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Sydney Corder

Fullbright

AP Language and Composition

13 May 2018

The Kingdom of Speech
Chapter 1; The Beast Who Talked
One bright night in the year 2016, my face aglow with god- knows how many
MilliGAUSS of x-radiation from the computer screen in front of me, I was surfing the
net when I moused upon a web node reading:
THE MYSTERY OF LANGUAGE EVOLUTION
It seems that eight heavyweight Evolutionists, linguists, biologists, anthropologists,
and computer scientists had published an article announcing they were giving up,
throw-ing in the towel, folding, crapping out when it came to the question of where
speech-language comes from and how it works.
“The most fundamental questions about the origins and evolution of our linguistic
capacity remain as mysterious as ever,” they concluded. Not only that, they sounded
ready to abandon all hope of ever finding the answer. Oh, we’ll keep trying, they said
gamely . . . but we’ll have to start from zero again. One of the eight was the biggest
name in the history of linguistics, Noam Chomsky. “In the last 40 years,” he and the
other seven were saying, “there has been an explosion of research on this problem,”
and all it had produced was a colossal waste of time by some of the greatest minds in
academia.
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Now, that was odd . . . I had never heard of a group of ex-perts coming together to
announce what abject failures they were . . .
Very odd, in fact . . . so I surfed and Safaried and finally moused upon the only
academic I could find who disagreed with the eight failures, a chemist at Rice
University . . . Rice . . . Rice used to have a big-time football team . . . the Rice Owls . .
. wonder how they’re doing now? I moused around on the Rice site some more, and
uh-oh . . . not so great last season, the Owls . . .football . . . and I surfed to football
concussions . . . exactly as I thought! There’s a regular epidemic of concussions
raging! They’re busy beating each other into clots of early Alzheimer’s! . . .
concussions . . . surfing surfing surfing, but look at this! Football is nothing compared
to ice hockey . . . without at least two concussions under your skull you aren’t even
ready for the NHL–and all the while something else was so caught on my pyramids of
Betz that not even an NHL enforcer’s head check could have dislodged it: they can’t
figure out what language is. One hundred and fifty years since the Theory of
Evolution was announced, and they had learned . . . nothing . . . in that same century
and a half, Einstein discovered the speed of light and the relativity of speed, time,
and distance . . . Pasteur discovered that microorganisms, notably bacteria, cause an
ungodly number of diseases, from head colds to anthrax and oxygen-tubed,
collapsed-lung, final- stage pneumonia . . . Watson and Crick discovered DNA, the so-
called building blocks genes are made of . . . and 150 years’ worth of linguists,
biologists, anthropologists, and people from every other discipline discovered . . .
nothing . . . about language.
What is the problem? Speech is not one of man’s several unique attributes- speech is
the attribute of all attributes! Speech is 95 percent plus of what lifts man above
animal! Physically, man is a sad case. His teeth, including his incisors, which he calls
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eyeteeth, are baby-size and can barely penetrate the skin of a too-green apple. His
claws can’t do anything but scratch him where he itches. His stringy-ligament body
makes him a weakling compared to all the animals his size. Animals his size? In hand-
to-paw, hand-to-claw, or hand-to-incisor combat, any animal his size would have him
for lunch. Yet man owns or controls them all, every animal that exists, thanks to his
super- power: speech.
What is the story? What is it that has left endless generations of academics, certified
geniuses, utterly baffled when it comes to speech? For half that time, as we will see,
they formally and officially pronounced the question unsolvable and stopped trying.
What is it they still don’t get after a veritable eternity?

“The Kingdom of Speech”: Rhetorical Analysis

In American Journalist, Tom Wolfe’s recent novel “The Kingdom of Speech” (2016) the

author critiques the ideas of evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin and Linguist, Noam

Chomsky. His argument revolves around the human capability of speech and the recurring

failure of anthropologist, linguists, evolutionists and computer scientists to fully understand and

explain it. In this excerpt from chapter one of the book, the author introduces his main claim that

of all physical attributes humans have “evolved” overtime, speech holds to be the most important

to humanities success and dominance in the animal kingdom and due to its complexity has

rightfully stumped scientist for years. Wolfe is particularly successful in introducing his tone and

point of view on the argument in this first chapter, specifically through his use of narration and

first person point of view, as well as the syntax and rhetoric used in his writing.

