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Book review The Origins of Language.

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AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 140:194–197 (2009)
Book Reviews
THE ORIGINS OF LANGUAGE. Edited by Nobuo Masataka.
Tokyo: Springer. 2008. 157 pp. ISBN 978-4-431-79101-0.
$119.00 (hardcover).
Inquiry into the origins of human language is inevitably interdisciplinary. As several of the contributors to
this volume point out, neither language nor the brain
tissue responsible for it fossilize. Progress in understanding the phylogenesis of uniquely human communication
must therefore proceed indirectly, constrained by available evidence from numerous relevant fields, including
comparative psychology, developmental psychology, hominid paleobiology, psycholinguistics, and linguistics. The
papers collected in this volume are basically surveys of
research relevant to the phylogenesis of human language, drawn from all these fields. The volume is loosely
organized around a few themes prominent in recent
debates about the evolution of language, including
whether human language originated in vocal or gestural
form and whether or not language evolved from musiclike precursors, as Darwin held.
Many of the individual chapters in this volume
review fascinating evidence of great relevance to the
evolutionary origins of human language. Chapter 2 is
an impressively thorough and concise review of multidisciplinary evidence favoring the gestural-origins
theory, written by its most energetic contemporary defender, psychologist Michael Corballis. In Chapter 3,
Sotaro Kita explores the semantics of onomatopoeic
and other ‘‘sound symbolic’’ Japanese words. Kita
argues that the meanings of such words, which, unlike
most words, involve a nonarbitrary connection between
their acoustic properties and semantic values, are ‘‘fossilized’’ forms of a prehistoric ‘‘protolanguage’’ and
therefore provide some insight into the world view of
protolanguage speakers.
Chapters 4 and 5 focus on the phenomenon of infantdirected speech, the acoustically, structurally, and
semantically modified speech used in many languages to
communicate with infants. As Reiko Mazuka and coauthors establish through comprehensive surveys described
in Chapter 4, Japanese includes a large class of vocabulary devoted exclusively to infant-directed speech. Hiroki
Koda’s discussion in Chapter 5 is a genuinely interdisciplinary effort, identifying some significant acoustic and
structural similarities between the modifications macaques make to contact calls that go unanswered by troopmates and the modifications human mothers make to
unanswered infant-directed speech. This research bears
on the hypothesis, mentioned by the editor in his introductory chapter, that maintaining contact between mothers and infants was an early, distinctive function of hominid vocalization.
Chapters 6 and 7 focus on vocal learning in humans
and nonhuman primate species. Chapter 6, written by
Chieko Yamaguchi and Akihiro Izumi, is perhaps the
weakest in the volume, consisting only of a very brief literature survey of research on vocal learning in nonhuman primates. In contrast, Asif Ghazanfar and David
Lewkowicz’s Chapter 7 is an interdisciplinary tour de
force exploring the implications of the fact that primate
C 2009
V
WILEY-LISS, INC.
vocalization is inevitably accompanied by involuntary
and highly stereotyped facial gestures. These allow for
bimodal, redundant communication, thus insuring successful signaling in noisy environments. Drawing on a
wide range of studies, including their own fascinating
research with both human infants and nonhuman primate populations, Ghazanfar and Lewkowicz review evidence for various theories of the ontogeny of human bimodal communication and for its extent in nonhuman
primates.
In Chapter 8, Takeshi Nishimura provides an
extremely thorough survey of the anatomy and physiology of human speech, comparing it to what is known of
fossil hominid anatomy and to the anatomy and physiology of nonhuman primate vocalization. Drawing on
evidence from prosodic communication in human
infants, macaques, and gibbons, Editor Nobuo Masataka’s contribution in the final chapter considers the viability of Darwin’s suggestion, in The Descent of Man
(1871), that human language evolved from song-like
precursors.
