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The Prism of Grammar: How Child Language Illuminates Humanism (Bradford Books) Hardcover – April 1, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0262182522 ISBN-10: 0262182521

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Editorial Reviews


"This engaging, perceptive, and wide-ranging study investigates individual languages in terms of the challenges they pose for the child as well as their often surprising relations to other languages and to the general principles that constitute the genetically-determined language faculty. It goes on to unravel prejudices and misunderstandings, and to offer a more general conception of how the mind functions and of our place in a community of mutual respect and understanding. Lucid and engaging, The Prism of Grammar leads the reader from striking observations and experiments with children that anyone can carry out to subtle and intricate issues that concern every parent—in fact, anyone seeking to understand who we are and what we should be."
Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor, MIT

"For three decades, Tom Roeper has been one of the most acute observers of semantic and grammatical subtleties in children’s speech, and one of the most creative thinkers on how to connect linguistic theory with language acquisition research. It is nice to have his insights collected into a book, which will be a source of ideas for years to come."
Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Language Instinct, Words and Rules, and The Stuff of Thought

"It has been said that as children we wrestle with the deepest mysteries of our time—the mind-body problem, the existence of God—but that adulthood's common emphasis on conformity purges this intellectual curiosity. In Tom Roeper's able hands we are treated to a journey back to this period of intense curiosity and mental growth—one characterized by an exuberance of questions and comments, each reflecting intricate computations of the mind. But Roeper goes further and, with great courage and insight, attempts to show how the study of child language illuminates a much broader range of topics, from our capacity for free will to our often unconscious prejudices."
Marc D. Hauser, Harvard College Professor, author of Moral Minds

"Tom Roeper has an unmatched flair for identifying simple examples and spelling out both their amazing complexity and the richness of their theoretical implications. In this intriguing, ingenious, idiosyncratic and inspirational book he illustrates the enormity of the child's task in learning the simplest facts, from the meaning of 'it' to the contrast between 'painting a grey house' and 'painting a house grey'. He uses these and a wide variety of other examples to suggest practical activities for parents and researchers to indulge in with children. Most importantly, he emphasizes the educational and ethical consequences of taking child language seriously. This book will influence people's thinking not only on language acquisition but on human dignity and the nature of mind."
Neil Smith, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, University College London

About the Author

Tom Roeper, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts, has studied child language for thirty years, and is a co-author of the Diagnostic Evaluation of Language Variation (DELV), co-editor of Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics, and one of the founding editors of Language Acquisition. He has worked on numerous grants from National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health in the US and other national science foundations in Canada, Europe and Asia. He has lectured all over the world on these topics.

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Product Details

  • Series: Bradford Books
  • Hardcover: 372 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (April 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262182521
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262182522
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,677,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am a lingjuist who works primarily in child language and theoretical
morphology. I have been working for 30 years on this topic and it has
led to work in Communication Disorders and a test for disorders called
DELV which specializes in identifying speakers of African American
English who also have disorders.
MOre about me: I have been involved in the Civil Rights movement,
in anti-war activities from the war in Vietnam to the war in Irag.

My book, the Prism of Grammar, seeks to connect the logic of
generative gramamr with humanistic ideas about human creativity and
social creativity, along with giving parents a sense of the special
dignity of children that emerges from their language.
I am always glad to hear anecdotes and quotations about children
or feedback on how the explorations that I have proposed go.
My book has been not only used by parents but by teachers from
7th grade to graduate students in linguistics. So I hope it has
broad appeal

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Pearson on January 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I helped in the early stages of editing this book, but I don't think my small involvement should bar me from recommending a truly wonderful book. Prism is one of a kind. It's simple to read and also incredibly sophisticated. We have all heard toddlers and young children talk with their quaint ways of expressing things, but no one hears them like Tom Roeper does.

For example, have you noticed the difference between "oops" and "uh-oh"? The explanation on page 40 points it out. That is, if a big dog comes at you and you drop a tray of glasses you are carrying, you can say "uh-oh" to express your fears about the dog OR your dismay at dropping the glasses, but you can't say "oops" about the dog, just about dropping the glasses. The book gives you just the right stories to help find out if your child has figured out that you can't use "oops" for things unless you had a hand in them. My 33-month-old granddaughter got the difference, without a second's hesitation.

Another one of my favorites is an experiment from a colleague that Roeper has turned into an "exploration" for us. It's a very clear difference between "a" and "the" that you might think is too small for a child to pay attention to. You show the child a row of ducks (or pennies, or anything you have handy), and say "Here's a row of ducks. Take a duck." Then request either, "Now give me a duck," or "Now give me the duck." For "a duck," the children are invited to select a new duck for you. If they are sensitive to the difference, for "the duck," they will surrender the duck they just took (p. 71).
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By Librum VINE VOICE on November 1, 2013
Format: Paperback
TPoG is a brilliant meditation on Chomskyan linguistics, child language acquisition, and the relation of both to philosophy of mind. It is not an exhaustive treatment, but, within its scope, a rigorously well-argued one. TPoG is chock full of fascinating facts about language and the developing mind, incisive critiques of certain less rigorous approaches to the analysis of both, as well as compelling hypotheses and -- in many instances -- suggestions for how they might be empirically pursued. Though Roeper is the first to admit that his thinking on some of the most worrying philosophical and linguistic problems may prove wrong, the positions he stakes he defends quite masterfully. TPoG is, if nothing else, food for great thought. It's a superb addition to the literature.
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By Amy B. on February 25, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a required textbook for a course I am taking on language acquisition. It is easy to follow and provides interesting and relevant examples. It has a little more embellishment than I am used to. That is probably because it is intended more as a guide for parents or others who want to learn about child language, but it suffices as a textbook too.
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