Written in Stone

  • by Christopher Stevens
  • Narrated by Michael Healy
  • 9 hrs and 22 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Half the world's population speaks a language that has evolved from a single prehistoric mother tongue. First spoken in Stone Age times on the steppes of central Eurasia 6,500 years ago, this mother tongue spread from the shores of the Black Sea across almost all of Europe and much of Asia. It is the genetic basis of everything we speak and write today - the DNA of language.
Written in Stone combines detective work, mythology, ancient history, archaeology, the roots of society, technology and warfare, and the sheer fascination of words to explore that original mother tongue, sketching the connections woven throughout the immense vocabulary of English, with some surprising results. In snappy, lively, and often very funny chapters, Written in Stone uncovers the most influential and important words used by our Neolithic ancestors and shows how they are still in constant use today - the building blocks of all our most common words and phrases.


What the Critics Say

"Stevens, an adventurer in language, demonstrates considerable prowess in making the journey both edifying and entertaining." (Kirkus)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Totally Reprehensible. No book I recommend less.

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

This book gives linguistics a bad name.

It propagates bad science and worse understandings of human language. Obviously I didn't expect a pop-science book about language to get everything right, but the ideas this book spreads are not only wrong but reprehensible in the deepest way.

I only made it 15 minutes in before I couldn't listen to it anymore, BUT in those 15 minutes I heard: poor understandings of language in general, a complete disregard for the existence of language before 6000 BCE, terrible etymologies everywhere, and *ACTUAL F***ING NAZI PROPAGANDA*

That isn't in anyway hyperbole.

Let's quickly debunk the entire first 15 minutes of this book.

The first thing the author claims in that the first words acted out their meaning, that they were all onomatopoeia, that 'Poop,' the word, acts out our reaction to poop. This isn't backed up by science, but it's possible, that is until he implies that this was the case for our ancestors less than 10,000 years ago. If he was saying this was how our ape-like ancestors, hundreds of thousands of years ago, spoke then it'd be plausible, but he didn't so it isn't. This is absurd notion appeals to the idea that 'primitive people' speak 'primitive languages' which has been thoroughly debunked and is a bit racist.

After, some terrible etymologies and mistakes that a simple google search would reveal (No it is not the sometimes called 'proto-indo-european' it's always called 'proto-indo-european') He goes into the history of the study of the proto-indo-european culture. He actually does a fairly good job about this.

Bafflingly though, he fails to explain, why the word 'Aryan' fell out of use before being replaced by the term proto-indo-european. Simply saying "it took on a sinister tone in the 1930s," without explaining why it took on that sinister tone.

However right before I stopped listening it became very clear why he didn't explain it.

I'm sure you all can guess, but the word 'Aryan' fell out of use because the Nazis that the Aryan people were the 'ubermensch' and that all other types of people needed to be exterminated. This was partly based on the idea that the Aryan (proto-indo-european) languages were fundamentally superior and that they were superior because their speakers superior. This is why they killed Jews, or how they justified it, Jews were semitic people, not proto-indo-european their languages were inferior and their people were inferior.

Christopher Stevens didn't go that far (at least in the first 15 minutes) but immediately after glossing over the 'sinister tone' of the word 'Aryan.' He disparages the click languages of Africa and the Native languages of Paraguay saying that proto-indo-european languages were 'infinitely simple and more flexible.' He says that this is why PIE cultures have dominated the world, because our language is better. This has been thoroughly debunked by linguists. every language is equally capable of expression and understanding, the idea of 'a superior language' is not only bad science, but dangerous. This idea was used in the 19th century to justify the destruction of the American Indian. It was was used to justify Imperialism, it was used to justify the holocaust.

It is wrong, even at the time, and disgusting and most of all it's *sinister.*

Also I didn't like the narrator.

What do you think your next listen will be?

Lingo, Lingo, Lingo

Did Michael Healy do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?


What character would you cut from Written in Stone?

Every character in the book. As in every character that makes up the text.. like A though Z.

Any additional comments?


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- Sean

Plan to listen several times

This was entertaining and eye-opening. I took Latin and know all our Latin and Greek prefixes & suffixes, but realize now how much history went into the development of those languages and others to this day and tomorrow. I appreciate how natural he makes this subject, and now I'm appalled by comparing how we actually teach such a basic human subject as language! Kudos to the narrator! What a difficult book to have read aloud!
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- Allison Wingfield

Book Details

  • Release Date: 11-15-2015
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio