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The Crucible of Language | Vyvyan Evans

Table of Contents

Part one: The ineffability of meaning
1. Unweaving a mystery

           The common-place view of meaning
           And the word is…meaning

2. The alchemist, the crucible, and the
ineffability of meaning
           Language as a window on the mind
           The body in the mind
           Meaning is The Holy Grail
           Meaning in mind, meaning in

Part two:  Meaning in mind
3.  Patterns in language, patterns in the

           Patterns in language
           Patterns in the mind
           All about events
           Computers behaving badly, and

            reluctant lovers
           Foundations of meaning
           Meaning in mind        

4.  Time is our fruit fly
           It’s only Tuesday
           A clock in the brain
           The many faces of time
           Time is our fruit fly
           Time in hand (and ear)
           So where does this leave us?  
           The mystery of time

5. Concepts body forth
           The ghost in the machine
           The language of the body
           Concepts body forth
           Minds without bodies
           Laying the ghost to rest          

6. The concept-making engine (or how to 
build a baby)
           How to build a baby
           The anatomy of an image-schema
           The rationalist’s retort
           Born to see structure in the world
           The concept-making engine
           Primary scenes of experience

7. The act of creation
           A cognitive iceberg
           The act of creation
           Reducing complexity to human scale
           The power of blending
           The mystery of creativity

Part three:  Meaning in language
8.  Webs of words
           Words are changelings
           Webs of words
           Does conceptual metaphor change

            word meanings?
           The illusion of semantic unity
           The encyclopaedic nature of

           The private life of words

9.  Meaning in the mix
           A design feature for human

           The meaning of grammar
           Parametric concepts
           Meaning in the mix
           The anatomy of language
           Constructions in the mind
           To return to the beginning      

10. The cooperative species
           On the way to deeper matters
           Intelligence, tools and other minds
           The cooperative species
           Crossing the symbolic threshold
           Towards abstract symbolic


11. The crucible of language
           The long and winding road
           Becoming human
           What happened?
           How old is language?
           The birth of grammar
           The emergence of grammatical

           The crucible of language and the

            rise of meaning

Epilogue: The golden triangle

From the barbed, childish taunt on the school playground, to the eloquent sophistry of a lawyer prising open a legal loophole in a court of law, meaning arises each time we use language to communicate with one another. How we use language - to convey ideas, make requests, ask a favour, express anger, love, dismay - is of the utmost importance; indeed, linguistic meaning can be a matter of life and death.  And yet, until relatively recently, the communicative value of language was relegated to all but the margins of scientific enquiry.

In The Crucible of Language Vyvyan Evans explains what we know, and what we do, when we communicate using language; he shows how linguistic meaning arises, where it comes from, and the way language enables us to convey the meanings that can move us to tears, bore us to death, or make us dizzy with delight.  Meaning is, he argues, one of the final frontiers in the mapping of the human mind.   

Published by Cambridge University Press in 2016.  Also published in Turkish.

Time to rethink what makes humans special. Review in the New Scientist.

Essay based on the book in The Conversation: "How a joke can help us unlock the mystery of meaning in language"


The Crucible of Language was named a 2016 Book of the Year by Cambridge University Press.

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