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Minxminnie

The Stuff of Thought

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This is Steven Pinker's newest book - it's subtitled Language as a window into human nature.

 

After a dull start, this was compelling stuff. The chapters on verbs and prepositions didn't light my fire, but when he got onto metaphor, the book started to come to life for me. He looks into ways that language reveals things about how we see the world.

I wouldn't be doing justice to his genius if I tried to summarise his ideas (what a cop-out!), but he's readable, funny, erudite and surprising. There's a fantastic chapter on swearing (not for those of a nervous disposition, tho ...) and a brilliant chapter on why indirectness is a valuable tool in language. I think I learned more from that chapter than from anything else I've read all year. And he adds in Calvin and Hobbes cartoons.

 

Very much recommended (along with his earlier book, The Language Instinct), but don't be afraid to skim read the verbs stuff if it doesn't appeal.

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...he's readable, funny, erudite and surprising.

 

I read Steven Pinker's Language Instinct several years ago and thought it one of the best books I've ever read. What was the most surprising thing about this book MM?

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What was the most surprising thing about this book MM?

 

Maybe I shouldn't tell you, or that would spoil the surprise! :D

 

It's a few weeks since I read it, and I'm trying to remember why I chose that word. One surprising thing was that he was very realistic in the claims he made for language. In particular, he points out that we communicate in many ways, language only being part of our communication system, and a very blunt instrument in many situations. The chapter on indirectness is very good on this.

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Maybe I shouldn't tell you, or that would spoil the surprise! :D

 

... language only being part of our communication system, and a very blunt instrument in many situations.

 

Yes this sounds true. When it comes to language some people are needle sharp while others are as blunt as a plank :D

 

Sometimes music and other arts may be the only way of expressing the unexpressible.

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    • By Minxminnie
      I have just finished this and I want to read it all over again. I love this book.
       
      Steven Pinker is a cognitive scientist who has previously written about language in The Language Instinct, Words And Rules and The Stuff Of Thought. This new book looks at what is meant by good writing.
       
      The start of the book looks at a lot of concepts which were relatively new to me, although once they were explained, they made perfect sense. This is one of the things I liked about it: unlike most books on language, it wasn't just a rehash of what has been said elsewhere. He explains why much writing fails to make sense or to engage the reader. Often, this is because the writer sees the world from his or her own point of view, taking knowledge for granted which the reader doesn't have, or jumps about a lot, leaving the reader confused. He has a good go at jargon and verbosity too.
       
      It has made me see with new eyes many things I have written or things I have given my pupils to read. A recent exam asked, in the first question, something like this:
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      That asks the kids to process two negatives and look for a positive. As I was in the middle of reading this book, I wanted to change the question to this:
       
      How does the writer make clear that he agrees with David Cameron?
       
      In the second half of the book, he looks more at issues of prescriptivism in language and shows which rules he feels do and don't really matter. He also shows how language just isn't logical, and often, recourse to rules doesn't solve the problem. I think this is the less successful part, as it is less discursive and more bitty. But it's all wonderful. I want everyone to read it, especially if I ever have to read what they've written.
       
       
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