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Language in Prehistory


Part of Approaches to the Evolution of Language

  • Date Published: January 2016
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107692596

£ 19.99

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About the Authors
  • For ninety per cent of our history, humans have lived as 'hunters and gatherers', and for most of this time, as talking individuals. No direct evidence for the origin and evolution of language exists; we do not even know if early humans had language, either spoken or signed. Taking an anthropological perspective, Alan Barnard acknowledges this difficulty and argues that we can nevertheless infer a great deal about our linguistic past from what is around us in the present. Hunter-gatherers still inhabit much of the world, and in sufficient number to enable us to study the ways in which they speak, the many languages they use, and what they use them for. Barnard investigates the lives of hunter-gatherers by understanding them in their own terms, to create a book which will be welcomed by all those interested in the evolution of language.

    • Presents new ideas on the history of language in a scholarly but student-friendly text
    • Up-to-date coverage of research in linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, psychology and other fields
    • Includes an extensive glossary covering all relevant topics
    • Written by an anthropologist with over forty years of research in hunter-gatherer studies
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'A refreshingly open-minded book on one of the most exciting debates of our time.' Chris Knight, University College London

    'At slightly more than one hundred pages, Language in Prehistory has surely a very ambitious objective, namely surveying the probable causes and dynamics of the rising and evolution of language … Alan Barnard has written an interesting piece of literature, by drawing from his own scholarly field and integrating it with insights from genetics and linguistics. … Barnard juxtaposes broad and diverse fields of scholarship by suggesting that synergy between these would hopefully lead to interesting and meaningful discoveries.' Matteo Tarsi, Linguist List (

    'Barnard's book is a useful reminder of fascinating facts that we are otherwise prone to overlook - especially facts about hunter-gatherers, such as their intellectual sophistication or pervasive multilingualism.' Sławomir Wacewicz, Anthropos

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2016
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107692596
    • length: 195 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 151 x 12 mm
    • weight: 0.3kg
    • contains: 7 b/w illus. 8 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Population diversity and language diversity
    3. What did prehistoric people do?
    4. How did prehistoric people think?
    5. Narratives of the every-day
    6. Mythological narratives
    7. Sexual selection and language evolution
    8. Conclusions and thoughts for the future.

  • Author

    Alan Barnard, University of Edinburgh
    Alan Barnard is Professor of the Anthropology of Southern Africa at the University of Edinburgh, where he has taught since 1978. He has undertaken ethnographic research with hunter-gatherers in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. He participated in the British Academy Centenary Research Project 'From Lucy to Language: The Archaeology of the Social Brain'. In 2010, he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy, and he serves as an Honorary Consul of the Republic of Namibia. His numerous publications include Social Anthropology and Human Origins (2011) and Genesis of Symbolic Thought (2012), and this volume completes his series on human origins.

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