vocal communication in terrestrial vertebrates, particularly vertebrate vocal production in relation to the evolution of speech and music in our own species.

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