The Crucible of Language: How language and mind create meaning

V Evans (Cambridge University Press, 2015), 375pp, £18.99 (pbk)
ISBN 978 1 10712 391 5

Reviewed by Caroline Petherick

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In the blurb, this book is described as ‘highly readable’. I didn’t find it so, but perhaps that’s because I’m not a professor of cognitive science, unlike the writer of that statement. Having waded through the book, I came out of it feeling that either it was way above my head or it was spurious, pretentious jargon.

The main learning I took from this book was twofold: first, following on from the author’s previous book, The Language Myth, was a refutation of the idea that linguistic ability is a genetic endowment. Second was the concept of ‘embodiment’: the idea that in English, as in many languages, we tend to express temporal events in spatial terms, eg ‘Easter is fast approaching’. Interesting, I felt, but hardly ground-breaking. An intriguing snippet was, however, that there are a few linguistic minority groups that, unlike most of us, view the future as being behind the perceiver and the past in front.

Regrettably, however, the concepts embodied in the remaining 300-odd pages passed me by, despite my having a reasonable knowledge of linguistics per se. Geoffrey Sampson, a respected professor of linguistics and now a research fellow at the University of South Africa, has written a 3000-word review of the book, which states that he posited, when visiting linguists of a distinguished central European university: ‘[N]owadays there seems to be a well-established approach called cognitive linguistics, and I really do not understand it.’ My immediate response was, ‘You’re not the only one’! Apparently, cognitive linguistics is a school that has succeeded in winning the loyalty of a sizeable number of converts, but remains something of a mystery to many of us outside it.

Of course, if you already have some knowledge of cognitive linguistics you might well enjoy this book and get a lot out of it.

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