Book Reviews

So many books. So little time.

A Picture Book

A picture is worth a thousand words

Where art meets words

Other Books

Words can create pictures too.

The power of imagination.

Words, words, words

All About Writing

Random thoughts on the how and why of writing

Why write

The Journey

"How many languages do you speak?" a friend once asked my son.

"Two," he replied. "English and math."

Writing, they say, arose out of the need to keep accounts. As man changed from the nomadic hunter-gatherer to the settled agriculturist and trader the need arose to keep tabs on the goods produced and bartered. The number symbols on clay tablets are the first written form of human communication.

So math is a language, no matter that in this age of classification and separation we hold 'riting and 'rithmetic as separate skills, with words creating language, but mathematical numerals and figures remaining just discrete symbols. Where did words come from? How does one make a leap from there to language as we know it today?

There are two widely-held theories--language as an adaptation and language as evolution, and each theory has its fervent believers and champions. The adaptationists hold that it was a need to convey information that gave rise to sounds and grunts, which gradually evolved to recognizable words, and thus language came into being.

The commonly quoted example is of two hunters in the forest chasing deer. One spots a deer, grunts to catch the other hunter's attention, and points to the direction the deer is fleeing. Two hunters on the chase double the chance of success.

Over time the hunters learn to read the elements. They also realize that deer seek shelter from storms. Now there is more information to be conveyed, and it is complex. Are there more grunts per communication, or is each grunt differently sounded? Whatever we believe happened, and it may be a little bit of both, different sounding words arose. Humans adapted to the needs of an increasingly complex society.

Those who believe in the evolutionary theory posit that language by its very nature requires a brain capable of handling more complex functions, greater connections along the neural pathways. Its like arguing that until and unless you have a tool suited to the job-for example a hammer to drive nails into hard wood-you cannot perform the job. And so, language arose only when the brain had evolved in its functionality.

This evolution was not in response to the need to create language. It was rather the need to develop life-maintaining, life-saving mechanisms. Birds, for example, grew feathers as a means of keeping warm. The use of feathers for flight was a secondary byproduct. Gould had a word for it--spandrels--the byproducts of adaptation to a specific need.

Human brains developed functions to enable them to deal with the world as they saw it and in doing so formed secondary pathways-the small pathways of which Gould and Lewotin say "we must not recognize that small means unimportant." The brain did not evolve to make language possible; rather, when the developing brain achieved a certain complexity language arose. It is almost the chicken and egg conundrum we have here: which evolved first-language or the brain?

Let us leave this question to philologists and morphologists and linguists and all who study languages. We are here on this site to review, analyze and study picture books. In the next article we will trace the evolution of the picture book.