Bénédicte de Boysson-Bardies

What is Language? Publication date : April 1, 2003

Whether our language is elegantly witty or poor, knowledgeable or flat and boring, poetic or vulgar, speech plays a central role in our lives. We talk and hear others talk throughout the day. We seem to speak as naturally as we breathe — to the extent that we often forget how complex and extraordinary the speech act really is.

Why are humans creatures of language? How do our words, sentences and speeches come into existence and how are they constructed? What are the sounds that form the bedrock of language? How do children acquire speech? How does the brain register speech? How can speech be lost? What are the universal principles that govern all languages and how do languages evolve? What purpose does grammar serve? Where does meaning come from? Is there such a thing as an animal language? Is non-verbal thought possible? What is the future of our own language?

We are all language “experts” — without knowing it. In the form of some very basic, sometimes simple, questions this book shows how and why with a profusion of lively examples taken from our common linguistic creativity.

Bénédicte de Boysson-Bardies is a psycholinguist specialising in language acquisition among young children. A former director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, she also headed a research team at the Laboratory of experimental psychology at the University of Paris-V. She is the author, most notably, of Comment la parole vient aux enfants (winner of the 1996 Jean Rostand prize), regarded in France and the United States as one of the best works for non-specialists on the development of language.