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Lecture by Dr Steven Pinker online-- "Words and rules: ingredients of language"

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  • Jan Theodore Galkowski
    There is a lecture by Dr Steven Pinker available online for free at http://mitworld.mit.edu/play/141/ which may be of interest to members of these groups. It s
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 29 7:57 PM
      There is a lecture by Dr Steven Pinker available online for free at


      which may be of interest to members of these groups. It's
      called "Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language".

      Pinker presents and explains the natural history of words in modern
      English, using verbs among others to illustrate phylolinguistic
      hypotheses regarding language development as well as ontolinguistic
      ones. Of interest is how irregular verbs are displaced by regular
      forms and why irregular verbs form in the first place. Since, as Pinker
      acknowledges, much of the most colorful and resonant literary language
      available is based upon irregular forms, such as those Tolkien uses and
      I daresay loved, it's interesting to understand this process. Pinker
      illustrates using a 20th century newspaper description of a baseball
      game. The same can be found today in, e.g., UK Telegraph coverage of

      While we might be saddened by this process, of greater interest is
      something Pinker implies and is very much in the spirit of what Tolkien
      tried to do: Linguistic archaeology may be empowered by recovering the
      old rules which applied to the formation of verbs and other parts of
      speech. These rules then could be used beyond the evidence that
      suggests them.

      I wonder what they are for Sindarin, Quenya, and Noldor?


      Why does a three year-old say "I went," then six months later start
      saying "I goed"? When you first heard the word "fax," how did you know
      the past tense is "faxed"? And why is it that a baseball player is said
      to have "flied out," but could never have "flown out"?

      After fifteen years of studying words in history, in the laboratory,
      and in everyday speech, Steven Pinker has worked out the dynamic
      relationship - searching memory vs. following rules - that determines
      the forms our speech takes. In one of his final lectures at MIT Pinker
      gives the ultimate lecture on verbs, in a rich mixture of linguistics,
      cognitive neuroscience, and a surprising amount of humor. If you've
      ever wondered about the plural of Walkman, or why they are called the
      Toronto Maple Leafs and not Leaves, this lecture provides answers to
      these and other questions of modern language.

      This lecture is based upon the subject of Pinker's book, presented and
      reviewed at:


      ABOUT THE SPEAKER: Pinker is the Johnstone Family Professor of
      Psychology at Harvard University. He returned to Harvard in September
      2003 after 21 years at MIT, where he was most recently the Peter de
      Florez Professor of Psychology in the Department of Brain and Cognitive
      Sciences and a MacVicar Faculty Fellow at MIT. A native of Montreal, he
      received his BA from McGill University in 1976 and his PhD in
      psychology from Harvard in 1979. His scholarship has brought him awards
      and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Many more
      awards and worldwide recognition have come from several popular science
      books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, and most
      recently, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.

      NOTES ON THE VIDEO (Time Index): The video length is 1:09:38 and begins
      with an introduction by Mriganka Sur, Ph.d., Chair of the Department of
      Brain and Cognitive Sciences

      Pinker begins at :40 Q&A begins 59:32

      Cuio mae!

      -- Jan
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