Linguistic Diversity

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Oxford University Press, 1999 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 168 pages
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There are some 6,500 different languages in the world, belonging to around 250 distinct families and conforming to numerous grammatical types. This book explains why. Given that the biological mechanisms underlying language are the same in all normal human beings, would we not be a moresuccessful species if we spoke one language? Daniel Nettle considers how this extraordinary and rich diversity arose, how it relates to the nature of language, cognition, and culture, and how it is linked with the main patterns of human geography and history. Human languages and language families are not distributed evenly: there are relatively few in Eurasia compared to the profusion found in Australasia, the Pacific, and the Americas. There is also a marked correlation between biodiversity and linguistic diversity. The author explains the processesby which this distribution evolved and changes still. To do so he returns to the earliest origins of language, reconstructing the processes of linguistic variation and diffusion that occurred when humans first filled the continents and, thousands of years later, turned to agriculture. He ends byexamining the causes of linguistic mortality, and why the number of the world's languages may halve before 2100. Linguistic Diversity draws on work in anthropology, linguistics, geography, archaeology, and evolutionary science to provide a comprehensive account of the patterns of linguistic diversity. It is written in a clear, lively and accessible style, and will appeal broadly across the natural and humansciences, as well as to the informed general reader.

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References to this book

Language Policy
Bernard Spolsky
Limited preview - 2004
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About the author (1999)

Daniel Nettle is at Merton College, Oxford, and a member of the Human Biodiversity Project at the University of Cambridge.

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