Jean-Louis Dessalles explores the co-evolutionary paths of biology, culture, and the great human edifice of language, linking the evolution of the language to the general evolutionary history of humankind. He provides searchingly original answers to such fundamental paradoxes as to whether we acquired our greatest gift in order to talk or so as to be able to think, and as to why human beings should, as experience constantly confirms, contribute information for the well-being of others at their own expense and for no apparent gain: which if this is one of language's main functions appears to make its possession, in Darwinian terms, a disadvantage. Dr Dessalles looks for solutions in the early history of human species and considers the degree to which language evolved as a means of choosing profitable coalition partners and maximizing individual success within a competitive social environment.
The author opens with a discussion of the differences between animal and human communication and the biological foundations of language. He looks at the physiological preconditions for language evolution and the early evolution of meaning and communication. He then embarks on an important and original account of the natural history of conversation. Here he considers the roles of language in supporting social cohesion and information exchange.
This challenging and original account will appeal to all those interested in the origins of language and the evolution of human behaviour.
Part. I The Place of Language in Human Evolutionary History
1: Animal and Human Communication
2: Culture, Languages, and Language
3: The Biological Roots of Language
4: Misapprehensions about the Origins of Language
5: Language as an Evolutionary Curiosity
6: The Local Optimality of Language
Part II. The Functional Anatomy of Speech
7: Putting Sounds Together
9: The Mechanics of Syntax
10: Syntax and Meaning
11: The Structure of Meanings
12: The Emergence of Meaning
Part III. The Ethology of Language
13: Conversation Behaviour
14: Language as Information
15: The Birth of Argumentation
16: Language as an Evolutionary Paradox
17: The Political Origins of Language
Jean-Louis Dessalles is Associate Professor at Telecom ParisTech, where he organized the Third International Conference on the Evolution of Language in 2000. He is author of L'Ordinateur Génétique, Aux Origines du Langage and La Pertinence et Ses Origines Cognitives, all published by Hermes-Science. He has published numerous articles in English and French on cognitive science, communication, and language evolution.
James Grieve is an Emeritus Reader at The Australian National University, Canberra. His major translations include works on autism, language and linguistics, myrmecology, Lacour-Gayet's Histoire de l'Australie, books for children, and two parts of Proust's A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. He has published a Dictionary of Contemporary French Connectors and two novels for Young Adults.