This prologue begins in the nineteenth century with the story of a twenty-one-year-old man, nicknamed Tan-Tan, who exhibited an unusual linguistic problem: Whenever he was asked a question, he would always answer by saying one syllable twice, tan tan, in conjunction with quite varied intonation and expressive gestures. It then considers Noam Chomsky’s contributions to the field of linguistics and presents the story of an individual named Christopher, born in 1962, who displayed an exceptional ability to learn foreign languages despite having below average intelligence. The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of how our knowledge of the structures of language advanced enormously in the century between Tan-Tan and Christopher.
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