29 August 2008

Steven Pinker - The Stuff of Thought

If anyone's in search of a good - yet intellectually stimulating - book, take a look at Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought.
I'm not quite through all of it, but it's a well-researched and accessible read on our speech and what we can learn about our minds through language. I couldn't recommend this more highly for anyone interested in the fields of linguistics, anthropology, or psychology. And it's a scholarly read but doesn't read like a textbook. The examples he chooses are fascinating, and I can apply almost every one to my own use of speech in daily life. There's a bit of an eye-opener when he discusses the distinction between predicating and referring (in the chapter, "Cleaving the Air") in reference to how Google sells noun phrases. Apparently - I didn't previously know this - Google became hugely successful because of its ability to generate successful clicks for advertisers based on a sort of graduated cost system. For example, displaying your company's website in the primary results for the search phrase "digital cameras" is more expensive than for "digital camera" because in the former, which is more referential, the person is likely to be researching brands to buy, while in the latter, generic singular phrase, the person searching is probably just curious about how digital cameras work. Therefore, plurals are more expensive than singulars. Great stuff.

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