Humans Make Language, Language Makes Us Human
Steven Pinker is a cognitive psychologist interested in language as a window into the human mind. In this excerpt from his linguistics lecture for the Floating University, he illuminates some of the mysteries surrounding children’s hardwired ability to learn language.
In this excerpt from his linguistics lecture for the Floating University, Steven Pinker illuminates some of the mysteries surrounding children’s hardwired ability to learn language.
Language is so central to everything we are and do from toddlerhood on that unless you are a) a linguist or b) right now raising a toddler it’s easy to forget just how amazing our capacity to produce and decode speech actually is. For the most part, language just works – by some mysterious process, people all over the world absorb the complex, underlying rules of their native grammars and store a vast lexicon of words and idioms in long-term memory. Effortlessly, we share stories, make demands, manipulate and delight one another with language. Almost never does the conversation come to a screeching halt as someone reels from vertigo over this linguistic highwire act we’re constantly engaged in.
What's the Significance?
How is this possible? The book presents convincing statistics about the likelihood of dying by violence in different eras, and even takes into account the cataclysmic death tolls of modern wars, but the deeper questions here are how and why a significant portion of humanity has managed to “tame” itself.
If we are, on balance, a less violent, more cooperative species than when we began, language has played an enormous role in this evolution. From the “humanitarian revolution” of the Enlightenment to today’s internet-driven global integration, it is the language that enables us to share and spread transformative ideas. Our meta-examination of language has resulted in the simplified (yet powerful) languages of computers and will one day be instrumental in producing true artificial intelligence – an event that will render our world unrecognizable from the vantage point of today.
Although language is literally “second nature,” understanding how it works is the key to mastering our most valuable tool, the one that is capable of maximizing our species’ capacity for good, or for evil.
Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."
- Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
- Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
- Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
In most states, LGBTQ Americans have no legal protections against discrimination in the workplace.
- The Supreme Court will decide whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also applies to gay and transgender people.
- The court, which currently has a probable conservative majority, will likely decide on the cases in 2020.
- Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws effectively extending the Civil Rights of 1964 to gay and transgender people.
A new method promises to capture an elusive dark world particle.
- Scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) devised a method for trapping dark matter particles.
- Dark matter is estimated to take up 26.8% of all matter in the Universe.
- The researchers will be able to try their approach in 2021, when the LHC goes back online.
No, depression is not just a type of "affluenza" — poor people in conflict zones are more likely candidates
- Often seen as typical of rich societies, depression is actually more prevalent in poor, conflict-ridden countries
- More than one in five Afghans is clinically depressed – a sad world record
- But are North Koreans really the world's 'fourth least depressed' people?
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