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Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language

06/13/2003 11:00 AM 3-170
Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology; Harvard University;

Description: Why does a three year-old say "I went," then six months later start saying "I goed"? When you first heard the word "fax," how did you know the past tense is "faxed"? And why is it that a baseball player is said to have "flied out," but could never have "flown out"?

After fifteen years of studying words in history, in the laboratory, and in everyday speech, Steven Pinker has worked out the dynamic relationship _ searching memory vs. following rules _ that determines the forms our speech takes. In one of his final lectures at MIT Pinker gives the ultimate lecture on verbs, in a rich mixture of linguistics, cognitive neuroscience, and a surprising amount of humor. If you've ever wondered about the plural of Walkman, or why they are called the Toronto Maple Leafs and not Leaves, this lecture provides answers to these and other questions of modern language.

About the Speaker(s): Pinker is the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He returned to Harvard in September 2003 after 21 years at MIT, where he was most recently the Peter de Florez Professor of Psychology in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and a MacVicar Faculty Fellow. A native of Montreal, he received his B.A. from McGill University in 1976 and his Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard in 1979. His scholarship has brought him awards and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Many more awards and worldwide recognition have come from several popular science books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, and most recently, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.

Host(s): School of Science, School of Science

Tape #: T16626

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

Category: Events | Updated over 1 year ago

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