Written in Stone: A Journey Through the Stone Age and the Origins of Modern Literature

Christopher Stevens. Pegasus, $27.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-60598-907-5
Stevens (Thirty Days Has September) takes readers on a lively romp through history as he traces the origins of English and many other modern languages all the way back to the Stone Age. With a showman’s enthusiasm, he examines how the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language laid the groundwork for over six millennia of linguistic evolution, revealing how each ancient syllable forms the root of dozens of words and concepts. “It’s proof that today’s languages didn’t evolve across two continents by accident—they developed from a mother tongue that was infinitely more efficient, memorable, and flexible than anything the other tribes could come up with,” he explains. Stevens elaborates on “the way new words built on old, letter by letter,” and notes that PIE “wasn’t so much a mother tongue, more a construction kit.” Each short chapter focuses on a single syllable, its evolution, and its descendants. Thus, em, which meant to buy, becomes emporium, example, premium, redemption, promptly, irredeemable, and ransom. Diw, which meant to be bright as day, becomes divine, journey, daisies, Jupiter, deity, and dismal. Stevens’s passion for wordplay can lead to frenetic writing, but it’s always enlightening and engaging. This is a delight for anyone who loves language in any form. Agent: Heather Holden-Brown, HHB Agency (U.K.). (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/07/2015
Release date: 11/16/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
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