Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Steven Pinker: Language as a window into human nature

Steven Pinker thinks a lot about language and human nature. In this 2007 Pop!Tech presentation he explores the links between indirect speech and social relationships. He manages to break it all down in a relatively simple and lucid manner.

Indirect speech is when we don't say exactly what we mean, but veil our intentions in innuendo, counting on the listener to read between the lines to derive meaning.

It seems like a lot of people live in a world of fairly constant indirect speech. This has led me into trouble in the past. Most commonly, if you tell someone, for example, "That painting needs a little work." many will take this as sarcasm and react differently than you might expect, considering that when you said a little, you were speaking directly and meant that it just needed a little touching up. This is a simpler version of this type of misunderstanding. Others have led to far more complex and distorted exchanges over time.

It's worth the 20 minutes if you get the chance.

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