This book reconstructs what the earliest grammars might have been and shows
how they could have led to the languages of modern humankind.
"Like other biological phenomena, language cannot be fully understood
without reference to its evolution, whether proven or hypothesized," wrote
Talmy Givón in 2002. As the languages spoken 8,000 years ago were
typologically much the same as they are today and as no direct evidence
exists for languages before then, evolutionary linguists are at a
disadvantage compared to their counterparts in biology. Bernd Heine and
Tania Kuteva seek to overcome this obstacle by combining grammaticalization
theory, one of the main methods of historical linguistics, with work in
animal communication and human evolution. The questions they address
include: do the modern languages derive from one ancestral language or from
more than one? What was the structure of language like when it first
evolved? And how did the properties associated with modern human languages
arise, in particular syntax and the recursive use of language structures?
The authors proceed on the assumption that if language evolution is the
result of language change then the reconstruction of the former can be
explored by deploying the processes involved in the latter. Their measured
arguments and crystal-clear exposition will appeal to all those interested
in the evolution of language, from advanced undergraduates to linguists,
cognitive scientists, human biologists, and archaeologists.