Many of the chapters in this volume are extremely
interesting and worthwhile contributions to the study
of the origins of human language. Sadly, the editor
does not do enough to bring these widely diverging
approaches together into an integrated, coherent
framework. His overview in the volume’s first chapter
is far too short on detail and makes little effort to
explain how the different contributions relate to each
other. For example, he does not address the apparent
tension between Coballis’s claim that the lack of cortical control over nonhuman primate vocalization supports the gestural theory (Chapter 2) and the claims of
Chapters 5–7 and 9 that nonhuman primate control
over vocalization has been underestimated. Masataka
also suggests, vaguely, that the gestural and vocal origins theories may not be incompatible given certain
theories of human speech, according to which speech is
a system of oral gestures (Chapter 1). However, this
seems to miss the point of the debate: whether or not
the language of our ancestors first employed primarily
manual rather than vocalization-related, oral gestures.
Last, there is little if any discussion of one of the central puzzles of the evolutionary origins of distinctively
human language: its biologically unique, recursive, syntactic structure.
Some of the contributions to the volume are very
poorly edited. Many of the contributors are clearly not
comfortable writing in English, and frequent grammatical and orthographic mistakes are unwelcome distractions, sometimes even compromising intelligibility.
Despite these problems, many of the volume’s chapters
are fascinating contributions to the study of the evolutionary origins of human language. Because of its
neglect of the important issue of syntactic structure,
its lack of an overarching integrative framework, and
the lapses in editing, this volume is not an appropriate entry point into the literature on the evolution of
human language. However, researchers familiar with
this literature would find many of the individual chapters rewarding.
Although, in conception, this volume embodies the
interdisciplinary spirit that is necessary for shedding
195
BOOK REVIEWS
light on the evolution of human language, in execution
it is disappointing. The best interdisciplinary work consists in more than just the compilation of research
reports from relevant fields. In addition, it promotes dialog between such fields, setting up a framework
within which multiple perspectives can be integrated;
good interdisciplinary work must be more than just the
sum of its parts. Sadly, The Origins of Language fails
to achieve such synergy.
SPIDER MONKEYS: BEHAVIOR, ECOLOGY, AND EVOLUTION OF
THE GENUS ATELES. Edited by Christina J. Campbell.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2008. 410 pp.
ISBN 978-0-521-86750-4. $140.00 (hardcover).
Spider monkeys are large-bodied, New World armswingers that are difficult to find and study in the forest.
This difficulty might explain the fact that there have
been no books about them before this one. As the editor
notes, ‘‘this is the first volume about spider monkeys (genus Ateles)’’ (p. 1). Thus, this volume should be welcomed (despite its high price) by anyone interested in
this charismatic primate species. Campbell states that
she had two primary goals in compiling this volume. The
first was ‘‘to provide a single [my emphasis] comprehensive source for readers interested in any aspect of spider
monkey behavior, ecology, and evolution’’ (p. 5). To that
end she has succeeded, because the book contains
reviews that summarize most of the research done on
spider monkeys and reference articles that cover the
wide geographic range (13 field sites in Central America;
15 in South America), and species diversity of spider
monkeys.
Readers beware, however. Though a wide geographic
range is covered, there are issues and areas of spidermonkey research that are missing because the research
has not been done. Spider monkey taxonomy is one of
those problematic issues, as there is little agreement in
the spider monkey research community as to how many
species or subspecies exist. The taxonomy chapter
(Chapter 3) is a review of previous work and states that:
‘‘The most likely taxonomy of Ateles, based on discriminate studies focusing on molecular variation, multivariate analysis of skeletal anatomy, and chromosomal variation would suggest four, or possibly only three species
of Ateles’’ (p. 50), those four being A. geoffroyi, A. belzebuth, A. panicus, and A. hybridus. However, few past or
present authors restrict themselves to these four.
The editor’s second goal, to ‘‘showcase the expansion
in research being carried out on this genus’’ (p. 5), is not
successful primarily because there is little new research
being done. Only two of the 13 chapters (those by Dew
and Vick) report new, previously unpublished research,
and Dew has published some of his results elsewhere.
The remaining 11 chapters are reviews. This does not
make them unimportant but, rather, reinforces the fact
that spider monkeys are difficult to study in the wild.
