- [-] Other Available FormatsOur PriceNew & Used MarketplaceThe Kingdom of Speech (Paperback)
Publisher: Back Bay Books$15.99The Kingdom of Speech (Large Print Hardcover)
Publisher: Little Brown and Company$28.00The Kingdom of Speech (Audio Compact Disc - Unabridged)
Publisher: Little Brown and Company$30.00
- ISBN-13: 9780316404624
- ISBN-10: 0316404624
- Publisher: Little Brown and Company
- Publish Date: August 2016
- Page Count: 192
- Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.75 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-07-11
- Reviewer: Staff
Wolfe (Back to Blood), who began his career as a journalist, delivers his first nonfiction book in 16 years. In lively, irreverent, and witty prose, he argues that speech, not evolution, sets humans apart from animals and is responsible for all of humankind’s complex achievements. Speech, Wolfe explains, was the “first artifact,” the first instance where people took elements from nature—sounds—and turned them into something completely constructed. Wolfe evaluates the theories of the early evolutionists, such as Charles Darwin; self-taught British naturalist Alfred Wallace; and present-day linguists, psychologists, and anthropologists who, despite 150 years of effort, still struggle to understand how language evolved. Zeroing in on two scientific rivalries that pit an outsider against the establishment, Wolfe slyly skewers Darwin for grabbing all the glory from Wallace for the theory of evolution, and Noam Chomsky for ignoring, yet later tacitly acknowledging, fellow linguist Daniel Everett, who disagreed with Chomsky’s theory that language, in all its complexity, is hardwired in humans. Everett spent 30 years studying the Pirahãs, an isolated tribe in the Amazon basin, whose language revealed no conception of past or future, and no comprehension of numbers. Wolfe is at his best when portraying the lives of the scientists and their respective eras, and his vibrant study manages to be clever, funny, serious, satirical, and instructive. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit. (Sept.)
How language makes us human
In his typically colorful and entertaining style, Tom Wolfe brooks no argument as he boldly declares in The Kingdom of Speech that language is the attribute that distinguishes humans from animals. Speech, he proclaims in the book’s opening pages, is “the attribute of all attributes and is 95 percent plus of what lifts man above animal!”
Wolfe arrives at his conclusion after a whirlwind tour of the development of evolutionary theory. Darwin, Wolfe points out, fails to provide in The Origin of Species any clues to the way that natural selection explains the development of language. Wolfe humorously observes that “mildly negative reviews of his book hit [Darwin] like body blows, and the fierce ones cut him through to the gizzard.”
Wolfe points out that in the 19th century, Max Müller and Alfred Russel Wallace challenged Darwin on the subject of language and natural selection, with Müller contending that language elevates animals in the fullest way. Although Darwin attempts to explain the rise of language as a part of the evolutionary process in The Descent of Man, he fails miserably, according to Wolfe, and, as a result, “in the entire debate over the Evolution of man—language—was abandoned, thrown down the memory hole, from 1872-1949.”
Linguist Noam Chomsky—whom Wolfe calls “Noam Charisma”—rides in on his semantic white horse, introducing “universal grammar,” with which every child is born. Through his field studies with a small tribe in Brazil, one of Chomsky’s students, David Everett, concludes that speech is an artifact and explains “man’s power over all other creatures in a way Evolution all by itself can’t begin to.”
In the end, Wolfe declares that speech will soon be recognized as the “Fourth Kingdom of the Earth” alongside the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms.
Stimulating, clever and witty, Wolfe’s little book is sure to provoke discussion about the role language plays in making us human.