Journals Higher Education

The Ascent of Babel

An Exploration of Language, Mind, and Understanding

Gerry T. M. Altmann
Illustrated by Andrea Enzinger

With The Ascent of Babel, psycholinguist Gerry Altmann takes us on a journey of discovery, illuminating how, through the workings of the brain, we use language to reach out and touch each other's minds. Here, he explores the ways in which the mind produces and understands language: the ways in which the sounds of language evoke meaning, and the ways in which the desire to communicate causes us to produce those sounds to begin with.
Altmann begins even before we are born, revealing that the fetus in the last trimester is already listening to the language of its parents and that, within days of birth, it can distinguish its parents' language from other languages. From how babies learn language and how we discriminate between different sounds, through comprehension of the sounds and structures of language (and the pitfalls along the way), to the production of spoken and written language, the effects of brain damage on language, and finally the ways in which computer simulations of interconnecting nerve cells can learn language, Altmann offers a wide-ranging, engaging tour. Up to date, authoritative, and engagingly written, The Ascent of Babel is must reading for everyone curious about the mysteries of language or of the mind.

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