To begin his novel, Wolfe writes in a first person point of view. Narration is most often

used as a simple way to provide the audience insight about what is happening, while a first
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person point of view offers more specific insight about the authors thoughts and opinions. This is

similar to how Wolfe uses it here. By beginning with a recollection of reading the published

piece of writing that sparked his interest in research about the evolution of speech not only gives

the audience insight about why he is writing this book but offers a method of inserting important

dialogue.

Using dialogue not only progresses the story, but provides the reader with the author's

feelings and thought process. Examples like the line “Now, that was odd . . .” effectively lets

Wolfe’s audience into his thoughts and expresses his feelings of confusion towards what he was

reading. This is continued in the lines “I moused around on the Rice site some more, and uh-oh .

. . not so great last season, the Owls . . .football . . . and I surfed to football concussions . . .

exactly as I thought! There’s a regular epidemic of concussions raging! They’re busy beating

each other into clots of early Alzheimer’s! . . . concussions . . . surfing surfing surfing,”. The

process of his research is not only realistically described to the readers in lines like these but

directly uncovers Wolfes infamous mocking and sarcastic attitude that will be embedded into the

rest of the book.

It can also be argued that the way he writes this text and dialogue through his syntax is

important to the attitude and tone. In the line “One hundred and fifty years since the Theory of

Evolution was announced, and they had learned . . . nothing . . . in that same century and a half,

Einstein discovered the speed of light and the relativity of speed, time, and distance . .” , the

author uses the comparison to discredit linguistics but also sets the critical and skeptical tone the

book will carry. The specific pauses that are used again emphasize the confusion Wolfe feels in

what he is finding, and in this line specifically emphasizes the word “nothing”. This specific

emphasization on this word expresses the lack of knowledge the scientist and is used to subtly
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discredit them. These pauses and emphasized diction is frequent throughout this first chapter and

are important for setting the tone and the author's attitude for the rest of the book.

The sarcastic and skeptical tone is also portrayed through Wolfes use of rhetorical

questioning. His purpose is already centered around disproving people such as Darwin and

Chomsky, but the use of questions places further skepticisms on their ideas and theories about

human linguistics. In the line beginning with the first rhetoric question: “What is the problem?

Speech is not one of man’s several unique attributes- speech is the attribute of all attributes!” the

question not only calls into question previous opinions on the importance of speech, but

expresses his own thoughts and opinions as he answers his own question. In a similar line:

“Animals his size? In hand-to-paw, hand-to-claw, or hand-to-incisor combat, any animal his size

would have him for lunch. Yet man owns or controls them all, every animal that exists, thanks to

his super­ power: speech.”, Wolfe again first questions, and than explains to further progress his

argument. This strategy is most strongly used in the very last portion of the chapter in the lines:

“What is the story? What is it that has left endless generations of academics, certified geniuses,

utterly baffled when it comes to speech? For half that time, as we will see, they formally and

officially pronounced the question unsolvable and stopped trying. What is it they still don’t get

after a veritable eternity?”. As this is the last paragraph of the introductory chapter, Wolfe is

smart to accomplish many things here. The use of rhetoric questions not only further discredits

the science in question here, but does so in a way that expresses the skeptical tone previously

written towards earlier in the chapter. Additionally, these lines are crucial in foreshadowing for

the audience the specific questions and topics that will be argued in the rest of the book and the

attitude and tone that will be written alongside them. The purpose of an introduction is to give
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the audience insight on what the rest of the text will be about and the argument being made, and

this is exactly what Wolf accomplishes here.

This is one of Tom Wolfe’s more recent novels since he has strayed away from

journalism, he has not strayed away from his satirical and cunning critique. He is successful in

introducing this attitude and tone to his audience in his first chapter through the use of narration

and dialogue that is specifically written to express important main ideas that will be present

throughout the book while supporting his argument. This is also accomplished through particular

syntax and rhetorical questioning used in this chapter.

Works Cited

Roberts, M.B. “Excerpt: The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe.” Parade, Parade, 30 Aug.

2016, parade.com/503281/m-b-roberts/excerpt-the-kingdom-of-speech-by-tom-wolfe/.

https://parade.com/503281/m-b-roberts/excerpt-the-kingdom-of-speech-by-tom-wolfe/