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Ch. 1 - Words and Worlds 
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Post Ch. 1 - Words and Worlds
Ch. 1 - Words and Worlds

Please use this thread for discussing Ch. 1 - Words and Worlds.


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The first chapter mainly consisted of stuff I've seen before, but I'm not a typical reader. I've read Pinker's four previous books that he mentioned in his preface. Also, I heard Pinker present his book tour lecture about The Stuff of Thought, which included an overview with lots of overlap with Chapter 1. The subsequent chapters, which delve into the details, should be more rewarding.

The Words and Emotions section should be a lot of fun. I'm still chuckling over the Woody Allen quote "I told him to be fruitful and multiply, but not in those words." And it's really ironic that
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...the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act was passed on the day in 2004 that Vice President Dick Cheney got into an argument with Senator Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor and Cheney told the senator to be fruitful and multiply, but not in those words.



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But Julian! For those of us who are still waiting for our books to arrive, can you give us a tidbit or two? Any ideas/thoughts that struck you?


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Sun Dec 30, 2007 11:05 am
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Maybe we should be posting a bunch of YouTube videos so that people can get into the discussion even before receiving their books.


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Chris OConnor wrote:
Maybe we should be posting a bunch of YouTube videos so that people can get into the discussion even before receiving their books.

Here's a list of Steven Pinker lectures:
http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=s ... itesearch=

I heard Pinker at Google (the Authors@Google video). If you have an hour to watch it, he's an entertaining speaker who presents a good overview of what the book is about.



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The Stuff of Thought is my introduction to Pinker. Being a new member I wanted to jump right in to the "read of the month," but was a little hesitant when I saw the title. However, if the first chapter is any indication of what's to come in other chapters, and apparently it is -- he gives a "bird's eye" view of what's to come - I am very interested to keep going. I didn't expect the wit - I thought I'd find dull and boring. Wrong!! :lol: I chuckled through a series of references - including the Woody Allen quote and the 1998 "widely circulated" e-mail. One thing that I thought interesting was the section on Words and Emotions, especially after having to reprimand my 10-year old recently for using certain words to express her impatience with a situation:
Quote:
It's a real puzzle for the science of mind why, when an unpleasnat event befals us...the topic of our conversation turns abruptly to sexuality, excretion, or religion.



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Julian said:
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I heard Pinker at Google (the Authors@Google video). If you have an hour to watch it, he's an entertaining speaker who presents a good overview of what the book is about.


I watched this last night, and it really fired me up about the book. He covered so much ground so in such a short time, I NEED to read the book now, for more depth, but also to be able to think about each idea before jumping to the next one.

Thanks for recommending it!

Jan.



Sat Jan 05, 2008 11:42 am
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My book arrived yesterday and I was able to dive in during coffee this morning. Pinker is undoubtedly as bright as they come and so far enjoyable to read. I like this quote from his Preface:
Quote:
Language is entwined with human life. We use it to inform and persuade, but also to threaten, to seduce and of course to swear. It reflects the way we grasp reality, and also the image of ourselves we try to project to others, and the bonds that ties us to them. It is, I hope to convince you, a window into human nature. (viii)


In other words (what a phrase!) words matter. And as the chapters unfold, Pinker makes the case that what we mean by matter, what matters about matter, which matter matters most, is largely, a matter of the words we use.



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Okay, I've finished the Preface and Chapter 1 "Words and Worlds."

As the first chapter is basically an overview of the rest of the book, there isn't too much to say about it so far except that, whatever one thinks of the authorship of the plays attributed to Shakespeare, this one is definitely written by Steven Pinker. Anyone who had read any of his other works would easily recognize his style if they were given a copy of the chapter without being told who wrote it. The examples are well-chosen and amusing as well as being thought-provoking.

I just want to ask one question about the Preface, which Dissident Heart has already quoted. If language is a window into human nature, then is each different language a window into a different human nature or are they all different windows into the same human nature?

I think Wittgenstein would say the former (although as always with Wittgenstein he is difficult to pin down), but given that Pinker spent an entire book, The Blank Slate: the modern denial of human nature, arguing that there is one human nature I expect him to support the latter. It will be interesting to see how he reconciles the fact that some thoughts are inexpressible in some languages with the thesis that there is an underlying human nature and that language is a window into the mind.

Ultimately, I have ended up disagreeing with Pinker in his previous books. Not with everything, but with his main conclusions. I wonder whether this will be the work in which Pinker reconciles our differences, but I somehow doubt it. Despite this pessimism, I expect it to be as engaging, stimulating, and entertaining as usual.