Having these reviews and their references together in
one place is helpful.
The morphology of the unique, long-armed, pot-bellied
silhouette of spider monkeys is reviewed in Chapter 2.
Diet, and its acquisition, is believed to be the main influ-
TADEUSZ W. ZAWIDZKI
Department of Philosophy
George Washington University
Washington, District of Columbia
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21094
Published online 11 May 2009 in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com).
ence on what appears to be an extremely ungainly adaptation but is, in fact, well suited to the high-energy, fastmoving spider monkey lifestyle. Chapters 4, 5, and 6
respectively deal with what spider monkeys eat (fruit),
where they find what they eat (ranging pattern), and
how they impact the habitat (seed dispersal). In 1935
Clarence Ray Carpenter reported that fruit was the primary ingredient of their diet and no field research since
has altered that opinion. The fact that the ‘‘long-term’’
studies discussed in these chapters are generally 17
months or less-only studies in Santa Rosa National park
(38 months) and Voltzburg Nature Reserve (26 months)
are longer-further documents the difficulty of studying
spider monkeys in the wild.
The next six chapters deal with a variety of topics
including locomotion (Chapter 7), communication and
social interaction (8 and 9), reproduction (10), and group
composition (12). Chapter 11 looks at a life-history stage
previously ignored in spider monkeys, i.e., immaturity.
Original data demonstrates that being young is dangerous, particularly during the transition from subadult to
early adult status. The last two chapters attempt to provide the reader with a guide to the conservation of spider monkeys (13) and the role of spider monkeys in
human history (14). Chapter 13 is severely hampered by
the disputed taxonomy. Chapter 14 is an entertaining
view of the cultural impact of spider monkeys. The completion of this chapter reinforced my desire to visit the
Nazca plains in southern Peru to view the geoglyph that
is clearly meant to depict a spider monkey. Equally intriguing is the pregnant, spider-monkey-like figure said
to be Ehecatl-Quetzacoalt (authors’ emphasis), the Aztec
god of wind.
This volume is well produced. The figures and tables
are clear and lack errors, and each chapter’s bibliography is extensive, making this volume a useful resource.
Those wanting a comprehensive introduction to spider
monkey research or seasoned field researchers analyzing
data and preparing to publish the results would benefit
by having this book in their libraries.
KEN GLANDER
Department of Evolutionary Anthropology
Duke University
Durham, NC 27708
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21109
Published online 15 June 2009 in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com).
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
196
BOOK REVIEWS
DARWIN’S LEGACY: SCENARIOS IN HUMAN EVOLUTION. by Sue
T. Parker and Karin E. Jaffe. Lanham, MD: Altamira
Press. 2008. 262 pp. ISBN: 978-0-7591-0316-0. $29.95
(paper).
With the two-hundredth anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth occurring this year, biological anthropologists
cannot help but reflect on the impact his theories had on
the history and development of the discipline. Because of
the times, and by the title alone, potential readers may
assume this is the intent of Darwin’s Legacy: Scenarios
in Human Evolution, but the book’s main result is
actually something quite different. Darwin’s Legacy
provides carefully synthesized explanations, grounded in
currently available evidence, for the evolution of
uniquely human traits.
Part 1 provides material on adaptation, phylogenetics,
classification, taxonomy, and the fossil and archaeological records. As the authors intend this book to be used
primarily for higher education, these chapters are necessary background for upper level undergraduate or graduate students. Veterans of evolutionary sciences may
wish to skim these pages and to begin reading in earnest
at Chapter 4. However, the elegant writing of these initial chapters should not go unappreciated; the succinct,
nontechnical explanation of the entire hominin fossil record, contained in merely nine pages at the end of Chapter 3, is worth pausing to admire.
