Scientific evidence for the origin of speech is abundant, but evidence for the origin of language as separate from speech as a naming system remains speculative. What evidence can be utilized that will furnish relevant insights on the origin or language? This book attempts to provide an answer by suggesting that the first riddles of humanity, along with the first myths, reveal that language may have emerged as a mode of reflection via metaphor—a mode that involves blending speech forms together to produce complex, abstract cognition.
Marcel Danesi is professor emeritus of linguistic anthropology at the University of Toronto.
Chapter 1: Riddles and Language
Chapter 2: Riddle Functions
Chapter 3: Poetic Logic
Chapter 4: Riddles and Conceptual Metaphors
Chapter 5: Language Origins
Marcel Danesi is a master of weaving different disciplinary threads, from linguistics to history and psychology. His book, that creatively links metaphors, riddles, and the origin and development of language, is a clear expression of this talent.
This is an extremely thoughtful and provocative book which attempts a very different answer to the question of the origins of language. Language is a system that allows us to think and reflect on the world as well as a system designed for cooperative social action. It is this cooperative social action as the basis for coordinated hunting, and ultimately social learning, that is customarily highlighted in evolutionary accounts. Danesi turns things on their head, recognizing the importance of metaphor in human cognition and then focusing on riddles, like the Riddle of the Sphinx, perhaps one of the earliest riddles, as a form of social action and as a mechanism for highlighting and cementing the role of metaphor in thinking and consciousness. This is a highly original book, scholarly, thoughtful and at times brilliant—highly readable and provocative (in the best possible way) throughout.
Danesi addresses the perplexing question of the origin of language by providing a persuasive account of its beginnings based on interdisciplinary, evidence-based, scientific research. Written in plain and comprehensible language with abundant substantiating examples, tables, and figures to illustrate his points, his Metaphor Hypothesis provides a plausible and realistic interpretation that demonstrates that riddles and metaphoric language constitute a convincing source for the development of language in humans.
Marcel Danesi demonstrates once more a talent in challenging his readers to go beyond the surface and engage—as in a mythological quest—with the deep secrets and mysteries of language and communication.