Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue
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 A world-class linguist demonstrates similarities among the globe's 5,000 languages to argue the case for a single, unifying Mother Tongue. Ruhlen (A Guide to the World's Languages, not reviewed) lets the lay reader share in the thrill of discovery with his hands-on lessons in classifying languages and reconstructing hypothetical proto-languages. A Stanford protÇgÇ of controversial language- classification giant Joseph H. Greenberg (cited in the ample bibliography), the author aggressively takes on academic opponents who disdain comparative vocabulary studies in favor of regular sound correspondences in the establishment of language families. After the reader finds the cognate patterns among (unlabeled) words from different languages in a given table, the author lets us know that our findings would be rejected by the Indo-Europeanists who deny that Aryans have any linguistic relatives (read: No people of color need apply). With the help of global genetic studies, these old white racist farts are shown to be perpetuating ``one of the great hoaxes of twentieth-century science.'' While many of us can cheer that ``it's a small world after all,'' Ruhlen has his own tilt towards a pan-racial homeland in Africa. He thus parts with the well-publicized founders of Nostratic, the language superfamily that points to an origin in the Near East, where both the Bible (never mentioned here) and archaeology place the oldest talking humans. The reader does not get to hear or test theories on the whys and hows of linguistic diversity, but from Ruhlen's word tables, language trees, and maps there emerges a well-argued thesis against the Eurocentrists and for a monogenesis of language. A courageous, eloquent book of great significance to all who care about where we came from.

Pub Date: May 13th, 1994
ISBN: 0-471-58426-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Wiley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1994