Saturday, December 24, 2016

Pinker, Steven (2008): The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature

What is it about?

The book is quite a multifaceted discussion on language/linguistics, theory/philosophy of action and cognitive psychology.

While such a disciplinary repertoire might seem quite challenging for a casual reader at first glance, the book is actually rather accessibly written and only occasionally resorts to technical language.

Pinker's basic message is that human behavior can be understood (better) if one understands the goings on of the language that underpin our behavior and/or through which we influence each other's behaviors.

Was it good?

The book is quite insightful and accessible at the same time, which may not be a given for an account such as this, which operates in the intersection of disciplines which may be quite complex in their own right.

Accessibility is greatly enhanced by Pinker's practice of employing examples frequently throughout the book.

All in all, both human behavior and everyday language can be better understood after reading this book - at least that's the case for me, since I'm not a seasoned/scholarly expert in any of the focal disciplines (though have resorted to a little bit of theory of action in my dissertation).

The main take-away for me?

For me, the eight chapter "Games people play" was the most rewarding and thought-provoking. Here, Pinker, building on established scholarship, discusses how our everyday language is quite complex and nuanced "game" of meanings, connotations, "between-the-lines" messages and so on. In other words, what we say (literally, that is), is often quite far away from the message that we actually convey and/or intend to convey and/or end up conveying.

Here, though, Pinker's treatment could have ventured a bit more explicitly and farther in to discourse analysis (where this train of thought may be more fully developed), but still I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter in particular.

Who should read the book?

The book is clearly intended for a general audience, but perhaps an ideal reader is someone who already has at least a nascent interest in linguistics, or "how people do things with words". In any event, this book allows one to better understand the "language games" we engage in all the time.

The book on The Stuff of Thought

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