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THE KINGDOM OF SPEECH – Tom Wolfe

THE KINGDOM OF SPEECH - Tom Wolfe

 

THE KINGDOM OF SPEECH – TOM WOLFE

TOM WOLFE BEGINS HIS BOOK WITH THE OLD ISSUE OF THE CO-DISCOVERY OF EVOLUTION BY ALFRED WALLACE AND CHARLES DARWIN.

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The Kingdom of Speech
307 Reviews
The Kingdom of Speech
  • Wolfe, Tom (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages - 12/05/2017 (Publication Date) - Back Bay Books (Publisher)

“That universal grammar, the fruit of biological evolution with linguistic content, is a myth.

At this point in the book, Wolfe is already exalted, and says in a rather loud tone that”.TOM WOLFE

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The Kingdom of Speech
Wolfe, Tom (Author); English (Publication Language); 192 Pages - 12/05/2017 (Publication Date) - Back Bay Books (Publisher)
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✍ REVIEW Tom Wolfe’s book The Kingdom of Speech

REVIEW Tom Wolfe's book The Kingdom of Speech

 

The tone of the book is very typical of the author, who bid farewell to this inconceivable universe (but understandable as far as the meninges give us) with this bold, pugnant and somewhat cheating work. It is a very cornered book against Charles Darwin, for reasons that I will try to clear right away and that is synthesized in what makes us human in relation to the animal world.

In medieval philosophy, until the Reformation, the diatribe about free will was as rich as it was embittered.

That was the polemic between Erasmus (who was also a good person) and Luther (who was a fanatical bug). Freedom is a complex subject, and in our time, in relation to neurocognitive research, new facets and diverse reactions have been propitiated. It is not an easy subject to get rid of, after all it is related to our responsibility towards others.

Tom Wolfe begins his book with the old issue of the co-discovery of evolution by Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin.

Wolfe situates them socially: the first, son of a ruined lawyer, made a living from his explorations in which he accumulated quantities of animals that he then sold; Darwin was a British gentleman who never had to work.

Since his journey on the Beagle, he worked tirelessly on an investigation as extensive as it was meticulous to demonstrate what he thought at the time: species are not fixed entities since its inception, and all life is subject to an evolution whose mechanism is natural selection that privileges the most suitable (best adapted to the environment).

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✍ SUMMARY & SYNOPSIS of Tom Wolfe’s book The Kingdom of Speech

SUMMARY & SYNOPSIS of Tom Wolfe's book The Kingdom of Speech

 

Well, Wallace’s flycatcher sent a letter with a small manuscript to Darwin in June 1858, who was astonished after reading it: there he said the same as he did, but in twenty pages. It was, he claimed, as if he had been reading his mind. Darwin consulted it with his friend the great geologist Lyell and wrote a text to be published along with Wallace’s in the Linnean Society, without consulting Wallace, who lived far from Europe.

As everyone knows, today it is attributed to both the discovery, although Wallace later had other opinions and intellectual occupations, and a minimal work.

Undoubtedly, his work never had the complexity and depth of Darwin’s, as he himself recognized from the beginning. It’s not worth defending Darwin from Wolfe’s ironies, I think they’re unsustainable, except for a little strutting around with observations as easy as inanes.

But, and here comes the matter, Wallace affirmed that the abstract capacity of the human being and its derivatives (“ideal conceptions of space and time, of eternity and finitude“) had nothing to do with natural selection, which, according to the old dandy, could only “make the species adapt enough to survive, physically, in the struggle for life”.

As for language, it led Wallace to lose a little of his head with spiritism, and Darwin to think that he had to have some animal analogy, and he suspected that it had its origin in the singing of birds, in addition to the fact that protolengua persists in the sounds that mothers (also fathers) make to their babies.

They have no meaning or vocabulary, but they denote affection and therefore certain meanings.

Many were extolled in the controversy over the origin of languages, and over a common language. Darwin continued to maintain, even if he had no evidence, only observations and intuitions, that the whole elevated world of man – which Wallace and others like Max Müller separated from the animal (epistemological cut, denial of nature) – had evolutionary support.

Adding news that in large part Wolfe takes from his collaborator in this book, Christina Verigan, and interprets in his own way – and it can be seen that although he is an intelligent man many are new to him and are not slow and first-hand readings – he says things like that the discovery regarding Mendel’s inheritance was bad news for the theory of evolution…

It is known that such an important discovery of the monk did not have publicity until 1900, and that Darwin did not know of such evidence (although he had received a copy of the article, which was found in his archives without reading), but certainly would have been glad to see his ideas confirmed. Wolfe asserts, to the horror of true naturalist scientists who know Darwin’s work, that “compared to genetic theory, the Theory of Evolution did not seem like science but a series of disorderly conjectures, pasty and watery with leaks everywhere”.

And we come to Chomsky and his generative grammar, which he has reformulated several times since 1967.

The famous linguist called our natural ability to learn a language “Language Acquisition Device” (lad). To put it another way and focus it on Wolfe’s book concern: there is a hereditary disposition that would not be cultural but genetic, although without culture (transmission and social learning, from generation to generation) it would not happen.

His ideas had both followers and detractors (Pinker on both sides, who, by the way, he quotes in passing, as if that were possible by talking about this subject, which shows that he only approached the subject with prejudices), and later Chomsky elaborated a new idea that had the same intention: the universal in every language, and that must have a genetic origin, is the “recursion”, consisting of putting a thought, a phrase, within another, in a series that can be endless.

Here is linguist and anthropologist Daniel L. Everett and his research on a small tribe in Brazil’s Amazon basin, the pirahã, whose language has the same name. It is the central work that motivates Wolfe’s book.

