I wanted to have an experience on how language evolved, from a rigorous point of view. I searched for books; there are many books, most of them in popular domain, which I don't aim at, as the density of novelty and research information is too low, and would not prove to be efficient in use of time for me. I came to know that Chomsky is the leading linguist, so, I searched for his books, which are immense too; even in this sub-filtering, I am confused.

It would be of great help, if a rigorous book, mainly on the philosophy of language, which uses history to see the patterns to explain the evolution, is mentioned.

Edit: As jlawer mentions, we can't have hard historical evidence to describe evolution, then if there is any "guess" which is widely known to fit better of all other guesses, I will be given a quick boost in my progression of articulating a mathematical no-analogy/semi-analogy language. Though the word rigorous book, can be taken to mean a book which is not intended for layman.

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    Chomsky is an influential linguist, but that doesn't mean you should read his books for an introduction to linguistic ideas. Commented May 3, 2016 at 17:43
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    I can't think of any modern linguists that would be directly relevant. None of them would find such an endeavor practical or necessary. However, if you're interested in how human metaphorical language works, I would advise studying the field of Semantics. Commented May 3, 2016 at 17:59
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    The evolution of language happened long before there was any history. We can only guess, since words leave no fossils.
    – jlawler
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 20:29
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    If by "logical no-analogy" you mean unambiguous and non-metaphorical, I'm afraid you're doomed to disappointment if you expect humans to ever use it.
    – jlawler
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 2:16
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    IMHO Fitch, The evolution of language is one of the best books on this topic.
    – Alex B.
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 17:30

1 Answer 1


First off, I assume you mean to refer to the emergence of language or linguistic behavior in the natural history of the species, rather than the evolution of languages (e.g. French from Latin). But both topics are fascinating.

For many decades this was a taboo subject, and was famously banned in the 19th century in some famous linguistic society whose name I forget. But things are different now; we have the kind of scientific data bearing on language evolution that was unavailable back in the day, from many different fields - not just linguistics, but developmental psychology, primate studies, etc. So now there are very interesting and genuinely scientific theories about the emergence of language.

I recommend How Language Began: Gesture and Speech in Human Evolution by David McNeill. McNeill has also written a couple of books about gesture and its relation to mind and language - he makes a strong case that language emerged from gesture.

If you want a rigorous philosophical treatment of language evolution you're probably out of luck; philosophers do philosophy, not history. But you can find a rigorous treatment of the structural properties that must be satisfied by any set of practices in order to be counted as contentful (i.e. "linguistic") in Robert Brandom's work. As he says, philosophers are interested in what counts as conceptual rather than how creatures come to have abilities that display conceptually contentful behaviors. See his essay "How Analytic Philosophy Has Failed Cognitive Science" in Reason In Philosophy.


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