Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What Language Tells Us

This interview with Harvard linguist and pscyhologist Steven Pinker was published on the website of the New York Times.

Click here to read more of the Times's take on Pinker.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Using Linguistics to Reveal the Flaws in Psychological Experiments

When Implicature Fails
In a recent New York Times review of Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), by 2002 Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, science writer Jim Holt observes that "Our everyday conversation takes place against a rich background of unstated expectations — what linguists call 'implicatures.' Such implicatures can seep into psychological experiments."  To see how Holt deploys this key concept in linguistics to dismantle some of Kahneman's claims, click here to read the full article (which is interesting in itself:  Kahneman argues that human rationality is over-rated).  Click here and here and to learn more about implicature.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Vonnegut: Kate Bosworth's Eyes Are Like Hillbilly English

Bosworth has Heterochromia Iridum
Today is the birthday of writer Kurt Vonnegut born in Indianapolis (1922).  In an 1999 essay titled, "How To Write With Style," he summed up seven important points. One of these concerned the value of English dialects.  It reads:

"I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench. In some of the more remote hollows of Appalachia, children still grow up hearing songs and locutions of Elizabethan times. Yes, and many Americans grow up hearing a language other than English, or an English dialect a majority of Americans cannot understand. All these varieties of speech are beautiful, just as the varieties of butterflies are beautiful. No matter what your first language, you should treasure it all your life. If it happens to not be standard English, and if it shows itself when your write standard English, the result is usually delightful, like a very pretty girl with one eye that is green and one that is blue. I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have? The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago."