The Literary Mind by Mark Turner
A deceptively titled book. It’s about the nature of thought and grammar, and proposes that we invert the way we think about the origin of language, and more specifically the skeleton of concepts underlying language that we call grammar. While this theory is not without opponents (Chomsky-ites, chom-chom-chomskyites), neither is it uncontroversial, arising as it does from the developing programme of cognitive linguistics (Lakoff, Johnson, etc).

The inversion it invites is that the ‘will to story’ rather than being the apex of language is actually the very fundament of the language-using mind. Here ‘story’ is used very widely to encompass literary stories, parables or the more technical ‘image schema’ (I was going to call this review The Talent of The Parables, forgive me). Our story here, goes that our evolving brain has hit on a few formulas for extracting interesting information out of the world. These formulas or schemas are very basic ‘stories’ like “actor X causes Y”, and so the brain has carved out categories like “actors” and “causes” and built a way of describing the world using these concepts. And this is where the ‘grammar module’ of the brain may come from. There is quite a lengthy and persuasively simple explanation of the origin of “tense”.

I found it quite a waffle, as I’m used to a more technical way to explain theory, but that may attract more people than it alienates. I did like the constant use of literary examples, specifically to The One Thousand and One Nights, and it made me want to go and read that. Which is a recommendation in itself I suppose.