Friday, January 26, 2007

Words and World

An inside secret about Language is the extreme degree to which it is metaphorical: that is, perhaps most of our lexicon is simply an application of images from the external world. Consider the word "understand." It means, literally, "to stand under" and that is the original sense of "understanding" something.

Steven Pinker is one of the world's great minds: until 2003, he taught in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, now Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, authour of The Language Instinct, The Blank Slate, and How the Mind Works. These books are renown for being both intellectual and extremely funny: Pinker, a Canadian unacknowledged here in his own country, is a superior writer to most published novelists.

Pinker has a new book about language due later this year: The Stuff of Thought. He has this interview in the Toronto Star.

Says Pinker: "Look at almost any passage and you'll find that a paragraph has five or six metaphors in it. It's not that the speaker is trying to be poetic, it's just that that's the way language works.

"Rather than occasionally reaching for a metaphor to communicate, to a very large extent communication is the use of metaphor," he says.

It could be that 95 per cent of our speech is metaphorical, if you go back far enough in language."

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