Mary Jo Maynes, Professor of History at the University of Minnesota, and Ann Waltner, Professor of History and Director of the Institute for Advanced Study, University of Minnesota, briefly explore the notion of family across the ages in their concise book, The Family: A World History. Rather than tell the rise and fall of empires, the authors put the family at the center of their world historical story. Their main thesis in this book is that family construction is not natural, but instead is socially and historically constructed and these structures change over time in relation to social and political processes. The authors claim that the family structures affect the social, political and economical aspects of society and that in all places households have been and are the basic units of production, consumption and ritual. The authors write, “Cultural capital and religious values are also transmitted within families; families shape individual and collective predisposition and destinies. Arrangements made by and within families (such as marriage choices, or bequests of property, or decisions about educating children) contribute to social dynamism or stability, alongside and sometimes even more powerfully than economic systems, government policies, or intellectual movements” (X).
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Language is a unique feature of human beings. In addition to having the ability to use language, humans can conjecture about language consciously and even create realistic constructed languages from scratch. In How the brain got language, Michael A. Arbib, whose work has been influential in shaping the field of computational neuroscience, addresses the title question by exploring the multimodality of language and the Mirror System Hypothesis.
Arbib, a pioneering scientist who links computer science and neuroscience, argues in this volume that an interdisciplinary approach is needed to solve the problem of language evolution as it is “a puzzle of many pieces” (p. 4). He proposes an approach to the question of language evolution that differs from that of other linguists. He hypothesizes that language perception and production emerged from brain mechanisms that evolved to mediate practical non-communicative actions. This stands in contrast to the “speech-only” view of language evolution held by many scholars who consider the evolution from monkey vocalizations to human speech to be “purely in the vocal-auditory domain, without any role for gesture” (p. 179). He specifically argues for the importance of manual gestures for the evolution of the language-ready brain; these processes equipped early Homo Sapiens with the brain mechanisms that allow modern humans to learn languages.
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