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Running Head: The Complexity of Language and Thought RelationshipThe Complexity of Language and Thought RelationshipA Book Review on Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought2014-68150University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon CityIn partial fulfillment of the coursePsychology 145: Psychology of LanguageRunning Head: THE COMPLEXITY OF LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT RELATIONSHIP2The Complexity of Language and Thought RelationshipThis book basically dwells and investigates the structures and features of language.Aside from that, it also considers the aspects that these structures reveal about the creatureswho invented, uses and cultivate it—-human beings. It boils down to the question of how doesthe way we build language affect the way we think.The book consists of 9 chapters and each one has presented different facets forpsycholinguistics throughout the entirety of the writing. The first few chapters generally talkedabout the different basic units of thinking presented by our language. The author related it tothe concepts of time, space and causality that are both not compatible to quantum andNewtonian physical world. The first chapter focused on the relationship of words and thethings that revolve around a human being—community, thought, social emotions, etc. Thesecond one was about how framing of events through the language use (e.g. like how thesentence) is arranged might give different construal of the reality. The next 2 chapters (3 and4), dealt with how human’s construal of time and space is actually facilitated by our language.This chapter seems to be explained from different perspective like in linguistics, physics adphilosophy. Chapter 5 discussed metaphor and how important it is in human dialogue. It alsoargued on how metaphor is so conventional that the original meaning that it implies is lost inour automatic processing. Chapter 6 was fun to read since it included the art of namingemployed by humans. He even analyzed his own making the excerpt interesting to read. The7th chapter was all about profanity in language. It presented how swearing is descriptive andhilarious and gives a chance to humans to express themselves fully in relation to the emotionthat they feel. The next chapter, 8, contains the idea that our language is a bridge for us tointeract in the social world. We are social animals after all, who rely on interaction with fellowhuman beings. Lastly, in the final chapter, Pinker used Plato’s allegory of the cave to compareRunning Head: THE COMPLEXITY OF LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT RELATIONSHIP3our skull as an equivalent of the cave that imprisons us from these thoughts. This mind onlyconstructs the shadows of the happenings in the world, not the reality. In this chapter also,Pinker had given the gist of the book. We could observe that this book revolves on the ideathat human beings create their understanding of the world that is far different from what reallyhappened empirically. Humans do this by making use of characterization which is discussedin the book as “picking out some aspects of a situation and ignoring others” (Pinker, 2007)making a certain event be interpreted and construed in different ways. Thesecharacterizations are done in our thoughts in basic units. This implies that human beings tryto make sense of the world by creating schematic models. Lastly, this book emphasizes theidea that humans create these things in their thoughts with respect to emotion andrelationships. All of these things are possible through the use of language. That in the end, wewould realize and explore who we are just by looking our language speech.Body of the ReviewFirst, I will be presenting the most striking arguments made by the author in this book.I will be presenting my verdict for each of it and evidences from other studies will bepresented. Apparent in the book is how Pinker counter argues the ideas of George Lakoff onmetaphor. In a study conducted by Thibodeau and Boroditsky (2011), the proponents foundout how metaphors influence the way that human beings reason about complex issues.Particularly, they conducted 5 experiments which concluded that (1) even the subtlestmetaphor has impact on how people solve problems, (2) metaphorical effect is covert, (3)metaphors invite structurally consistent inferences, (4) influence how we conceptualize andreact with societal issues and lastly, (5) exposure to metaphor induce differences in opinionabout how to solve social problems. The following evidences imply that metaphor is usefuland is taking active part in our life as human beings. This idea is originally based on the worksRunning Head: THE COMPLEXITY OF LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT RELATIONSHIP4of the theorist George Lakoff. Apparently, if we look at the theory superficially, everyone mightseem to agree with the premises that our empirical senses are responsible for ourcategorization of conceptual metaphors namely—force, space…etc. But what does Pinkerhas to say on this theory? On the other side of the coin, Pinker was questioning the humanrational thought that is not governed and controlled by metaphors. To define, human rationalthought might be a higher-level mental state that is not restricted to metaphors. It has been abig issue since Lakoff has been involved in politics in the USA siding and helping theDemocrats against the Republicans. To sum up, Lakoff argues that our metaphor build andconstruct the abstract thinking for the foundation of science, mathematics and philosophy.This aspect of the theory was counter argued by Pinker evidently in his book. It was a brilliantmove for Pinker to fight Lakoff’s ideas by framing it as cognitive relativism. First, let’s set andclear up the premises. In Pinker’s book, he acknowledges and supports Lakoff on the ideathat yes, metaphors are important and come from empirical sensory inputs and mostimportantly, influences human’s cognition. What Pinker does not support is the idea thatmetaphor is the mechanism of thought. What he wants to present is that metaphor is only thecontent of these mechanism because our thought