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Ch. 2 - Down the Rabbit Hole 
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Post Ch. 2 - Down the Rabbit Hole
Ch. 2 - Down the Rabbit Hole

Please use this thread for discussing Ch. 2 - Down the Rabbit Hole.


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Fri Dec 28, 2007 1:25 am
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Though Chapter 2 has some interesting ideas, I really had to push myself to get through it over the holidays. The difficulty was that, even though Pinker's conclusions about the human mind were intriguing, the linguistic analysis he used to get there became tiresome and monotonous.

His approach was to examine English verbs, and to consider which sentence structures various verbs allowed. For example, these two sentences both include the verb load :
Quote:
Hal loaded the wagon with hay.

Hal loaded hay into the wagon.
With some verbs, only structures similar to the first sentence are generally spoken, while other verbs appear only in sentences similar to the second. Pinker grouped the verbs into lists based on the allowed sentence structures, and search for patterns in those groupings. Since small children can figure out how to speak grammatically, even for rarely heard words, and similar patterns appear in other languages, the verb groupings provide insight into how the human mind understands the world.

I'll come back later and describe those insights in more detail.



Thu Jan 03, 2008 2:00 am
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The second chapter hasn't grabbed me. A possible cause is that I'm tired and lacking in sleep. It's possible that Pinker hasn't done a good enough job - though I'd say that's highly improbable. It's possible that I've heard it all before. It's possible that I'm more inclined to deal with semantics than syntax. It's possible that all of the above have played a part in my reaction. Who can say?



Wed Jan 09, 2008 12:02 am
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I hear you, in that Pinker gets into the syntax a bit in this chapter, describing one very specific example of one type of verb & its syntactic ramifications...but he's getting a bit geeky here.

My BA is in Linguistics, and I've taken courses on syntactic theories, semantics, et. al. and I understand his excitement. Reading this chapter, I think I know what it feels like to be trapped in a conversation by a (ooh, to pick an example out of the air) Babylon 5 fan(atic) [I am one, so beware! 8) ], and that person is trying to explain why this is the most utterly amazing thing on the planet. And he knows, that when you do 'get it', you'll become an addict too.

My linguistic geek-dom is coming back to me (although his use of the words "theta-role assignment" makes me break out in a cold sweat with flashbacks to a 400-level course). Child language acquisition is incredibly exciting, it essentially drives all of linguistic research (very over-simplifying comment there!): Why/How is every child born able to learn any natural language? Expose them to meaningful discourse in other languages on a regular basis, they'll learn those too, all with perfect pronunciation and a natural grasp of the grammar.

I'm going to go and finish reading this chapter now!
:D


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Wed Jan 09, 2008 11:45 pm
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bradams wrote:
The second chapter hasn't grabbed me.

If you're bogged down in Chapter 2, you can skip ahead to Chapter 3, which is more interesting, without missing much. Don't give up on the book because Chapter 2 is daunting. (I'm not saying you would, but some people might be tempted to do so.)



Thu Jan 10, 2008 1:07 am
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JulianTheApostate wrote:
bradams wrote:
The second chapter hasn't grabbed me.

If you're bogged down in Chapter 2, you can skip ahead to Chapter 3, which is more interesting, without missing much. Don't give up on the book because Chapter 2 is daunting. (I'm not saying you would, but some people might be tempted to do so.)


I am totally enjoying the second chapter. Maybe because I am not too familiar with this stuff. I never studied language in depth so this is an educational experience for me. I have been wanting to study more linguistics since reading a sci-fi novel a few years ago called "Bable-17" by Samuel Delany. It was about the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. Here is a brief summary for those interested.

Quote:
During an interstellar war one side develops a language, Babel 17, that can be used as a weapon. Learning it turns one into an unwilling traitor as it alters perception and thought. The change is made more dangerous by the language's seductive enhancement of other abilities. This is discovered by the beautiful starship captain, linguist, poet, and telepath Rydra Wong. She is recruited by her government to discover how the enemy are infiltrating and sabotaging strategic sites. Initially Babel-17 is thought to be a code used by enemy agents. Rydra Wong realises it is a language, and finds herself becoming a traitor as she learns it. She is rescued by her dedicated crew, figures out the danger, and neutralizes its effects.


Mr. P.


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Mr. P -- very cool. There are a whole whack of SF books that play with language, but I'd not heard of that one.

One of my favourites is Native Tongue (and a couple of sequels) by Suzette Haden Elgin, a SF writer and Linguistics prof. She used the realm of SF to play with the W-S hypothesis as well. (oooh, I googled it, and it's available online through Google Books!) [I've just had a very busy day at work, and my brain is not working well enough to write a synopsis, or even find one! Sorry, another day...if anyone is interested! :shock: ]


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JulianTheApostate wrote:
bradams wrote:
The second chapter hasn't grabbed me.

If you're bogged down in Chapter 2, you can skip ahead to Chapter 3, which is more interesting, without missing much. Don't give up on the book because Chapter 2 is daunting. (I'm not saying you would, but some people might be tempted to do so.)


