How does language work? How do children learn their mother tongue?
Why do languages change over time, making Shakespearean English
difficult for us and Chaucer's English almost incomprehensible? Why do
languages have so many quirks and irregularities? Are they all fundamentally
alike? How are new words created? Where in the brain does language reside?
In Words and Rules, Steven Pinker answers these and many other questions.
His new book shares the wit and style of his classic, The Language Instinct,
but explores language in a completely different way. In this book, Pinker
explains the profound mysteries of language by picking a deceptively single
phenomenon and examining it from every angle. The phenomenon—regular
and irregular verbs—connects an astonishing array of topics in the sciences
and humanities: the history of languages; the theories of Noam Chomsky and
his critics; the attempts to simulate language using computer simulations of
neural networks; the illuminating errors of children as they begin to speak; the
nature of human concepts; the peculiarities of the English language; major ideas
in the history of Western philosophy; the latest techniques in identifying genes
and imaging the living brain. Pinker makes sense of all of this with the help of
a single, powerful idea: that language comprises a mental dictionary of
memorized words and a mental grammar of creative rules. The idea extends
beyond language and offers insight into the very nature of the human mind.
This is a sparkling, eye-opening, and utterly original book by one of
the world's leading cognitive scientists.