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The Fruit Flies of Language,
This review is from: Words And Rules (Science Masters) (Paperback)
Psychologist, linguist, and well-known author Steven Pinker illustrates the processes of human language through an extended discussion of regular and irregular verbs. He skillfully uses our grade-school struggles with the rules and exceptions of English vocabulary to explore the larger realm of human language competence. "Like fruit flies, regular and irregular verbs are small and easy to breed, and they contain, in easily visible form, the machinery that powers larger phenomena in all their glorious complexity."
Pinker's book explores in great detail the two different systems of the brain that produce language. One is regular and rule-like and produces patterns that range from the regular forms of some verbs to the grammatical and organizational regularities of larger chunks of language. The other is idiosyncratic and irregular and stores pieces of our linguistic competence that frustrate linguists and second-graders alike. Our working language is shaped by the interplay between these systems. They both leave their traces in the historical changes in language, similarities between different languages, the creative mistakes children and adults make while learning language, and in the way we invent and reinvent new words.
This book is recommended to anyone who wants to understand how our mind enables us to use language. Don't worry about being trapped into a narrow dissection of verbs--the book simply uses them as an increasingly-familiar theme to explore larger language issues. And don't shrink from an imagined tangle of technical terminology. Pinker's use of language is as deft as his grasp of it. His book is an enjoyable, as well as an informative read.