Linguistic Anthropology

The study of language has been part of anthropology since the discipline started in the 1ate 1870s. This site is a place for linguistic anthropologists to post their work and discuss important events and trends in the field.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Even if the intelligence of a single person can be buffeted by framing and other bounds on rationality, this does not mean that we cannot hope for something better from the fruits of many people thinking together--that is, from the collective intelligence in institutions such as history, journalism, and science, which have been explicitly designed to overcome those limitations through open debate and the testing of hypotheses with data.
-Steven Pinker, "Block that Metaphor!" The New Republic, October 2006

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.
-Agent Kay, Men in Black, 1997

Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker believes that people are rational. His review of Whose Freedom? by George Lakoff argues that, contrary to Lakoff's emphasis on the form of political speech, rational human beings pay attention to the logic of ideas rather than mere language. Even when individuals don't, he suggests in the quote above, institutions such as journalism lead us back to this rational course.

Current coverage of "LipstickOnAPig-Gate" (more than 1,500 media mentions since Tuesday, according to Google News) suggests, however, that both individuals and the press as an institution are more excited by form than by rational argument.

Quiz question: Does anyone remember what logical point Obama was trying to make when he deployed this folksy idiom?

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3 Comments:

Blogger Steven said...

Most linguistic anthropologists and aspiring linguistic anthropologists I think understand that Stephen Pinker makes claims in his popular work that go well beyond what can actually be supported with data and observation. What is most surprising to me is that no one has taken the time to argue for a contrary position in a public forum.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Chad Nilep said...

For positions contrary to Pinker's see, e.g., Jerry Fodor The Mind Doesn't Work That Way (on general cognition and psychology) or George Lakoff Don't Think of an Elephant! (on political thought and rhetoric). And since Lakoff's book is addressed to "progressives", I'll also mention conservative pollster Frank Luntz's Words That Work, which isn't addressed to cognition but to communication - perhaps fitting for this blog.

9:51 AM  
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