A Brief History of the Verb <i>To Be</i>

A Brief History of the Verb To Be

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Overview

A journey through linguistic time and space, from Aristotle through the twentieth century's “era of syntax,” in search of a dangerous verb and its significance.

Beginning with the early works of Aristotle, the interpretation of the verb to be runs through Western linguistic thought like Ariadne's thread. As it unravels, it becomes intertwined with philosophy, metaphysics, logic, and even with mathematics—so much so that Bertrand Russell showed no hesitation in proclaiming that the verb to be was a disgrace to the human race.

With the conviction that this verb penetrates modern linguistic thinking, creating scandal in its wake and, like a Trojan horse of linguistics, introducing disruptive elements that lead us to rethink radically the most basic structure of human language—the sentence—Andrea Moro reconstructs this history. From classical Greece to the dueling masters of medieval logic through the revolutionary geniuses from the seventeenth century to the Enlightenment, and finally to the twentieth century—when linguistics became a driving force and model for neuroscience—the plot unfolds like a detective story, culminating in the discovery of a formula that solves the problem even as it raises new questions—about language, evolution, and the nature and structure of the human mind. While Moro never resorts to easy shortcuts, A Brief History of the Verb To Be isn't burdened with inaccessible formulas and always refers to the broader picture of mind and language. In this way it serves as an engaging introduction to a new field of cutting-edge research.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262037129
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 01/12/2018
Series: The MIT Press
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 784,156
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Andrea Moro is Professor of General Linguistics at the Institute for Advanced Study (IUSS) in Pavia, Italy. He is the author of Dynamic Antisymmetry, Impossible Languages, and The Boundaries of Babel (all published by the MIT Press), and other books, including The Raising of Predicates and I Speak, Therefore I Am.

Table of Contents

Only One Passion ix

Acknowledgments xi

Prologue xiii

1 To Be-and Not "Being"-or, The Names of the Verb 1

1.1 The Name of Tense 7

1.2 The Name of Affirmation 29

1.3 The Name of Identity 44

2 Anatomy of a Sentence 69

2.1 The Calm before the Storm 81

2.2 Molecules of Words 85

2.3 The Anomaly of the Copula: The Asymmetry That Isn't There 121

3 The Strange Case of Verbs without Subjects 127

3.1 The Quasi-Copula 129

3.2 Is and There Is 142

3.3 "Non-Euclidean" Grammars: Concerning the Rise and Fall of the Subject Postulate 152

3.4 The Unified Theory of Copular Sentences 161

3.5 There Is, or "And Yet It Moves" 171

4 Epilogues between Language and Necessity 193

4.1 The Form of Grammar: Between Linearity and Hierarchy 195

4.2 Language in the Brain 205

4.3 Losing and Acquiring the Copula 220

Afterword 233

Notes 235

Bibliography 263

Index 281

What People are Saying About This

Noam Chomsky

This quest for the Holy Grail—the nature of the simple verb to be—is a remarkable tour de force.Learned and lucid, with fascinating byways to challenging problems of philosophy, linguistic theory, and the brain sciences, the journey proceeds from classical Greece to the present, finally unveiling an elegant unified theory with rich and surprising implications for the understanding of fundamental aspects of language.A major contribution, and a joy to read.

Richard S. Kayne

Andrea Moro has given us, with fascinating historical and philosophical background, a powerful and sustained argument in favor of the unicity of To Be.

From the Publisher

This quest for the Holy Grail—the nature of the simple verb to be—is a remarkable tour de force.Learned and lucid, with fascinating byways to challenging problems of philosophy, linguistic theory, and the brain sciences, the journey proceeds from classical Greece to the present, finally unveiling an elegant unified theory with rich and surprising implications for the understanding of fundamental aspects of language.A major contribution, and a joy to read.

Noam Chomsky

Andrea Moro has given us, with fascinating historical and philosophical background, a powerful and sustained argument in favor of the unicity of To Be.

Richard S. Kayne, Silver Professor,Department of Linguistics, NYU;author of The Antisymmetry of Syntax

The distinguished linguist Andrea Moro has devoted his life to the study of the verb to be. In this wonderful book, he explains the importance and interest of this topic to the nonspecialist with his characteristic style, skill, and learning. It is a gripping read, the best popular book on language I have read since Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct. I recommend it to anyone interested in human language, or indeed, in human civilization in general.

Tim Crane, Professor of Philosophy, Central European University

Endorsement

The distinguished linguist Andrea Moro has devoted his life to the study of the verb to be. In this wonderful book, he explains the importance and interest of this topic to the nonspecialist with his characteristic style, skill, and learning. It is a gripping read, the best popular book on language I have read since Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct. I recommend it to anyone interested in human language, or indeed, in human civilization in general.

Tim Crane, Professor of Philosophy, Central European University

Tim Crane

The distinguished linguist Andrea Moro has devoted his life to the study of the verb to be. In this wonderful book, he explains the importance and interest of this topic to the nonspecialist with his characteristic style, skill, and learning. It is a gripping read, the best popular book on language I have read since Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct. I recommend it to anyone interested in human language, or indeed, in human civilization in general.

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