My non-fiction is continuous with my fiction in three respects. First, as a professional linguist, I love language as much as I love the language of love. Second, I have long been devoted to exploring the history of my discipline, and this disciplinary exploration parallels my devotion to writing historical novels. More recently, I have been interested in the ways that the history of linguistic theory and practice informs the current state of the discipline, and this sense of the past pressing on the present also animates my time-slip novels. Third, my two writing activities have always been entwined temporally (I wrote my first historical My Lord Roland while writing my PhD dissertation Linguistic Crossroads of the Eighteenth Century), and I believe that they strengthen one another. My historical novels have honed my craft of plotting, while my time-slip series has given me the Kraft (in the German sense of the word 'power') to write Linguistics and Evolution with its long historical arc, its many characters, along with its main plot and multiple subplots.
In the summer of 2012, while I was waiting for the Cambridge Press Syndicate to meet in October to decide on Linguistics and Evolution, I wrote my Regency novella French Lessons. I began the project by telling myself, "Don't worry about Cambridge and all the circumstances there you can't control. Worry only about your characters and plot, which are things you can control." It worked. French Lessons turned out to be an excellent and entertaining distraction.
Linguistics and Evolution. A Developmental Approach
For many years I taught a standard undergraduate Introduction to Linguistics, each year trying out one of the many textbooks currently available on the market. However, the longer I taught, the less happy I became with the fact that in a standard introductory textbook students encounter a body that is all cut up. In the chapter on speech production, the lungs, the larynx, and the oral and nasal cavities are discussed and represented, while the evolutionary adaptation of respiration to speech may or may not be addressed. The brain usually has its own chapter and is always pictured as a disembodied organ. The speech-gesture circuit has no place, and the hands only come into play if the topic is American Sign Language. The larynx often takes another turn on stage in the chapter on language acquisition given that babbling establishes connections between the larynx and the prefrontal cortex. The body finds itself in a context only in the chapter on pragmatics. And that chapter on pragmatics is usually at odds with the theoretical orientation of the chapter on syntax. So, by the end of an introductory course, students will have typically encountered a disembodied brain, a dismembered body mostly disembedded from context, along with a broken understanding of the very subject matter of linguistics. What’s more, the students might not even be aware of all these fractures. Read More.
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