Steven Pinker is a Psychologist, Cognitive Scientist, and Linguist at Harvard University. In the video, he talks about language, how it works, how it is processed, how it is acquired and finally how it is computed in the human brains.In the first place, he discusses what language is and what language is not.one of the most important features of language is being distinctive; it distinct the human from the other creatures.
The second feature is that it is essential for human life. It is the best vehicle to communicate, to share knowledge, to coordinate actions by means of words. The next is to be mysterious. There are so many studies about how language evolved in this species, how the brain computed the language, and as a consequence of these studies, there are different predictions and a lot of hypotheses, but none of them are certain. The other features are it has practical applications and it is central to human life. When we look at our daily lives, the language is everywhere. On the other hand, language is not a written language.
(Darwin)The people have instinctive tendency to learn a language, they don’t afford to gain the mother tongue, but they cannot learn the writing instinctively, they need to build constructions and go to the school. Moreover, language is not a proper grammar. Linguists divide grammar into two; descriptive grammar (how people speak) and the prescriptive grammar (how people should speak). In spoken language, people don’t have to focus on every detail of the grammar, so they can make mistakes. Also, there are differences between the rules of a language because of the places, times, nations, accents and etc. finally, we shouldn’t confuse the language with the thought.
It is the way of thinking of our brain. We need it to understand language, but it is not a language itself. Thanks to mind, we can understand what meant to be said, we take the meaning, content (semantics), but we don’t memorize every word what is said. If language is thought, we must think its origin.
Language is not invented by the creatures or aliens; rather it is a grassroots phenomenon. People invent the new expressions of thought, jargons, and slangs, new constructions according to their lives going on. If it were thought, human would be incapable of thinking without language, but language is a vehicle for human to express their thoughts. That doesn’t mean the language doesn’t affect the thought. Language influences how one perceive and conceptualize the world (Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis). In the second place, Mr.
Pinker explains how language works. He divides language into three groups; words, rules, interface.To start with, what is a word? It is the smallest unit of sentences. The words are stored in the long-term memory in the human brain. It called mental lexicon or mental dictionary.
This part of the brain has a big capacity; it stores the meanings and the sounds of words. Moreover, there is an arbitrary relation between form and meaning. Secondly, we combine the words in the direction of the rules into the phrases and sentences.
When we say rules in a language, the idea of grammar rise up. Every language has their own grammar rules such as tenses, articles, pronouns, propositions and etc. In this part, Mr. Pinker talks about Noam Chomsky’s studies and contributions of language.
One of them is ‘focus on creativity’ (productivity). Mankind’s nature has a tendency to produce and understand new sentences. We don’t memorize all sentences in the world; rather we learn grammar rules and words, then we combine new sentences, so one can understand a sentence never heard before. The next is syntax; language has syntax, not related to the meaning; it is related to order. We can make up a sentence semantically meaningless, but syntactically perfect. Mr. Pinker gives an example; ‘Colourless green ideas sleep furiously’ when we look at the sentences, there is no way colourless green because green is a colour itself, but it is ok syntactically.
On the other hand, syntax doesn’t consist of linear associations. it means we can see two unrelated words together in syntax. In addition, sentences are assembled in a hierarchical structure in syntax. It looks like a tree. So we can sum up contributions of Chomsky as open-ended creativity (productivity) and expressions of unfamiliar meanings.
Finally, interface refers to understand language coming from others to produce language that others can understand us.In the third place, Mr Pinker focuses on language acquisition by children. They acquire a language through a subconscious process during which they are unaware of grammatical rules. They need a source of natural communication in order to acquire the language.
This source is definitely their parents, the people around them. First, kids listen to them so many times. Language acquisition refers to a subconscious process of internalizing language and its rules. (Children are hard-wired with Universal Grammar) Chomsky believes that humans have an innate universal grammar; all humans share one basic common grammar. His theory claims that we are born with certain grammar rules which are programmed into our minds, so kids use language rules and generalizations from the moment they begin to speak. Then, when they are 2, they create original sentences. They can create sentences unheard from adult using rules in their mind.
On the other hand, they can make mistakes while producing new sentences by generalizing. For example; in the past tense rule, the kids use –ed for the verbs in the sentences, but it is not valid for the irregular verbs. They are pre-wired with a universal grammar. Finally, Mr.
Pinker has some critiques of Chomsky. These are · Universal Grammar is not necessarily specific to language.· Chomsky only studied a small number of languages, not all 6000 languages. He is not able to observe UG in all languages, so he didn’t collect enough data for the proof his studies.· Other Learning models might disprove the theory of universal grammar.