are more rational and above than metaphorif we put in in ranking.When I was reading Pinker’s arguments, I have really wondered if which one of themis actually correct. I would like to give my verdict on this by using an example of a metaphoritself. I would have to need to choose between the side of our cognition being controlled bymetaphors or humans use metaphors to perform rational thought. The metaphor “early bird”seemed to be a very common example for me. When I hear it, I don’t even think about that itis a metaphor. This phrase is automatically incorporated in my conversation and speech.Even though that is the case, I am sure to say that, “No, metaphors do not control ourRunning Head: THE COMPLEXITY OF LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT RELATIONSHIP5cognition, rather, we humans make use of metaphor to suit our needs and for our advantage.”We have the ability to analyze their analogical counterpart, which makes us think critically ofthem. In this case, I am supporting Pinker’s ideas. Nonetheless, I think it would also be goodto leave some area for reservation. I have come through an article online (Bures, 2016),which argued that “Metaphors do not control our thoughts, but they can set boundariesaround the way we think.” He even tapped on the metaphor’s Greek origin to raise hisargument. In Greek, ‘metapherein’ means “to transfer” which could mean that a metaphor’suse is to transfer or a quality of a thing to another thing. This meaning set the parameter onhow we consider our look at things and how will we make sense of stimuli.Another theory that he attacked is the neo-Whorfian hypothesis on the relation oflanguage and thought. Pinker seems to be firm by framing his opponents’ side as “linguisticdeterminism”. When I realized that he had done that in his book, I became skeptical about hiscounterarguments. Personally, when we took up the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in mypsycholinguistic class, I was really convinced that the weak version of it is true and happeningin real life. I was impressed by how the experiments were conducted systematically makingme not question their results of support for the hypothesis. Although Pinker’s side might firmlysay that “Whorf strongly argues that language is the only thing that influences our thought”, Iwould firmly believe to elevate and fight for the weak version. The weak version of the S-Whypothesis is the idea that language is one of the many influences to our thoughts.Pinker also proclaims that contrary to what is known, S-W hypothesis supports 2 kindsof thinking, linguistic and non-linguistic. But Whorf had firmly stated in his passage that “allthinking is linguistic”. The emphasis is the use of “all” meaning there are no other means, onlylinguistic. I don’t support Whorf here solely, because I also have a question on why did heRunning Head: THE COMPLEXITY OF LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT RELATIONSHIP6claim that in his hypothesis, because well in fact, as mentioned by Bermúdez (2003), thereare kinds of thinking being used by nonhuman animals, prelinguistic infants and earlyhominids. What could be a good conviction for Whorf is that he only talks about humansequipped with language. He might be arguing for the mechanism of how postlinguistic humanbeings think. Arguably, we think about things by using the language that we have. Apart fromthat, the radical pragmatism theory also was not spared form Pinker’s counterarguments. Inhis book, he argued that word meaning can support our reasoning because they representlawful aspects of reality, space, time, causality, objects, intentions, and logic rather than thesystem of noises that developed in a community to allow them to communicate. The latter isthe facet presented by Pinker to point out the radical pragmatism.The last big section of the book that I want to comment on is the chapter he devotedfor profanity and swearing. This is an interesting topic for me since I once made a conceptpaper for my English class about this a few semesters ago. I have already encounteredPinker’s assumptions that we have 5 different ways to swear—(1) descriptively (Let’s fuck),(2) Idiomatically (It’s fucked up), (3) Abusively (Fuck you), (4) Empathically (This is fuckingamazing) and (5) cathartically (Fuck!!!!). This is a perfect application and concrete example ofthe study of language and human behavior merge in the form of psycholinguistics. It wasamazing to understand the aspect of swearing by removing its taboo aspect. I support whatPinker has tried to establish in the advantages and disadvantages of swearing and lifting it outof being a taboo. In the last few sections of this chapter he emphasized that if swearing will beoverused and desensitized, it will deprive us of a linguistic instrument that we sorely need.This is true in all forms because when we get used to of doing a thing, we end up doing it notbecause it is what is needed, but merely ‘swearing’ just because you got used to it and it justdoesn’t evoke a strong emotion and need anymore. Its emotional power would be neglectedRunning Head: THE COMPLEXITY OF LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT RELATIONSHIP7and its function to express these emotions will be gone. It is very common, for example to usFilipino that our parents would discourage us from hearing profanity at young age and they tryto remind us from refraining to use those ‘bad words’. They even incorporated different aspectto it like religion in which God would not like it to hear. Maybe this strategy is a good way topreserve the functionality of swearing. It is a subtle way of how we protect its essence tohuman conversation and speech. Superficially, we regard swear words just because we areformed to think of it that way and were raised to consider it as something that is related toevilness. When I did my research about it, I was able to realize that it is so unfair for swearwords to be considered like that, well in fact we are making use of it to the fullest to accountfor our need in emotional expression. An interesting example of the positive importance ofswearing is when a researcher had done a naturalistic observation study on the use of swearwords. As