In short: Everett demonstrates that the Pirahã language lacks recursion. As soon as I finished Wolfe’s book I read Everett’s, ‘Don’t sleep, there are snakes’.

Life and language in the Amazon. What Wolfe tells us is that it is the distinctive culture of the pirahã “that structures language, not the ‘language organ’ or the ‘universal grammar’.

I will say in passing that, faithful to a certain artistic verbiage of Wolfe, he does not hesitate to tell some adventures of Everett and his family in the Amazon, so extensively and unnecessarily that it only shows that he felt admired at such an episode very well told by Everett himself in his book.

I was making a book and it had to be fattened up a bit, although the linguist’s wife’s illness and her adventures on a boat on the way to a hospital only made sense in Everett’s book. I will not enter into the initial fanaticism of this Methodist who came to this tribe to preach the Bible, and who took his wife and two small children with him to a place totally isolated to live for years with a tribe with a hunter-gatherer culture, without any numerical notion except “little and much” and with a notion of time without past or future.

Besides, they didn’t know music and dance. Like Castaneda with the Yaqui Indians, Everett was conquered by the other culture and became an atheist. Let’s go to language. Everett published, once learned the language (that nobody else speaks these days), an article in The New Yorker where he told what the Pirahã language was like and, to Chomsky’s enrage, he had no recursion, then it was an exception that made fallacious his famous theory.

Wolfe denounces Chomsky’s maneuvers to neutralize Everett, and there appear the bad arts that some scientists and parents of theories sometimes use to remain parents.

Wolfe congratulates himself and says that it showed that language has nothing to do with evolution, and that it is an artifact.

It is an artifact, and it justifies the supremacy of man over other animals in a way that Evolution can never explain on its own.

The supremacy… there is the question and the lack of intellectual finesse of an intelligent and educated man, who doubts it. But it’s not enough.

Why Tomasello?

This anthropologist is the author of The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition, a valuable and controversial work.  That there is a big difference between the cognitive capacity of a dolphin or chimpanzee and a human being is something that nobody doubts, and the problem comes when we try to describe the differences and value them.

Wolfe quotes numerous psycholinguists, but what he wants is to prove himself right and that’s why, with Everett, he states that language as a human artifact is “exactly like a light bulb or a Buick”.

In his anthropocentric pride, in his repulse that language may have something to do with evolution, he reaches somewhat rude moments intellectually, something that his admired Tomasello would not allow himself.

This is not to say that the dominant tendency thinks that the human capacity for language is genetic or that language evolved as a result of natural selection, something that Chomsky and Stephen Jay Gould deny, but that it is quite possible that, as Pinker and Bloom among others claim, there is compatibility between Darwinian evolution and Chomsky’s universal grammar.

On the other hand, there are not only areas that have been selected (from Broca and Wernicke) but also many brain areas, such as subcortical structures, are involved in syntax, lexicon, gestuality, etc. The Foxp2 gene linked to speech also exists in other animals, such as birds and mice, and dates back some four hundred thousand years.

Few scientists deny that language and genes are related, but there is little evidence that language is genetically encoded, and many think, as Christine Kenneally tells us in her magnificent book The First Word, that “the human capacity of language is an emerging adaptive system created by a basic cognitive mechanism, rather than a genetically produced linguistic module.

Thus, the fact that verbal recursion (mental recursion seems universal) is not part of all known languages does not mean that language is not partly innate, hence children are born, anywhere in the world, with the capacity to learn the language of their parents, sometimes almost before they walk.

Language is neither a light bulb nor a car, both undoubtedly products of the technique, but a brain capacity that has been selected by evolution, although it is not marked by it, and that, undoubtedly, the human being has developed in a hyperbolic way.

I don’t have the space to dismantle a handful more of Wolfe’s intellectual rudeness, only to point out that we do very few things alone and that resistance to the meaning of the genetic is part of our anthropocentric arrogance and the narcissism of our singularity.

We are, yes, but it doesn’t mean better or better at everything. Many animals solve complex issues better than we do, and the great pianists and tennis players, for example, achieve their triumphs supported by the brain achievements of millions of years, beyond our species…

We now come to a summary and synopsis of the latest book by Tom Wolfe, THE KINGDOM OF SPEECH.


✍ QUOTES from the book Tom Wolfe’s The Kingdom of Speech

These are the best quotes or phrases from the book The Kingdom of Speech de Tom Wolfe:

The man, the man without any help, had created the language.”TOM WOLFE - THE KINGDOM OF SPEECH

Language has not only put an end to evolution in man, making it unnecessary for survival, but also to the evolution of animals.”TOM WOLFE - THE KINGDOM OF SPEECH

That universal grammar, the fruit of biological evolution with linguistic content, is a myth. At this point in the book, Wolfe is already exalted, and says in a rather loud tone that.”TOM WOLFE - THE KINGDOM OF SPEECH

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✍ ALL Tom Wolfe’s books

This is the complete bibliography of Tom Wolfe and the listing of all his published books, ordered by sales number:

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¡SALE!BEST SELLER No. 2 Painted Word
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Wolfe, Tom (Author); English (Publication Language); 192 Pages - 12/05/2017 (Publication Date) - Back Bay Books (Publisher)
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Wolfe, Tom (Author); English (Publication Language); 192 Pages - 12/05/2017 (Publication Date) - Back Bay Books (Publisher)
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The Kingdom of Speech
307 Reviews
The Kingdom of Speech
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Tom Wolfe (Author) - Robert Petkoff (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 08/30/2016 (Publication Date) - Hachette Audio (Publisher)

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