pinker: stuffed with thoughts and gifted with language


Under Chomsky’s sway for four decades, most of linguistics and related sciences focused on the structure and rules of language, at the expense of meaning. Pinker defies the old order, and he does it, fittingly, without letting rhetoric get in the way as he guides readers through the radically expanded landscape of work on language and thought in cognitive science. His book is a vast explainer, built out of his own research and the work of many careful researchers and scholars who have received little attention beyond the academic fields of semantics and experimental psychology. In one chapter, Pinker examines whether the particular language you speak influences the way you think. The idea that it does has generated a lot of attention (as well as irritation and indignation) in cognitive science over the years. Laying out the debate as he sees it, Pinker concludes that it does not, at least not in any dramatic or important way. For most of the book, however, he flips the terms, investigating a different relationship that is equally deserving of the spotlight: the way thought underpins language.

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