Yeah... The second chapter was a bit dense. I made it to page 60 and then decided I would skip the rest and start on chapter three. Shameful!

There was a line from chapter two, thouh, that I spent some time with: "...Certain aspects of geometry and physics are salient enough to the minds of English speakers to determine how they construe events."
First, I wondered why Pinker named English speakers only. Are not French speakers, Spanish speakers, Japanese speakers --speakers of any and every language -- just as succeptible to vary in their interpretation of events according to the laws of geomoetry and physics? What makes English speakers so special in their relationship between language and science? I mean, there were other cultures that were flourishing in mathematics and astronomy (Arabic and African cultures particulalry come to mind) long before modern day English came to be? Yet, we should think our language is the only one capable of being modified ever so slightly by math?

On another note, all this talk from chapter two about how children are much more adept at learning language than their older peers made me think of my time in Japan. One of my friends who was an English teacher moved there with her daighter. She was the only "foreign" child in the whole daycare that she attended. She took to Japanese like a duck to water. We were just amazed at how effectively she could understand and speak the langauge. Then, we realized that if we didn't have to speak English all day everyday, and that if the only way we could communicate with each other was through another language, then we would learn pretty quickly how to do that. We all have the capacity to learn language just as easily as a child --no matter our age. However, after we have learned one language, can meet all of our needs in that language, and are settled in a routine around that language, it just simply isn't as necessary as it is for children to pick up a new way to communicate.



Wed Jan 16, 2008 10:24 am
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tlpounds wrote:

Quote:
We all have the capacity to learn language just as easily as a child --no matter our age. However, after we have learned one language, can meet all of our needs in that language, and are settled in a routine around that language, it just simply isn't as necessary as it is for children to pick up a new way to communicate


Yes, adults can learn foreign languages, but

a- not as easily as children

b- in many cases, not as well.

Children learn easily because, as you note, they need to communicate with others (their play mates for example) but also because they are good at hearing , recognizing and imitating the sounds of a foreign language.
Also, an important point is that young children have nothing else to do than learn how to speak, and can devote a lot of their energy to it, as opposed to the adult who has to attend to all his obligations.

If an adult HAD to learn to learn a language in a situation of survival he would do it, but I think it would be very stressful, whereas a child learns naturally.

Then in most cases the results will be different. Most adults don't hear the sounds of a foreign language well because the mother tongue acts as a screen -- even the child is not 100% free from that screen. As soon as people start talking around a new norn baby the screen is being built.


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I think another reason, and this one has no empirical backing that I know of, is that when you have been thinking and speaking in one language for a very long time, as an adult has, you might try to translate the new language into the old one and back again when communicating rather than directly tying the language into your concepts.



Wed Jan 16, 2008 2:23 pm
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tlpounds wrote:
First, I wondered why Pinker named English speakers only. Are not French speakers, Spanish speakers, Japanese speakers --speakers of any and every language -- just as succeptible to vary in their interpretation of events according to the laws of geomoetry and physics?

From everything Pinker has written, he's a strong believer in the similar structures of different languages. In Chapter 3, he argues against the claim that speakers of different languages think differently. Pinker's focus on English in chapter 2 arises because he's writing a book in English, and English is the language that all readers of the book are familiar with. (Though I wonder what will happen when someone tries to translate this book to another language.)



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JulianTheApostate, you wrote that From everything Pinker has written, he's a strong believer in the similar structures of different languages. In Chapter 3, he argues against the claim that speakers of different languages think differently.

I am reading Chapter Three now, and so far, I haven't seen his argument in favor of similar structures between languages. Could you give me some points of reference so that I may look them over? What page(s) is this argument on?



Fri Jan 18, 2008 3:32 pm
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JulianTheApostate, you wrote that From everything Pinker has written, he's a strong believer in the similar structures of different languages. In Chapter 3, he argues against the claim that speakers of different languages think differently.

I am reading Chapter Three now, and so far, I haven't seen his argument in favor of similar structures between languages. Could you give me some points of reference so that I may look them over? What page(s) is this argument on?



Fri Jan 18, 2008 3:38 pm
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tlpounds wrote:
JulianTheApostate, you wrote that From everything Pinker has written, he's a strong believer in the similar structures of different languages. In Chapter 3, he argues against the claim that speakers of different languages think differently.

I am reading Chapter Three now, and so far, I haven't seen his argument in favor of similar structures between languages. Could you give me some points of reference so that I may look them over? What page(s) is this argument on?


In chapter 3, which I too am reading now, Pinker delves into a few different theories out there. I do not have the book here so I cannot get into specifics. But I just wanted to follow "tlpounds" is stating that up until this chapter, I have not seen Pinker assert that different languages have similar structures. In fact, I have been understanding his position to be somewhat opposed to this.

His whole treatment on the different placement of certain verbs has made me think this. It is hard for me to really go into this as I am not fluent in linguistics and alot of the terms he uses are still floating willy nilly around in my head.

We should probably move all this to the chapter 3 thread. I will cut and paste this there, so please direct any posts regarding this topic there.

Mr. P.


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