I’ve got a review of Pinker’s latest in The Washington Post:
Language comes so naturally to us that it’s easy to believe there’s some sort of intrinsic logic connecting the thing and its name, the signifier and the signified. In one of Plato’s dialogues, a character named Cratylus argues that “a power more than human gave things their first names.”
But Cratylus was wrong. Human language is an emanation of the human mind. A thing doesn’t care what we call it. Words and their rules don’t tell us about the world; they tell us about ourselves.
That’s the simple premise behind Steven Pinker’s latest work of popular science . According to the Harvard psychologist, people are “verbivores, a species that lives on words.” If you want to understand how the brain works, how it thinks about space and causation and time, how it processes emotions and engages in social interactions, then you need to plunge “down the rabbit hole” of language. The quirks of our sentences are merely a portal to the mind.