Words and Rules: The Ingredients Of Language

Words and Rules: The Ingredients Of Language

by Steven Pinker


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"If you are not already a Steven Pinker addict, this book will make you one." —Jared Diamond

In Words and Rules, Steven Pinker explores profound mysteries of language by picking a deceptively simple phenomenon—regular and irregular verbs—and examining it from every angle. With humor and verve, he covers an astonishing array of topics in the sciences and humanities, from the history of languages to how to simulate languages on computers to major ideas in the history of Western philosophy.

Through it all, Pinker presents 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780465072705
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 07/14/2015
Series: Science Masters Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 367,128
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Steven Pinker, a native of Montreal, studied experimental psychology at McGill University and Harvard University. He is a Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. Pinker conducts research on languages and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time, and The New Republic, and is the author of eight books, including The Language Instinct (1994), How the Mind Works (1997), The Blank Slate (2002), The Stuff of Thought (2007), and most recently The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011).


Boston, Massachusetts

Date of Birth:

September 18, 1954

Place of Birth:

Montreal, Canada


B.A., McGill University, 1976; Ph.D., Harvard University, 1979

Table of Contents

1. The Infinite Library
2. Dissection by Linguistics
3. Broken Telephone
4. In Single Combat
5. Word Nerds
6. Of Mice and Men
7. Kids Say the Darnedest Things
8. The Horrors of the German Language
9. The Black Box
10. A Digital Mind in an Analog World

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Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was in the language section of my local bookstore, and I saw this book on the shelf. I bought it and took it home. I read it cover to cover in a single night. This book is WONDERFUL. It starts out fairly dryly, giving a list of the irregular verbs of English (there are 180 of them) and their irregular past and past perfect forms. It groups them into categories according to the nature of their irregularity (spring-sprang-sprung vs. think-thought-thought, for example) and describes the linguistic evolution of them since the times of Anglo-Saxon (now referred to as Old English). To make the text more readable and light-hearted, Professor Hadbeen, a linguistic detective, is introduced. He explains some of what happened and makes occasional jokes. Prof. Hadbeen becomes more and more involved, however, and by the third chapter he's developed into a story of his own. He's investigating a murder mystery --- someone has killed the Duke of Donegone, heir to the throne of Iswasbeenia, and Prof. Hadbeen is now receiving anonymous letters indicating that he is to be the next victim. The book becomes a race against time as Hadbeen fights for his life and the protection of his beautiful girlfriend Andrea. The action comes to a climax in chapter eight, entitled 'The Horrors of the German Language' --- both a literary allusion to Mark Twain and a clever hint about the storyline. Naturally, I won't give away the ending, but I will say that I literally clung to the edge of my seat (incidentally, 'cling' is an irregular verb, with the past tense form being 'clung' instead of 'clinged'). After the story is over, Pinker tries to get back to the linguistic stuff, but I got bored with that and skipped to the end. Worth checking out, however, is the appendix entitled 'Glossary', which is actually a hilarious, biting commentary on North American social values and politics. I would also recommend the section 'Index', which contains a delicious recipe for buttermilk pancakes.
Schmerguls on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
i found some things in this erudite book of interest, but most of it was not well comprehended by me. The blurbs for the book talk about 'a delicious romp through everything interesting about words,' but I did not find it delicious very often, though some of the discussion was of interest. I was glad when the book ended.
_Greg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If Steven Pinker's excellent books "The Language Instinct" and "How the Mind Works" inspires you to read more linguistics, this is a good book to read next. This one is more technical and specialized, yet still accessible. Read the other ones first.
Charlottes-son More than 1 year ago
From a guy that has difficulty spelling in the first place. This is a great book. It was fun to read. The exploration of the rule and why the rules was fun and well presented.