The main attraction lies in Part 2. These seven chapters reveal that Parker and Jaffe spent considerable
time reflecting on the evolution of adaptations unique to
humans: Subsistence, bipedalism, life history, bodily displays, language, mentality, and cultures. Operating
under Darwin’s paradigms of natural and sexual selection, the authors evaluate the evidence for the evolution
of these traits and then reconcile it with the litany of explanatory hypotheses in the literature, which they call
‘‘scenarios.’’ Each chapter dedicated to a uniquely human
trait begins with Darwin’s own scenario and ends with
Parker and Jaffe’s judgment as to which scenario, or
which hybridization of scenarios, best encompasses the
body of evidence and represents the strongest reconstruction of that trait’s evolutionary history. Although
much of their own primary research is cited, their preferred scenarios are presented from an intentionally
unbiased and carefully researched perspective.
For example, Parker and Jaffe point out that the scenarios offered throughout the literature agree that reproductive success of hominin females was increased by help
from others, most notably in the form of food sharing.
However, even if this behavior began with Homo erectus—
shifting life history away from the great ape-like pattern
of earlier hominins—the final shift to a human-like life
history did not begin until the emergence of archaic
H. sapiens. Such a synthesized scenario may not sound
like headline news to well-versed readers, but after their
tour of the history and the evidence, Parker and Jaffe’s
articulate conclusions are highly satisfying.
Weaknesses of the book lie mainly in its format. The
absorbing narratives are interrupted frequently by
lengthy sidebars, all of which are summaries of classic
scenarios written by eminent scholars from Charles Dar-
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
win to Robin Dunbar to Raymond Dart. These summaries provide readers with enough background to enjoy an
enriched understanding of the authors’ analysis, which,
as a result, is not weighed down by long digressive passages. Unfortunately, the content of the sidebars is not
always successfully integrated into the text, which sometimes repeats portions of the sidebars nearly verbatim.
To avoid the breaks in the narrative as well as the issue
of redundancy, these sidebars might function better if
they were printed collectively at the end of each chapter,
so that readers could enjoy seamless prose and then flip
back to the classic papers when ready. The other distracting aspect of the sidebars is their use of the present
tense. The ever-increasing body of scientific understanding, particularly the growing fossil record, has rendered
many hypotheses obsolete, and it is awkward to read
them as if they were fresh on the scene. These minor
editorial criticisms are dwarfed by the scholarly and intellectual accomplishments of Darwin’s Legacy.
As researchers, we rarely pause to put our questions
and our results into the big picture, but as educators we
are forced to do so regularly. This book is intended to
accompany a seminar course in which greater dialogue
and further, in-depth research can be carried out by the
readers. The tone and organization of the narrative
inspires the reader to do additional research without
explicitly saying so, and this is a natural springboard for
a successful learning environment. Darwin’s Legacy is
intended to serve the needs of culture-dominated theory
and history courses in anthropology departments. However, it would be equally useful in a biological anthropology course grounded in material evidence and testable
hypotheses.
Even if this book is not adopted for a course, it is still
worthwhile reading for biological anthropologists who
are interested in topics spanning the evolution of
uniquely human traits. If we could all elegantly explain
and digest ideas the way that Parker and Jaffe do, we
would all get top teaching evaluations and the field of
biological anthropology would gain in popularity, not to
mention grant funding. Exercises like those performed
in Darwin’s Legacy are necessary to provide outsiders
with an engaging window into the discipline. Whether
one is a scenario builder or not, these are the stories
that naturally and necessarily emanate from historical
sciences. The narrative nature of these scenarios does
not detract any value from the hypotheses that they provide, which are just waiting to be tested against current
evidence with new techniques and technologies by fresh
creative scientists.
HOLLY M. DUNSWORTH
Department of Anthropology
Northeastern Illinois University
Chicago, IL 60625
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21110
Published online 19 June 2009 in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com).
197
BOOK REVIEWS
BOOKS RECEIVED
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Origins and Ecology. Oxford: Oxford University
Press. 224 pp. $120.00 (hardcover).
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Handbook of Human Molecular Evolution. Boston:
Wiley-Blackwell. 1744 pp. $590.00 (hardcover).
Dennell R (2009) The Palaeolithic Settlement of Asia.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 600 pp.
