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The stuff of thought : language as a window into human nature /

Psychologist Pinker explains how the mind works in a completely new way--by examining how we use words. Every time we swear, we reveal something about human emotions. When we use an innuendo to convey a bribe, threat, or sexual come-on (rather than just blurting it out), we disclose something... Full description

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Format: Book
Language: English
Published: Viking, 2007
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SUMMARY

Steven Pinker analyses what words actually mean and how we use them, and he reveals what this can tell us about ourselves. He shows how we use space and motion as metaphors for more abstracted ideas, and uncovers the deeper structures of human thought that have been shaped by evolutionary history.


Review by Choice Review

With this volume Pinker (psychology, Harvard) completes his trilogy on language and the mind, which is aimed at a wide readership. The first of the trio, The Language Instinct (CH, Jul'94, 31-6014), provided a thorough overview of language phenomena; the second, Words and Rules (CH, Jun'00, 37-5964), explored the basic units of language and how they are accessed and represented in memory. The present title focuses on how one constructs meaning from words, phrases, utterances, and sentences (i.e., semantics) and on the social function of these meanings in social practice (i.e., pragmatics). Throughout the nine chapters, Pinker's main thesis is that language provides a unique portal for viewing human nature. Including chapter notes and references, this readable, engaging book will interest readers across the social and behavioral sciences, including in particular those pursuing study of psycholinguistics, linguistics, cognitive science, and related fields. Summing Up: Essential. All readers, all levels. G. C. Gamst University of La Verne

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

Experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist Pinker is fascinated by the symbiosis between language and thought. In this stimulating volume, a continuation of the discussion found in The Language Instinct (1994), he argues for the real-world importance of  the relation of language to our inner and outer worlds. Anchoring his discussion of why semantics matter to 9/11 and other momentous public events, Pinker teases apart the gap between the literal meanings of words and their elaborate connotations, which leads to fresh explanations of humor, the importance of metaphors, and the significance of swearing. Some of the most mind-expanding chapters involve the subtlest, most taken-for-granted aspects of mind, namely our sense of time, space, and causality. Drawing on philosophy, evolutionary psychology, physics, neurology, anthropology, and jokes, Pinker presents a convincing theory of conceptual semantics, itemizing the fundamental ideas that form the language of thought. From politics to poetry, children's wonderful malapropisms to slang, Pinker's fluency in the nuances of words and syntax serves as proof of his faith in language as a window into human nature. --Seaman, Donna Copyright 2007 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Unless you have a reasonably good background in linguistics, you'll find this excellent book much easier to read than to listen to. Olsher is not to blame; he reads clearly and at a (slightly rapid) conversational speed. Pinker aims for the educated lay reader, using wit and popular metaphor to clarify his meanings and bring abstruse linguistic concepts to life. But his sentences are dense; you need to reread them and think them through. And the jargon, though clearly defined, requires time and thought to absorb: "Though hypernyms are not really examples of polysemy the way metonyms are, their use in emotionally tinged speech is another illustration of how choice among words can make a psychological difference." Such sentences are followed by clarifying illustrations, but they require cogitation-work that is well rewarded by a deeper and more complex understanding of language as a window into the mind. The chapter on the semantics of swearing is particularly fun and enlightening. In every culture swear words concern gods, diseases, excretions and sex, and Pinker tells us why. A person with some knowledge of linguistic theory will enjoy this audio enormously; a person without it will be enriched and delighted by the book, but have great difficulties with the audio version. Simultaneous release with the Viking hardcover (Reviews, May 21). (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
AUTHOR NOTES

Steven Pinker is an authority on language and the mind. He is Peter de Florez professor of psychology in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Steven Arthur Pinker was born on September 18, 1954 in Canada. He is an experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist, and author. He is a psychology professor at Harvard University. He is the author of several non-fiction books including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, Words and Rules, The Blank Slate, The Stuff of Thought, and The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.

His research in cognitive psychology has won the Early Career Award in 1984 and Boyd McCandless Award in 1986 from the American Psychological Association, the Troland Research Award in 1993 from the National Academy of Sciences, the Henry Dale Prize in 2004 from the Royal Institution of Great Britain, and the George Miller Prize in 2010 from the Cognitive Neuroscience Society. He was twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, in 1998 and in 2003. In 2006, he received the American Humanist Association's Humanist of the Year award for his contributions to public understanding of human evolution.

(Bowker Author Biography)