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.