Burling argues that comprehension, rather than production, was the driving force behind the evolution of language--we could understand words before we could produce them. As he develops this insight, he investigates the first links between signs, sounds, and meanings and explores the beginnings of vocabulary and grammar. He explains what the earliest forms of communication are likely to have been, how they worked, and why they were deployed, suggesting that when language began it was probably much more dependent on words like "poke" or "whoosh," words whose sounds have a close association with what they refer to. Only gradually did language develop the immensevocabulary it has today. Burling also examines the qualities of mind and brain needed to support the operations of language and the selective advantages they offered those able to use them. Written in a crystal-clear style, constantly enlivened by flashes of wit and humor, here is the definitive account on the birth of language.