In "The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature", Steven Pinker looks at how the relationship between words and thoughts can help us understand who we are. Why do so many swear words involve topics like sex, bodily functions or the divine? Why do some children's names thrive while others fall out of favour? Why do we threaten and ...Read MoreIn "The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature", Steven Pinker looks at how the relationship between words and thoughts can help us understand who we are. Why do so many swear words involve topics like sex, bodily functions or the divine? Why do some children's names thrive while others fall out of favour? Why do we threaten and bribe and seduce in such elaborate, often comical ways? How can a choice of metaphor damn a politician or start a war? And why do we rarely say what we actually mean? Language, as Steven Pinker shows, is at the heart of our lives, and through the way we use it - whether to inform, persuade, entertain or manipulate - we can glimpse the very essence of what makes us human. "Awesome". ("Daily Mail"). "Highly entertaining ...funny and thought-provoking". ("The Times"). "Anyone interested in language should read "The Stuff of Thought" ...moments of genuine revelation and some very good jokes". (Mark Haddon, "Sunday Telegraph" Books of the Year). "No one writes about language as clearly as Steven Pinker, and this is his best book yet". (David Crystal, "Financial Times"). Steven Pinker is the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. Until 2003, he taught in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as "The New York Times", "Time" and "Slate", and is the author of six books, including "The Language Instinct", "How the Mind Works" and "The Blank Slate".Read Less
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Publishers Weekly, 2007-10-29 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.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly, 2007-05-21 Bestselling Harvard psychology professor Pinker (The Blank Slate) investigates what the words we use tell us about the way we think. Language, he concludes, reflects our brain structure, which itself is innate. Similarly, the way we talk about things is rooted in, but not identical to, physical reality: human beings take "the analogue flow of sensation the world presents to them" and "package their experience into objects and events." Examining how we do this, the author summarizes and rejects such linguistic theories as "extreme nativism" and "radical pragmatism" as he tosses around terms like "content-locative" and "semantic reconstrual" that may seem daunting to general readers. But Pinker, a masterful popularizer, illuminates this specialized material with homely illustrations. The difference between drinking from a glass of beer and drinking a glass of beer, for example, shows that "the mind has the power to frame a single situation in very different ways." Separate chapters explore concepts of causality, naming, swearing and politeness as the tools with which we organize the flow of raw information. Metaphor in particular, he asserts, helps us "entertain new ideas and new ways of managing our affairs." His vivid prose and down-to-earth attitude will once again attract an enthusiastic audience outside academia. (Sept.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
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