The First Word Book Summary By Christine Kenneally

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The First Word is a comprehensive look at language origins, an application of linguistic science to the questions of human language's development.

In it, readers can expect to find a variety of theories and points of view on this fascinating topic put forward over the last fifty years or so.

From scientific journals to anthropological sources, the author has gathered together key information from a vast range of experts in the field for his book.

He explains difficult concepts with ease and helps bring into focus some of the more complicated aspects of linguistics.

The First Word is an essential resource for anyone interested in language origins and its development over time.

The First Word Book

Book Name: The First Word (The Search for the Origins of Language)

Author(s): Christine Kenneally

Rating: 4/5

Reading Time: 18 Minutes

Categories: Science

Author Bio

Christine Kenneally is an accomplished author, her immense knowledge on the topic of linguistics burgeoning from her Ph.D.

in linguistics from the University of Cambridge.

She is well-versed in this area and has showcased her expertise through notable publications such as Scientific American, The New Yorker and The New York Times - all of which she has been published in.

Being a reputable columnist showcases her authority and order over language, informing us that we can trust Christine's advice when it comes to writing or studying language itself.

Her highly acclaimed book “The First Word” further cements her deep understanding and admiration for linguistics, giving readers a thorough explanation of how language works and more importantly how it came about.

Uncovering The Mystery Of How Human Language Developed

Human Language

Do you ever wonder about the origin and history of language, the tool that defines our very identity?

The First Word Book by Iain Benson provides us with some fascinating theories about how language came to be.

You’ll learn about different hypotheses on why language exists only in humans, how part of a chicken’s brain was transplanted into the head of a quail (and why), and why George H.


Bush was compared to a baboon!

Plus you’ll discover what fascinating similarities exist between language and viruses.

From this book, you can unlock secrets that will help you understand the mystery of where this incredible tool originated from.

Pick up your copy today if you’d like to find out where this magnificent tool called ‘language’ comes from!

Noam Chomsky’S Revolutionary Critique Of B. F. Skinner’S Behaviorism And The Idea Of Poverty Of Stimulus

Noam Chomsky argued that human beings are not just learning languages through concrete stimuli-responses that are presented to them.

Rather, he claimed that humans actually have the innate ability to acquire languages, and it is something that is inherited rather than learned.

Chomsky’s revolutionary review of B.


Skinner’s views essentially nullified Skinner’s idea of behaviorism and dethroned him from his god-like status in psychology at the time.

He used the so-called “poverty of stimulus” argument to make his point: That children can quickly learn a huge number of words as well as how words can be combined and recombined in new sentences without being explicitly told, which isn’t possible if language learning is only through concrete stimuli-response models.

Essentially, Chomsky was arguing that language can be seen as a perfect, inherited system that already exists within us humans, allowing us to naturally acquire language without learning or being taught it through any form of external stimuli.

His view has since become one of the foundational theories of linguistics, believed by many to be true and accepted today as part of this field’s core principles.

Apes And Dolphins Challenge Chomsky’S Theory Of Language Acquisition By Demonstrating Human-Like Capabilities

Despite what many people think, language is not a uniquely human phenomenon.

Research has shown that it can be taught to animals as well.

Scientists have been successful in teaching apes, dolphins and many other animals how to use images to communicate – and in some cases, even understand some aspects of language.

The most remarkable results were achieved by researcher Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, who dedicated years of hard work to training an ape named Kanzi.

Once Savage-Rumbaugh gave her attention to Kanzi, he was able to learn the significance of images presented on keyboards and produce combinations of symbols to communicate his wants and needs.

He didn’t just stop there either – he was later able to comprehend spoken English and understand hundreds of words and longer expressions that had been taught to him.

This goes against Chomsky’s thesis which suggested that language is based on a component specific only to the human mind.

Obviously this isn’t the case if some animals are capable of learning words from humans!

It shows that language is in fact a universal phenomenon than can be shared by more than one species.