$50.00 (paper).
Ellison PT, and Gray PB (eds.) (2009) Endocrinology
of Social Relationships. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press. 512 pp. $49.95 (cloth).
Falk D (2009) Finding Our Tongues: Mothers, Infants
and the Origins of Language. New York: Basic
Books. 256 pp. $26.95 (paper).
Gilbert WH, and Asfaw B (eds.) (2009) Homo erectus:
Pleistocene Evidence from the Middle Awash, Ethiopia. Berkeley: University of California Press. 480
pp. $75.00 (hardcover).
Gill GW, and Weathermon RL (eds.) (2008) Skeletal
Biology and Bioarchaeology of the Northwestern
Plains. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.
352 pp. $50.00 (cloth).
Goodwin S (2008) Africa in Europe, Volume 1: Antiquity into the Age of Global Exploration. Lanham,
MD: Lexington Books. 240 pp. $70.00 (cloth).
Goodwin S (2008) Africa in Europe, Volume 2: Interdependencies, Relocations, and Globalization. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. 382 pp. $80.00 (cloth).
Hammonds EM, and Herzig RM (eds.) (2009) The Nature of Difference: Sciences of Race in the United
States from Jefferson to Genomics. Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press. 368 pp. $45.00 (paper).
Johanson DC, and Wong K (2009) Lucy’s Legacy. New
York: Harmony Books. 320 pp. $25.00 (cloth).
McElroy A, and Townsend PK (2009) Medical Anthropology in Ecological Perspective. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 496 pp. $49.00 (paper).
Mendenhall E (ed.) (2009) Global Health Narratives:
A Reader for Youth. Albuquerque: University of
New Mexico Press. 280 pp. $21.95 (paper).
Nichter M (2008) Global Health: Why Cultural Perceptions, Social Representations, and Biopolitics
Matter. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. 330
pp. $29.95 (paper).
Panter-Brick C, and Fuentes A (eds.) (2008) Health,
Risk and Adversity. New York: Berghahn Books.
304 pp. $90.00 (hardcover).
Pritchard JB (2008) HarperCollins Atlas of Bible
History. San Francisco: HarperOne. 192 pp. $25.95
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Handbook. York, UK: Council for British Archaeology. 300 pp. $35.00 (paper).
Ruse M, and Travis J (eds.) (2009) Evolution: The
First Four Billion Years. Cambridge, MA: Belknap
Press of Harvard University Press. 1008 pp. $39.95
(cloth).
Schepartz LA, Fox SC, and Bourbou C (eds.) (2009)
New Directions in the Skeletal Biology of Greece.
Athens: American School of Classical Studies at
Athens. 300 pp. $75.00 (paper).
Schutkowski H (ed.) (2008) Between Biology and Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 328
pp. $130.00 (hardcover).
Sharp LA (2008) Bodies, Commodities, and Biotechnologies: Death, Mourning, and Scientific Desire in
the Realm of Human Organ Transfer. New York:
Columbia University Press. 144 pp. $19.50 (paper).
Silvertown J (ed.) (2009) 99% Ape: How Evolution
Adds Up. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 224
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Van Gelder L (2008) Weaving a Way Home: A Personal Journey Exploring Place and Story. Ann
Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 176 pp. $19.95
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Waldron T (2008) Palaeopathology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 298 pp. $28.99 (paper).
Weiss KM, and Buchana AV (2009) The Mermaid’s
Tale: Four Billion Years of Cooperation in the Making of Living Things. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
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Wich SA, Atmoko SSU, and Setia TM (eds.) (2009)
Orangutans: Geographic Variation in Behavioral
Ecology and Conservation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 464 pp. $125.00 (hardcover).
Wrangham R (2009) Catching Fire: How Cooking
Made Us Human. New York: Basic Books. 336 pp.
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Wrangham R, and Ross E (eds.) (2008) Science and
Conservation in African Forests: The Benefits of
Long-term Research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 280 pp. $130.00 (hardcover).
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21095
Published online 5 May 2009 in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com).
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
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