I picked this book up at a clearance sale at the Palace of the Legion of Honor and found it to be a rather enjoyable read, if not a fast one. Pinker, a cognitive scientist of no small renown, brings the heady subject of how language works, and how the brain produces it, to the masses.
Although this book would probably not be interesting to folks who aren’t already interested in language, linguistiics, and the like, I found it pretty fascinating. Pinker chose to focus on the generation of tenses for regular and irregular verbs and posits that the brain works on each in very different ways: rules for the regular verbs, and a list of words for the irregular ones (hence the book’s title).
He goes into considerable detail on theories of language generation, covering neural networks and language theory in more detail than I really needed. The second half of the book, covering children’s speech, mental conditions that affect language, brain physiology, and comparing various other languages of the world (they all appear to function similarly despite some wide variance in the frequency of regular vs. irregular verbs), was a more interesting read for me than the first, which is mostly laying out the (necessary) groundwork for what follows.
All told I’m glad I happened on this book, and will probably seek out more of Pinker’s writings. His style is informative, yet never condescending, an important trait when the topic is far from most folks’ fields of expertise, and he writes with considerable humor, which is also nice to keep the mind from numbing.
“State of Denial” by Bob Woodward
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