Introduction to Language review

I just finished reading an older edition of  ‘An introduction to Language” by Fromkin, Rodman, Collins, and Blair.

It’s a very easy to read book. The concepts are explained very well with good supporting material and exercises. For a textbook, it does lack a lot of research references. Still, it’s a good introduction to the topic and it should be used, even if only as a supplementary text.

A few things I got from the book…

Language is something very special to humans. Even the worst human communicator can produce language that is more descriptive than the smartest animals (p.20). On face value, this is easy to accept. Animals are believe to communicate only a limited range of things (hunger, danger, happiness, etc.) You might argue that animals have their own complex language which we cannot understand. But our cultural evolution suggests that our language is qualitatively different from any other animal. We can do so much more with our language, like tell stories and jokes. However, the complexity of our language could be related to the complexity of our thoughts. There is no evidence that a dog’s language would not be complicated, if only it could have deeper thoughts.

Language is the only hard thing that is easier to learn when you are 3 than when you are 30. Every other skill or subject (take math, physics, etc.) is easier to learn when you are older, but language seems the opposite. It is easier to learn when you are young. The theory is that there’s a critical age, after which language cannot be ‘acquired’. You can no longer just ‘pick up’ a language automatically. This is intuitive. Kids seems to pick up languages extremely quick while adults take a long time to learn a second language (if ever). There’s some anecdotal evidence about adults acquiring a language, but I think it’s still rare to hear of it. The critical age hypothesis is an interesting one. But I what I am more fascinated about is that language skills goes against other types of skill acquisition. It is like H20, the only element lighter as a solid than as a liquid.

Overall, an excellent introduction. A lot of insights and eye-openers. I think there’s good examples here to get something interested in the field, but also has a lot of substance for this who already study it. 5/5.