James R. Hurford
Origins of Language: A Slim Guide offers a concise and accessible overview of what is known about the evolution of the human capacity for language. Non-human animals communicate in simple ways: they may be able to form simple concepts, to feel some limited empathy for others, to cooperate to some extent, and to engage in mind-reading. Human language, however, is characterized by its ability to efficiently express a wide range of subtle and complex meanings. After the first simple beginnings, human language underwent an explosion of complexity, leading to the very complicated systems of grammar and pronunciation found in modern languages. Jim Hurford looks at the very varied aspects of this evolution, covering human prehistory; the relation between instinct and learning; biology and culture; trust, altruism, and cooperation; animal thought; human and non-human vocal anatomy; the meanings and forms of the first words; and the growth of complex systems of grammar and pronunciation. Written by an internationally recognized expert in the field, it draws on a number of disciplines besides linguistics, including philosophy, neuroscience, genetics, and animal behaviour, and will appeal to a wide range of readers interested in language origins and evolution.
Jerome J. McGann
Black Riders: The Visible Language of Modernism
“English literature,” Yeats once noted, “has all but completely shaped itself in the printing press.” Finding this true particularly of modernist writing, Jerome McGann demonstrates the extraordinary degree to which modernist styles are related to graphic and typographic design, to printed letters–“black riders” on a blank page–that create language for the eye. He sketches the relation of modernist writing to key developments in book design, beginning with the nineteenth-century renaissance of printing, and demonstrates the continued interest of postmodern writers in the “visible language” of modernism. McGann then offers a philosophical investigation into the relation of knowledge and truth to this kind of imaginative writing.
Exploring the work of writers like William Morris, Emily Dickinson, W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein, as well as Laura Riding and Bob Brown, he shows how each exploits the visibilities of language, often by aligning their work with older traditions of so-called Adamic language. McGann argues that in modernist writing, philosophical nominalism emerges as a key aesthetic point of departure. Such writing thus develops a pragmatic and performative “answer to Plato” in the matter of poetry’s relation to truth and philosophy.