Eve Spoke

Philip Lieberman, Author, Herbert Ed. Lieberman, Author
Philip Lieberman, Author, Herbert Ed. Lieberman, Author W. W. Norton & Company $25 (208p) ISBN 978-0-393-04089-0
Reviewed on: 01/19/1998
Release date: 01/01/1998
Paperback - 210 pages - 978-0-393-34479-0
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Drawing broadly from fields as diverse as anthropology, neuroscience and linguistics, Lieberman (Uniquely Human) attempts ""to show that our ability to talk is one of the keys to understanding the evolutionary process that made us human"" and that the anatomical changes that permitted our ancestors to speak could have occurred only if they were coupled with similarly dramatic alterations in the structure of our brains. Lieberman, an eminent professor of cognitive and linguistic sciences at Brown University, asserts that early humans and Neanderthals interacted rarely, largely because the latter ""were inherently unable to produce human speech--they would have sounded like village idiots--producing nasalized, indistinct speech."" He also presents ample evidence to refute the view, promulgated by Noam Chomsky and many others, that children have an innate sense of grammar. The book has flaws, however: principally, Lieberman too often demands too much prior knowledge on the part of his readers, leaving them to figure out for themselves how he jumped between points and among fields. In addition, his explanations can be as dry as the skulls he casts and studies. Consequently, only some readers looking for a technically savvy, hard-science companion to Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct will be pleased with what they find here. (Jan.)
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