The Origin of Speech

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This book explores the origin and evolution of speech. The human speech system is in a league of its own in the animal kingdom and its possession dwarfs most other evolutionary achievements. During every second of speech we unconsciously use about 225 distinct muscle actions. To investigate the evolutionary origins of this prodigious ability, Peter MacNeilage draws on work in linguistics, cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and animal behaviour. He puts forward a neo-Darwinian account of speech as a process of descent in which ancestral vocal capabilities became modified in response to natural selection pressures for more efficient communication. His proposals include the crucial observation that present-day infants learning to produce speech reveal constraints that were acting on our ancestors as they invented new words long ago.

This important and original investigation integrates the latest research on modern speech capabilities, their acquisition, and their neurobiology, including the issues surrounding the cerebral hemispheric specialization for speech. It will interest a wide range of readers in cognitive, neuro-, and evolutionary science, as well as all those seeking to understand the nature and evolution of speech and human communication.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This book does a masterful job of assembling and interpreting all of the evidence we have concerning the evolution of speaking. In the long run it may not be the final word, but until we have a better story, this is the one that must be the prime contender." --Linguist List

"Quite compelling" --Mark Aranoff, The Quarterly Review of Biology

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199236503
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 6/2/2008
  • Series: Studies in the Evolution of Language Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter MacNeilage is Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. He has written over 120 papers on the topic of complex action systems and their evolution. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Acoustical Society of America, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioural and Social Sciences.

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Table of Contents

Part I Introduction
1. Background: The Intellectual Context
2. Getting to the Explanation of Speech
Part II Speech and its origin: The Frame/Content Theory
3. The Nature of Modern Hominid Speech
4. Speech in Deep Time: How Speech Got Started
Part III The Relation Between Ontogeny and Phylogeny
5. Ontogeny and Phylogeny 1: The Frame Stage
6. Ontogeny and Phylogeny 2: The Frame/Content Stage
7. The Origin of Words: How Frame-Stage Patterns Acquired Meanings
Part IV Brain Organization and the Evolution of Speech
8. Evolution of Brain Organization for Speech: Background
9. A Dual Brain System for the Frame/Content Mode
10. Evolution of Cerebral Hemispheric Specialization for Speech
Part V The Frame/Content Theory and Generative Linguistics
11. Generative Phonology and the Origin of Speech
12. Generative Phonology and the Acquisition of Speech
Part VI A Perspective on Speech From Manual Evolution
13. An Amodal Phonology? Implications of the Existence of Sign Language
Part VII Last Things
14. Ultimate Causes: Genes and Memes
15. Conclusions References Index

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