The Origin and Diversification of Language
Morris Swadesh, one of this century's foremost scien- tific investigators of language, dedicated much of his life to the study of the origin and evolution of language. This volume, left nearly completed at his death and edited posthumously by Joel F. Sherzer, is his last major study of this difficult subject.
Swadesh discusses the simple qualities of human speech also present in animal language, and establishes distinctively human techniques of expression by comparing the common features that are found in modern and ancient languages. He treats the diversification of language not only by isolating root words in different languages, but also by dealing with sound systems, with forms of composition, and with sentence structure. In so doing, he demonstrates the evidence for the expansion of all language from a single central area. Swadesh supports his hypothesis by "exhibits" that conveniently present the evidence in tabular form. Further clarity is provided by the use of a suggestive practical phonetic system, intelligible to the student as well as to the professional.
The book also contains an Appendix, in which the distinguished ethnographer of language, Dell Hymes, gives a valuable account of the prewar linguistic tradition within which Swadesh did some of his most important work.
Morris Swadesh (1909-1967) initiated or was associated with the introduction of many new approaches in scientific linguistics, including phonemics, glottochronology, and new concepts of language evolution. At the time of his death, he was research professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Joel F. Sherzer is a professor in the Departments of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author, editor, or compiler of many books, including Stories, Myths, Chants, and Songs of the Kuna Indians, Speech Play and Verbal Art, and Verbal Art in San Blas: Kuna Culture through its Discourse.