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Words and Rules


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MIT linguist Pinker builds on his previous successes (How the Mind Works; The Language Instinct) with another book explaining how we learn and deploy word, phrase and utterance. Some linguists (notably Noam Chomsky) have argued that everything in speech comes from hidden, hard-wired rules. Others (notably some computer scientists) claim that we learn language by association, picking up raw data first. Pinker argues that our brains exhibit both kinds of thought, and that we can see them both in English verbs: rule application ("combination") governs regular verbs, memory ("lookup") handles irregulars. The interplay of the two characterizes all language, perhaps all thought. Each of Pinker's 10 chapters takes up a different field of research, but all 10 concern regular and irregular forms of words. Pinker shows what scientists learn from children's speech errors (My brother got sick and pukeded); from survey questions (What do you call more than one wug?); from similar rules in varying languages (English, German and Arapesh); from theoretical models and their failings and from brain disorders like jargon anomia (whose victims use complex sentences, but say things like "nose cone" when they mean "phone call"). Sometimes Pinker explains linguists' current consensus; at other times, he makes a case for his own theoretical school. His previous books have been accused of excessive ambition; here he largely sticks to his own fields. The result, with its crisp prose and neat analogies, makes required reading for anyone interested in cognition and language. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

For more than a dozen years, Pinker (brain and cognitive sciences, MIT) has conducted experimental studies of human linguistic behavior and pondered the nature of language and its relation to the brain. He has thereby contributed voluminously to scientific literature in the still youthful field of cognitive science. In recent years, much of his time in the lab as well as theoretical analysis has focused on a single phenomenon--regular and irregular verbs. By attacking this phenomenon from a wide variety of disciplines, Pinker enters some of the great debates about how the brain processes language. In explaining how language works and how we learn it, he summarizes current research and competing theoretical models in an extremely readable and enjoyable style. With this title and with his previous ones, The Language Instinct and How the Mind Works, Pinker joins Stephen J. Gould, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett as one of the great popularizers of modern science.--Paul A. D'Alessandro, Portland P.L., ME Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

?Pinker is now an established public intellectual, the most visible representative of the new field of cognitive science, linguistics and experimental psychology?. The very notion that English past-tense verb forms could possibly be the object of scientific inquiry will surely surprise most people. Yet over the last two decades or so a growing number of linguists and psychologists have successfully mined this unlikely seam for evidence of how the mind works. ?. [This book] is a gem.?-Mark Aronoff, "The New York Times?The real significance of Mr. Pinker's work is the theory he posits: Regular verb forms ending in -ed are generated by rules, he says, while irregular forms are retrieved from memory?.With its many interesting examples of how language works, Word and Rules is certainly worth reading and pondering.?-Bryan A. Gerner, "Wall Street Journal?To most of us, [irregular verbs] are a minor nuisance, a pitfall that may lead us into error. But to a cognitive linguist like MIT's Steven Pinker, they are a treasure trove of clues to the history of our language and, above all, to the mysteries of the human mind?. discussions of language theory?are offered not in dry academic prose, but through lucidly written and often amusing examples.? -Robert March, "Boston Globe?With its crisp prose and neat analogies, [Words and Rules is] required reading for anyone interested in cognition and language.?- "Publishers Weekly" (Starred Review)?Pick up this book and prepare yourself for a delicious romp through everything interesting about words. Why do kids make all those charming mistakes, and what did President Clinton really mean when he said [censored]? If you are not already a Steven Pinker addict,this book will make you one.? -Jared Diamond, winner of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for "Guns, Germs, and Steel?Deliciously erudite.?--William Safire, "New York Times Magazine?A riveting detective story.? -Jesse Prinz, "Chicago Tribune"The evidence Pinker deploys is both refreshingly recent and surprisingly entertaining. A lucid and convincing account of the complex mix of genes and learning that must go into producing the somewhat separate brain mechanismsthat handle regular and irregular verbs. ...Throughout, Pinker's presentation of the evidence is meticulous." -John McCrone, "The Guardian"This is a very good book. Evidence comes from all directions. We are regaled with a wealth of humorous and often original examples from every area you can think of. Pinker succeeds in generating light rather than heat in a dispute that has been noted for acrimony rather than insight."-Neil Smith, "Times Literary Supplement

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