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

From:John Cowan <cowan@...>
Date:Sunday, November 30, 2003, 20:14
----- Forwarded message from Jan Theodore Galkowski <jtgalkowski@...> -----

From: "Jan Theodore Galkowski" <jtgalkowski@...>
To: "lambengolmor" <lambengolmor@...>,
Date: Sat, 29 Nov 2003 22:57:24 -0500
Subject: Lecture by Dr Steven Pinker online-- "Words and rules: ingredients of language"

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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----- End forwarded message -----

John Cowan                      
Humpty Dump Dublin squeaks through his norse
                Humpty Dump Dublin hath a horrible vorse
But for all his kinks English / And his irismanx brogues
                Humpty Dump Dublin's grandada of all rogues.  --Cousin James