Ep. #73 How Language Made Us Human w/ Simon Prentis

Simon Prentis

My professional life has been spent working with different cultures and languages in over fifty countries. Much of my work has been with the broadcast media, mainly for Japan, but I have also worked extensively on projects with musicians, fashion designers, film directors, dancers and architects, and done my fair share of graft with patent lawyers, investment bankers, academics and advertising agencies. A fully-qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting since 1990, I have translated four books and reams of technical documents over the years, and given testimony as an expert witness in high-profile intellectual property and patent disputes. I have also written about translation and interpreting for professional journals, and taught and presented papers on these subjects at educational institutions and international conferences. Drawing on my wide experience with language and other cultures, I have now written a book which explores the back story of our journey with language: how it started, what it does to us, how we use it, and where it takes us.

In This Episode

In this episode, Simon and I discuss some amazing insights about language development and its impact on our evolution. We explore the origins of language and how this mode of communication ultimately catalyzed culture as we know it today. Language development is essential for cognitive development as we know it. There is great power in our words.

Our ability to speak and understand speech is fundamental to understanding how our civilizations came to be. Language allows us to share ideas, express our thoughts and emotions, and ultimately propagate a growth in consciousness. 

Given the fundamental power of language, the question of its origin is paramount. Simon argues that language evolved from analogue grunts (noises) to digital (compound) sounds/words. By combining a short string of individual sounds (phones), suddenly, there is exponential growth in the availability of ‘words’ that can exist to represent so many different things. However, this development has not come without great challenges – challenges in belief, identity, application, and knowledge. 

Why are we the only animals who wear clothes, drive cars, trawl the internet, and send robots to Mars? Speech! tells the remarkable story of the simple yet radical trick that transformed a puny, naked ape into the mighty Homo Sapiens. Unravelling the thrilling tale of the struggle for knowledge over superstition and ignorance, Simon Prentis traces our roller-coaster ride from hunter-gatherer to urban hipster with style, insight, and wry good humour.


“Vital reading, intelligent and entertaining. The author takes us on a tour of what it means to be human, and does it with wit and confidence. It intrigues and entertains by turns, a cross between Bill Bryson and Richard Dawkins.” 

“Seldom if ever have I read a non-fiction book that has kept me so engaged and fascinated as this. This should be read in every school everywhere in the world!” 

“An exhilarating read, from start to finish – I particularly like the astonishing variety of information the author has collected. For me, it’s an absolute page-turner… a thoroughly entertaining book.”

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