October 28, 1999
How does language work? How do children learn their mother tongue? Why do languages change over time, making Shakespearean English difficult for us and Chaucer’s English almost incomprehensible? Why do languages have so many quirks and irregularities? Are they all fundamentally alike? How are new words created? Where in the brain does language reside?
In Words and Rules, Stephen Pinker answers these and many other questions. His new book shares the wit and style of his classic, The Language Instinct, but explores language in a completely different way. In Words and Rules, Pinker explains the profound mysteries of language by picking a deceptively single phenomenon and examining it from every angle. The phenomenon – regular and irregular verbs – connects an astonishing array of topics in the sciences and humanities: the history of languages; the theories of Noam Chomsky and his critics; the attempts to simulate languages using computer simulations of neural networks; the illuminating errors of children as they begin to speak; the nature of human concepts; the peculiarities of the English language; major ideas in the history of Western philosophy; the latest techniques in identifying genes and imaging the living brain.
Pinker make sense of all this with the help of a single, powerful idea: that language comprises a mental dictionary of memorized words and a mental grammar of creative rules. The idea extends beyond language and offers insight into the very nature of the human mind.
This is a sparkling, eye-opening and utterly original book by one of the world’s leading cognitive scientists.
Stephen Pinker, a native of Montréal, studied experimental psychology at McGill University and Harvard University. He is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Pinker has studied many aspects of language and visual cognition, with a focus on language acquisition in children. A fellow of several scientific societies, he has been awarded research prizes from the National Academy of Sciences and the American Psychological Association, a teaching prize from MIT and book prizes from the American Psychological Association, the Linguistic Society of America and the Los Angeles Times. Stephen Pinker is the author of the landmark bestsellers, The Language Instinct (1994) and How the Mind Works (1997) and is a frequent contributor to newspapers and magazines, including Time, Slate and The New York Times.