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You can click to view my favorites for anthropology, biology, cognitive sciences, ethology, climate, evolution, brains, language, the future -- not to mention Patrick O'Brian novels and the Science Masters series.

Language Origins

There's a lot of overlap of this category with anthropology, brains, cognitive sciences, and of course evolution.

Leonard Bernstein, The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard (1973 Norton Lectures; Harvard University Press, 1976, 10th printing).
Music theory, with some running speculations about Universal Grammar.
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Derek Bickerton, Language and Species (University of Chicago Press, 1990).
        "[We] can understand neither ourselves nor our world until we have fully understood what language is and what it has done for our species. For although language made our species and made the world we inhabit, the powers it unleashed drove us to understand and control our environment, rather than explore the mainspring of our own being. We have followed that path of control and domination until even the most daring among us have begun to fear where it may lead. Now the engine of our quest for power and knowledge should itself become the object that we seek to know."
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Derek Bickerton, Language and Human Behavior (University of Washington Press, 1995).
To quote the book review by George Johnson in the New York Times Book Review of December 10, 1995: "Midway through his book, Mr. Bickerton asks us to consider how truly wonderful are mundane activities like a boxer pummeling a punching bag or a dancer stretching in front of a mirror. 'Look at how alien these behaviors are to any species but our own,' he writes. 'Try to imagine a tiger practicing its killing technique in the absence of any prey, or a gazelle practicing its latest escape maneuver in the absence of any predator. . . . Doing a special, individualized thing simply to be able to do it better on some future occasion is uniquely human behavior.' The same could be said for theory building, this marvelous ability to spin engaging scientific tales."
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Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Information Age (Faber and Faber 1994).
        "Not only is the text a distillation, a dramatic shaping of materials, but to process it we must apply a very exclusive sort of focus. The result is an altered state of awareness, a kindled-up sort of high."
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William H. Calvin, How Brains Think: Evolving Intelligence, Then and Now (Science Masters, BasicBooks, 1996).HBT
A dozen translations are pending. It expands on my October 1994 Scientific American article to address the evolution of consciousness, intelligence, and language.The chapter titles are What to Do Next, Evolving a Good Guess, The Janitor’s Dream, Evolving Intelligent Animals, Syntax as a Foundation of Intelligence, Evolution On-The-Fly, Shaping Up an Intelligent Act from Humble Origins, and Prospects for a Superhuman Intelligence. It is suitable for biology and cognitive neuroscience supplementary reading lists.
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William H. Calvin and George A. Ojemann, Conversations with Neil’s Brain: The Neural Nature of Thought and Language (Addison-Wesley, 1994).
It’s a tour of the human cerebral cortex, conducted from the operating room, and has been on the New Scientist bestseller list of science books. Chapter titles are A Window to the Brain, Losing Consciousness, Seeing the Brain Speak, If Language Is Left, What’s Right?, The Problems with Paying Attention, The Personality of the Lowly Neuron, The What and Where of Memory, How Are Memories Made? What’s Up Front? When Things Go Wrong with Thought and Mood, Tuning Up the Brain by Pruning, Acquiring and Reacquiring Language, Taking Apart the Visual Image, How the Brain Subdivides Language, Why Can We Read So Well? Stringing Things Together in Novel Ways, Deep in the Temporal Lobe, Just Across from the Brain Stem, In Search of the Narrator. It is suitable for biology and cognitive neuroscience supplementary reading lists.
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William H. Calvin and Derek Bickerton, Lingua ex Machina: Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky with the Human Brain (MIT Press, 2000), amazon.com
Noam Chomsky, Language and Thought (Anshen Transdisciplinary Lectureships in Art, Science and the Philosophy of Culture, Monograph 3, Moyer Bell Ltd., 1994).
Terrence Deacon, The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain (W. W. Norton, August 1997).
As I said in The New York Times Book Review (10 August 1997):
        In our evolutionary ascent from an ape-like ancestor, we gained our most prized possession, the mental abilities that underlie language. We're still trying to figure out what language is (from monkey cries to structured syntax), how it works (the short-term processes in the brain that construct and deconstruct utterances), and why it evolved (the Darwinian processes that bootstrapped it over the long run).
        That's what Terrence W. Deacon's book, "The Symbolic Species," is about. His first section is on symbols and language, the next tackles the brain's language specializations, and the last addresses the coevolution of language and the human brain, ending up with Darwinian views of consciousness. It's a work of enormous breadth, likely to pleasantly surprise both general readers and experts. Continued....
Merlin Donald, Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition (Harvard University Press, 1991).
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Kathleen R. Gibson and Tim Ingold (Editors), Tools, Language and Cognition in Human Evolution (Cambridge University Press, 1993).
Proceedings of a small conference in Portugal in 1990 sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. Highly recommended. amazon.com
Ray Jackendoff, Patterns in the Mind (BasicBooks 1993).
        "Over and over, inflection, nonstandard word order, and recursive embedding appear in normal language learners during the critical period -- whether or not these features are present in the input. Over and over, these features are missing in language learners who are genetically impaired or past the critical period. In these less optimal circumstances for learning, basic word order and rapid effortless vocabulary acquisition are retained; yet not even these are present in the apes.... The evidence, therefore, points to a division of language acquisition into more and less specialized parts, some of which are uniquely human."
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Mark Johnson, Moral Imagination: Implications of Cognitive Science for Ethics (University of Chicago Press 1993).
        "[There is] a deep tension and dissonance within our cultural understanding of morality, for we try to live according to a view that is inconsistent with how human beings actually make sense of things. I am trying to point out this deep tension, to diagnose the source of the dissonance, and to offer a more psychologically realistic view of moral understanding -- a view we could live by and that would help us live better lives." (p.19).
        "Narrative is not just an explanatory device, but is actually constitutive of the way we experience things. No moral theory can be adequate if it does not take into account the narrative character of our experience." (p. 11)
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Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason (University of Chicago Press 1987).
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Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (W. W. Norton, 1997).
        An excerpt from chapter 1: "`A common man marvels at uncommon things; a wise man marvels at the commonplace.' Keeping Confucius' dictum in mind, let's continue to look at commonplace human acts with the fresh eye of a robot designer seeking to duplicate them. Pretend that we have somehow built a robot that can see and move. What will it do with what it sees? How should it decide how to act?
      An intelligent being cannot treat every object it sees as a unique entity unlike anything else in the universe. It has to put objects in categories so that it may apply its hard-won knowledge about similar objects, encountered in the past, to the object at hand."

Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct (Morrow, 1994).
Danny Yee writes: "If human language is innate, then why is there such a variety of languages? Pinker devotes a chapter to exploring the ways in which languages vary, the ways in which they change with time, and some of the attempts at reconstruction of human linguistic history (including a reasonably even-handed appraisal of Greenbergian lumping). Separate chapters are devoted to language acquisition by infants, to the biological (genetic and ontogenetic) underpinnings of language, and to the evolution of language. Here Pinker disagrees with Chomsky, seeing no problems with a selective explanation for the evolution of language. The final chapter touches on other aspects of the human mind which seem likely candidates for innate "modules" and examines their relationship to linguistic competence." The non-Chomskian side of the story is in Michael Tomasello's book review in Cognitive Development 10:131-156 (1995).
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E. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Stuart Shanker, Talbot J. Taylor, Apes, Language, and the Human Mind (Oxford University Press, May 1998).      amazon.com
Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Roger Lewin, Kanzi (Wiley, 1994).
        "Comprehension demands an active intellectual process of listening to another party while trying to figure out, from a short burst of sounds, the other's meaning and intent both of which are always imperfectly conveyed. Production, by contrast, is simple. We know what we think and what we wish to mean. We don't have to figure out "what it is we mean," only how to say it. By contrast, when we listen to someone else, we not only have to determine what the other person is saying, but also what he or she means by what is said, without the insider's knowledge that the speaker has."
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