●Steven Pinker - Articles
- Pinker, S. (2004) Why nature & nurture won't go away. Dædalus
- Interview in Current Biology. Nov. 9, 2004
- Pinker, S. (2005) So How Does the Mind Work? Mind and Language, 20(1), 1-24
- Pinker, S. & Jackendoff, R. (in press) What's special about the human language faculty? Cognition
We examine the question of which aspects of language are uniquely human and uniquely linguistic in light of recent suggestions by Hauser, Chomsky, and Fitch that the only such aspect is syntactic recursion, the rest of language being either specific to humans but not to language (e.g. words and concepts) or not specific to humans (e.g. speech perception). We find the hypothesis problematic. It ignores the many aspects of grammar that are not recursive, such as phonology, morphology, case, agreement, and many properties of words. It is inconsistent with the anatomy and neural control of the human vocal tract. And it is weakened by experiments suggesting that speech perception cannot be reduced to primate audition, that word learning cannot be reduced to fact learning, and that at least one gene involved in speech and language was evolutionarily selected in the human lineage but is not specific to recursion. The recursion-only claim, we suggest, is motivated by Chomsky's recent approach to syntax, the Minimalist Program, which de-emphasizes the same aspects of language. The approach, however, is sufficiently problematic that it cannot be used to support claims about evolution. We contest related arguments that language is not an adaptation, namely that it is “perfect,” non-redundant, unusable in any partial form, and badly designed for communication. The hypothesis that language is a complex adaptation for communication which evolved piecemeal avoids all these problems.
Keywords: Phonology; Communication; Language; Evolution; Minimalism; Syntax
- Berent, I., Pinker, S., Tzelgov, J. , Bibi, U., & Goldfarb, L. (under review) Computation of Semantic Number from Morphological Information.
- Berent, I., Pinker, S., Ghavami, G., Murphy, S. (under review) The Dislike of Regular Plurals in Compounds: Phonological Familiarity or Morphological Constraint?
- Sahin, N., Pinker, S., Halgren, E. (under review) Abstract Grammatical Processing of Nouns and Verbs in Broca's Area: Evidence from fMRI
- The Science of Difference The New Republic, Feb. 14, 2005. Supporting references from the scientific literature
- Interview in The Harvard Crimson on Lawrence Summers' remarks on gender The Harvard Crimson, Jan. 19, 2005
- The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion Presented at the annual meeting of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Madison, Wisconsin, Oct. 29, 2004
- How to Think About the Mind Newsweek, Sept. 27, 2004
- The Seed Salon: Steven Pinker and Rebecca Goldstein Seed, Summer 2004