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on November 18, 2006
I have long been a Steven Pinker fan. It is great to have a neurologist appear who can explain the workings of the brain in a fairly easy to understand, often humorous and precise way. Words & Rules, though made my head hurt. I felt a little like the rat in Flowers for Algernon: a vague feeling that I might have understood this more easily at one time not too long ago, but boy is this difficult to wade through now. Which is to say I blame myself rather than Pinker. I think it's a very difficult subject and my tenuous grasp of grammar didn't help. Unlike his previous books, an actual understanding of the parts of speech helps here.

That said, delving into the minutiae of how the brain works is ultimately rewarding, even if I only understood maybe 75% of this. Watching vicariously as Pinker et al close in how how we think and talk is truly awesome. I find myself paying close attention to how I speak; how I hesitate in choosing words; what associations I seem to need to find a word or person... . Very cool, though you can probably get sucked into some kind of fugue state if you overdo it.

Still highly recommended, but make sure you're snowed in somewhere and have a lot of coffee.

George
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on August 9, 2010
Psychologist, linguist, and well-known author Steven Pinker illustrates the processes of human language through an extended discussion of regular and irregular verbs. He skillfully uses our grade-school struggles with the rules and exceptions of English vocabulary to explore the larger realm of human language competence. "Like fruit flies, regular and irregular verbs are small and easy to breed, and they contain, in easily visible form, the machinery that powers larger phenomena in all their glorious complexity."

Pinker's book explores in great detail the two different systems of the brain that produce language. One is regular and rule-like and produces patterns that range from the regular forms of some verbs to the grammatical and organizational regularities of larger chunks of language. The other is idiosyncratic and irregular and stores pieces of our linguistic competence that frustrate linguists and second-graders alike. Our working language is shaped by the interplay between these systems. They both leave their traces in the historical changes in language, similarities between different languages, the creative mistakes children and adults make while learning language, and in the way we invent and reinvent new words.

This book is recommended to anyone who wants to understand how our mind enables us to use language. Don't worry about being trapped into a narrow dissection of verbs--the book simply uses them as an increasingly-familiar theme to explore larger language issues. And don't shrink from an imagined tangle of technical terminology. Pinker's use of language is as deft as his grasp of it. His book is an enjoyable, as well as an informative read.
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on January 30, 2002
Having a 25-year-old degree in linguistics, I was pleased to read this book, refreshing my memory on some matters but for the most part showing that the field continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Focusing on a fairly narrow area ("irregular" verbs and also nouns in English and also other languages), the author presents theories to account for this aspect of language, and the experiments which tend to support or refute those theories. Not surprisingly perhaps, his own theories fare pretty well. Since the focus is somewhat narrow, I would recommend that you first read another of Pinker's language books. (The author would probably enjoy MacDonald's "Lilith" if only to add examples of glide/glode crow/crown to his collection of English irregular verbs!)
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on June 4, 2011
As many other's have pointed out, this book has been inappropriately marketed. Having some background in neuroscience and some possible future work in the linguistics field, I had reasonable expectations that this would be a mid-level overview of the structure and functioning of language with regard to our brains' techniques for processing / producing it. This is fairly far from the mark. It is instead mostly about the actual words and rules of language - specifically english verbs. I felt like I was back in 7th grade grammar class as he carried on example after example ad infinitum. I first started skimming, then skipping paragraphs, chapters... the rest of the book.

It is very well written - amazingly so at times - and I think if the above is what your after you will not be let down. I debated not reviewing it though given the nature of the expectations (based on comments, reviews, etc.) I think my sentiments will hold true for many would be readers --> Make sure this is the material you think it is before buying. Most would be better off grabbing one of this other works (language instinct, blank slate).
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on January 7, 2013
Great book. It's not as much of a quick read as I had hoped but it was worth the money.
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on January 30, 2016
Excellent book! A guide for learning linguistics.
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on October 19, 2015
One of my favorite books.
If you like to read books which are somewhere along the spectrum between a textbook and a popular science book, this is a great read for you.
It gives many examples of interesting phenomena in a few languages, and it made me think of these ideas relating to languages I know.
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on April 21, 2017
very good
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on May 28, 2016
Haven't finished it yet but very instructive
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on August 22, 2015
The excellent quality one expects from Pinker.
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