Pinker And Bloom Revolutionize Understanding Of Language Evolution By Arguing For Its Natural Selection Origins

Language Evolution

You can think of language just like the human eye: it’s a product of evolution.

This idea was first proposed by two psychologists, Paul Bloom and Steven Pinker, and it saw them go against years of research conducted by Chomsky and Sidestein which suggested that language is a perfect, preconfigured system found in our brains – something which couldn’t have evolved over time.

Pinker and Bloom combined linguistics with evolutionary biology to make their case – showinhg how language provides a great advantage to any species by allowing individuals to communicate information between each other.

After their revolutionary argument, more focus was put on the question of how language has evolved over the ages rather then whether or not it had done so.

It makes sense when you think about it; with language comes advances in communication, and this can only be beneficial for any species!

So next time you’re wondering why we have language, don’t forget that it’s likely been produced from millions of years of evolution.

Philip Lieberman’S Revolutionary Contribution To The Study Of Language Evolving From Biological Constraints

It should come as no surprise that Philip Lieberman, who wrote his Ph.D.

thesis on the physiology of breath and language, had some radically opposed views to Chomsky when it came to understanding language.

According to him, in order to fully understand it, you must start with biology and look at it through the lens of evolution.

What makes Lieberman’s view even more radical than Pinker and Bloom’s is that he says there can be no specific “organ” in our brain devoted specifically to language.

His research indicated that in fact, language is connected with motor control – a finding backed up by a study where he compared Parkinson’s patients with neurologically healthy individuals.

The results indicated that people whose brains were affected by the disease not only suffered from movement issues such as tremors but also difficulty understanding and producing sentence structures correctly.

These findings led him to conclude that there is no specific independent language organ in our brains- rather, it’s connected to motor control mechanisms which enable us to speak as well as use grammar when constructing sentences.

Such an interesting yet complex concept has certainly challenged the opinion once held by Chomsky about how we process language!

The Difference Between Human And Animal Language: Words, Reference And Meaning

Human language is unique in that it involves talking about a subject and having meaningful words.

This means that it allows us to communicate and exchange ideas between each other which cannot be done by animals.

Take for example Alex, the parrot who can identify 50 different objects, 7 colors and 5 shapes.

While this may seem impressive, his power of speech does not constitute human language because his ability is genetically predetermined.

Similarly, animals such as chickens have “alarm calls” but these again don’t count as a primitive form of language because they are pre-programmed into their species’ behaviors.

Unlike animal’s alarm calls, the words we use in human language contain information about both grammar and meaning which allow us to create new terms such as “computer” or “Internet.” This spread of knowledge expresses our ability to think abstractly and evolve rapidly – something which cannot be achieved through mere evolution alone.

The Importance Of Speech In Human Language And The Similarity Between Baboon Muzzle Wipes And Human Gestures

Human Language

Humans are not the only species that use gestures and speech to communicate.

In fact, baboons and other animals use these same methods in order to communicate with one another.

For example, baboons engage in a behavior called “muzzle wiping” where they quickly swipe across the bridge of their nose with their hand, usually when they are feeling uneasy or apprehensive about something.

Surprisingly enough, humans have been known to do this as well!

Former US President George H.


Bush was speaking at a press conference one time about his son’s run-in with the law when he raised his hand and wiped his nose – an unmistakeable muzzle wipe.

Pointing is also used by human infants to express themselves before they learn how to properly structure words and sentences.

However, this too is something that is seen in other species – mothers will often point to objects or food items for their babies who can’t speak yet.

Finally, babbling is something that appears in both humans and dolphins: infants will utter nonsensical sounds or words before learning how to form proper sentences.

All of these things add up to what constitutes human language: gestures combined with various types of vocalization–and other animals use them too!

What Makes Human Language Unique? Can We Find It In Other Species?

Structure is key when it comes to human language, but it doesn’t appear to be uniquely human.

Linguists have identified two types of structure used in language – morphemes and syntax.