Mon Jan 07, 2008 6:05 am
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Just finished up the first chapter. I think this will be a good read. I enjoyed that section on the (container/content)-locative verbs and how children learn language. I always puzzled over why some words work in certain sentences and some don't. The first section helped me understand that a little bit more, but I am still wondering WHY that happens.

Pinker explained how some adjectives cannot use er or est (it has to do with syllables)...but he goes on to say that the verbs that do not work within both locative rules do not seem to have a explanation as to why they do not.

I also like his wit. This is my first Pinker book and I find his writing style very readable and entertaining.

Mr. P.


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Post Tracking Pinker - without the book:
I've just joined BOOKTALK (and wish I'd found y'all before) and I'm intrigued by Pinkers work. Any comments i make will have to be from what I can gather from these posts here: I'm currently in Argentina which has an amazing Postal System dedicated to delaying (and often losing) mail; deliveries from Amazon.com and such can take two months or more and carry $20 to $30 postage charges - and of course, there are no English language libraries. Thats the bad news.

The good news is that in this case I have the opportunity to see two different languages at work (I've written for publication in both). I find it useful to test statements on linguistics in each - a sort of 'double blind' test. Anything I stumble across I'll post in this forum: Further along in the book (and who knows, my own copy might arrive sometime) I suspect, when there will be more to work on.

:) Q



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bradams wrote:

I just want to ask one question about the Preface, which Dissident Heart has already quoted. If language is a window into human nature, then is each different language a window into a different human nature or are they all different windows into the same human nature?
....
It will be interesting to see how he reconciles the fact that some thoughts are inexpressible in some languages with the thesis that there is an underlying human nature and that language is a window into the mind.


I am not a proponent of the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis (the wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapir-Whorf_hypothesis), at least not the strong version, that the language one speaks creates your world view. I'm more of the "it orders your world view" camp. So, in answer to your first question, bradams, for me, Language is a lot of windows onto the same human nature.

I also believe that all thoughts are expressible in all human languages. I think the confusion comes when people start paying attention to the lexical items that are unique to a given language, and confuse a word (or short phrase) with the thought. For example, Brazilian Portuguese has some beautiful words I learned years ago when I lived there, words that English doesn't have: "madrugada" which is the wee hours of the morning, when you haven't been to bed yet, and "saudades" a romantic, nostalgic longing. We don't have one lexical item that corresponds to these words, but the ideas are expressible in English, with some circumlocution.

Anyway...I, too, am looking forward to this book. Pinker is an engaging writer, and the topic is near'n'dear to my heart.


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Post Re: Tracking Pinker - without the book:
Q wrote:
I've just joined BOOKTALK (and wish I'd found y'all before) and I'm intrigued by Pinkers work.

Welcome! Have you read anything of Pinker's?



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Loricat wrote:
bradams wrote:

I just want to ask one question about the Preface, which Dissident Heart has already quoted. If language is a window into human nature, then is each different language a window into a different human nature or are they all different windows into the same human nature?



I am not a proponent of the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis (the wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapir-Whorf_hypothesis), at least not the strong version, that the language one speaks creates your world view. I'm more of the "it orders your world view" camp. So, in answer to your first question, bradams, for me, Language is a lot of windows onto the same human nature.



From what I get so far, Pinker seems to imply that different languages are indeed unique in how the people who speak the language comprehend their world. He is specifically talking about the English language throughout this book...not communication in general. I am with Loricat though in that I feel it 'orders' and not 'creates' the world view. (Is it "language orders the world view" or the "worldview is ordered by the language" LOL)

I am fascinated by the first 70 pages. I find the talk of verb constructions and the implications behind how we form our words and thoughts very interesting.

I have heard/read talk regarding the question of whether words shape our thoughts or vice versa. I feel, after reading this first section, that it is obviously our thought patterns & structures and the brains specific way of conceptualizing the external world that shapes the words and constructions we use.

Mr. P.


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Mr. P.: I have heard/read talk regarding the question of whether words shape our thoughts or vice versa. I feel, after reading this first section, that it is obviously our thought patterns & structures and the brains specific way of conceptualizing the external world that shapes the words and constructions we use.

I'm about two-thirds of the way through the book and don't want to comment too much until I've finished.

It seems clear that our brains have evolved to see the world from certain perspectives and those perspectives are critical in the development of human languages. That said, can we honestly conceive of such a thing as a non-verbal thought? Certainly, there are emotions and impulses and all the rest, but those aren't thoughts, at least not as I understand the term.

And if we must have words to articulate thoughts, is it not also the case that the thoughts we articulate will be influenced by the words we use? In other words, while the mental architecture we have evolved dictates the form language development takes, it seems to me that between thoughts and expressions there is a considerable feedback loop, a kind of synergy that suggests neither one can be regarded solely as the creator of the other.

George


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