THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT: The New Science of Language and Mind by Steven Pinker pdf
I have never met a person who is not interested in language. I wrote this book to try to satisfy that curiosity. Language is beginning to submit to that uniquely satisfying kind of understanding that we call science, but the news has been kept a secret.
For the language lover, I hope to show that there is a world of elegance and richness in quotidian speech that far outshines the local curiosities of etymologies, unusual words, and fine points of usage.
For the reader of popular science, I hope to explain what is behind the recent discoveries (or, in many cases, nondiscoveries) reported in the press: universal deep structures, brainy babies, grammar genes, artificially intelligent computers, neural networks, signing chimps, talking Neanderthals, idiot savants, feral children, paradoxical brain damage, identical twins separated at birth, color pictures of the thinking brain, and the search for the mother of all languages. 1 also hope to answer many natural questions about languages, like why there are so many of them, why they are so hard for adults to learn, and why no one seems to know the plural of Walkman.
For students unaware of the science of language and mind, or worse, burdened with memorizing word frequency effects on lexical decision reaction time or the fine points of the Empty Category Principle, I hope to convey the grand intellectual excitement that launched the modern study of language several decades ago.
For my professional colleagues, scattered across so many disciplines and studying so many seemingly unrelated topics, I hope to offer a semblance of an integration of this vast territory. Although I am an opinionated, obsessional researcher who dislikes insipid compromises that fuzz up the issues, many academic controversies remind me of the blind men palpating the elephant. If my personal synthesis seems to embrace both sides of debates like “formalism versus functionalism” or “syntax versus semantics versus pragmatics,” perhaps it is because there was never an issue there to begin with.
For the general nonfiction reader, interested in language and human beings in the broadest sense, I hope to offer something different from the airy platitudes—Language Lite—that typify discussions of language (generally by people who have never studied it) in the humanities and sciences alike. For better or worse, I can write in only one way, with a passion for powerful, explanatory ideas, and a torrent of relevant detail. Given this last habit, I am lucky to be explaining a subject whose principles underlie wordplay, poetry, rhetoric, wit, and good writing. I have not hesitated to show off my favorite examples of language in action from pop culture, ordinary children and adults, the more flamboyant academic writers in my field, and some of the finest stylists in English.
This book, then, is intended for everyone who uses language, and that means everyone!
- An Instinct to Acquire an Art
- How Language Works
- Words, Words, Words
- The Sounds of Silence
- Talking Heads
- The Tower of Babel
- Baby Born Talking—Describes Heaven
- Language Organs and Grammar Genes
- The Big Bang
- The Language Mavens
- Mind Design
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