Morphemes are the smallest meaningful units of a language and cannot be broken down into smaller parts.

In contrast, syntax is concerned with how words and morphemes are combined into phrases.

Interestingly, evidence suggests that some elements of phonology – or the study of how sounds relate to meaning – can be found in the way birds and whales communicate.

Experiments with vervet monkeys have also showed that they use a distinctive fall in pitch at the end of an utterance, just like humans do.

More research has challenged the assumption that only humans understand complex syntax.

Kanzi, a bonobo monkey, has been trained to understand a range of spoken commands that involve building grammatically correct sentences.

Such experiments show us that animals may have their own version of syntax which demonstrates that it isn’t exclusively found in humans alone.

These findings lead us to ask what makes human language so special? Even though structure is one part of this puzzle, it does not seem to be uniquely human after all.

It’S Not Just Biology: Brain Structure Plays A Role In Language Acquisition

It is now widely accepted that human language does have a biological basis: the human brain.

This is backed up by experiments with patients who have suffered brain damage and had experience with language capacity moving from one area of the brain to another when certain ones have been damaged.

This shows that language capacity isn’t just restricted to one area, and that our brains are more resilient than we thought.

Furthermore, experiments with animals demonstrate the importance of how the brain is constructed in regards to language-related behaviors.

For example, scientists implanted pieces of a Japanese quail’s brain into the brains of domestic chickens, and vice versa – and still, these birds were able to produce calls of their own species but respond to the maternal calls of the other species!

These results suggest that language may be innate, which makes sense as babies innately learn the language of their parents.

All in all, while it may not be appropriate to suggest a “language gene” produces this instinct, it seems obvious that humans possess an intrinsic ability for understanding and speaking languages like no other creature on Earth.

Language Could Be A Co-Evolving Virus That Resides In The Human Brain

Human Brain

Simon Kirby’s research has put forth an interesting idea; could it be that language and humanity have co-evolved in a symbiotic relationship? The study of languages evolution begins with Nicolaus Copernicus’ revolutionary model of the universe in the sixteenth century and could end with an equally profound shift in how we view language: Instead of seeing language as a survival tool for humanity, we could consider humans as a survival tool for language.

Kirby supports his theory by using computer simulations to see how language would spread among different populations.

He found that even when individuals don’t have access to all the words, structure and grammar still evolves within the individual’s brain, similar to how a virus spreads.

In this way, he suggests that language itself has evolved as a virus or parasite in the human mind – but this parasite is essential if humans are going to survive and reproduce.

Robots Show Us How Pointing And Communication Are Important Steps Towards Developing Language

Luc Steels, a Belgian scientist, has been studying how a language might develop in real-time by building robots that can communicate with each other.

This could be the key to understanding how human language evolved over time.

Steels conducted his study by placing remote-controlled robots in laboratories that would be able to see, hear and produce sound.

Then, he enabled real human agents to “teleport” into the individual robots so they could observe what the robot could see and hear, and also communicate with any other robot in the same physical space.

By doing this, Steel found that agents were able to create word-object relations by pointing at things.

Those agreements then spread throughout multiple robot bodies in different labs until there was uniformity of language between them all.

This method is still far away from replicating human language as we know it today, but it gives us valuable insight into understanding how our own languages evolved – and through further exploration of robotic communication processes, we can continue on our quest for knowledge about language as well as uncover even more about how human language was developed.

Wrap Up

The First Word is a fascinating look at how language emerged in humans.

This book dives deep into the science and research behind how humans developed the ability to use language, and also examines the role of animals in this process.

Additionally, readers are encouraged to read Robert Wright’s Nonzero in order to gain deeper insight into our evolutionary and cultural history, which ultimately lead us towards goodness.

At the end of this incredible journey, readers can take away the knowledge that human language is an amazing force and a transformative feat of nature – one that started with just a few grunts before becoming one of humankind’s most prized possessions.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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