cited in Stephens (2015) online article, the experiment started as an exploration ofzoologist in the Arctic Norway and apparently a trainee psychologist happened to be there.The psychologist had tried to tracked down his companions’ utterance of swear words. Thisthen boiled down to his conclusion that there were two situations that makes his companionswear—(1) swearing increased when relaxed and happy and (2) when things went wrong.The first one is what is known to be the “social wearing”. It is a good manifestation thatswearing is not automatically connected and fixed with aggressive behavior. Swearing has anactual positive aspect in nature and we need to acknowledge that. The other one which is,yes, the more popular facet—the “annoyance swearing”.In addition to that, another important conclusion about swearing should be considered. It isa recent claim by Stephens (2017), that we gain benefits from swearing. The controversialthing here is that, the benefit that he mentioned is—we become tolerant of pain whenever weswear. He was able to prove that by conducting an experiment and asking his participants toRunning Head: THE COMPLEXITY OF LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT RELATIONSHIP8repeat a swear word while performing handgrip test and cycling test. It is an evident ofstrength to the participants because they were able to perform well beyond expectation.Another controversial claim was concluded in the study of Schrer (2005), which claimed thatswearing has a positive effect on persuasion in a pro-attitudinal speech. Apart from that,swearing in public would also make the audience like you more and support your ideas.Swearing indeed has a positive use and importance to human beings. Research is stillprogressing, and we might not know what other shocking effects of swearing would bebrought up in these future studies.So far, those 4 things were the most striking contents in this book. I think they are agood enough reason for people to be convinced to give this a book a try. Although the topicsmight have been concise and maybe a little bit lack in elaboration to fit in the small book, thetopics are interesting enough especially when you have a great knowledge onpsycholinguistics or even if you are just an interested fella to this discipline.ConclusionMy comprehensive judgment for this book might be summarized into three aspects:enlightening, engaging but not promising. First, I could say that his book is full ofenlightenment because he did not fail to introduce and give justice to every theory and ideasthat he presented. He gives his reader a full understanding of what is being talked about andhe makes sure that it is enough so that the weighing in of arguments will be fair. I was alsoeducated with some interesting constructs that are present in the English language—namelythe use of container-locatives and content locative as so with prepositional datives. Thedifferent big theories that he apparently tried to debunk were also clearly defined and given acomplete overview. His writing style by incorporating those facts makes the book to give anRunning Head: THE COMPLEXITY OF LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT RELATIONSHIP9impression of nerdy thing but only when you read it, we get to be amused of how heintegrated it to be informative but at the same time not boring.Second, I can affirm that the book was really amusing to read. First few pages of thebook really catched my attention when he made use of the 9-11 attack incident as anexample of how language use would construct events in different ways. The example wasappropriate and the thought that Pinker wants to share was strengthened and explained moreclearly. He even incorporated reality of our social relationships by mentioning bribery as oneof our relationship negotiations. His anecdotes that he gave in the book really made me lookforward to flip and read the next pages.Lastly, this may not be so positive as the first two comments. When he tried to counterargue with some of the big theories, I was really looking for his final verdicts. Yes, he made agood job in pointing out the flaws of these theories but what is lacking in him is he failed toconstruct his own concrete and systematic theory. I did not like his way of doing straw mantechnique when he tried to refute these theories. Especially on the S-W hypothesis, he tried todivide the theory into pieces so that he would be able to easily debunk it.As soon as I read the title that includes the “stuff”, I have already realized that Pinkerintended to put it that way because he wants to be inclusive and welcoming on anything thatmight be related to language to increase the substance of the debate. It is an amazing readfor me as a social science student since he incorporated in his writing not only what theexperiment and results are but also how the researchers have done it by presenting theirmethod. It was an easy read since I could relate and I am interested on these kinds ofscientific research. This book also gives a holistic view of the issues that it tried to solve. ItRunning Head: THE COMPLEXITY OF LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT RELATIONSHIP10incorporated various disciplinary perspectives to account for all the missing gaps andunexplained aspects of the concerned subject matter. It had given me the idea that in theacademe, a more holistic view is more encompassing and has a better chance of not gettingdebunked because of the backing up support of these different views. Pinker had given strongand moving arguments about these different topics in psycholinguistics and he gave a chancefor his reader to weigh in which is more promising between the two sides of the debate. Hisbook might be persuasive enough considering also his background who is a genius in thispsycholinguistics discipline, his readers should be critical enough in analyzing his arguments.After all, it is still better if different minds will construe the truth in these theories for us to beable to have a final verdict and help our everyday life more understandable and manageablethrough these theories.I have no specific questions to state but I would like to commend on how Pinker hassynthesized the reason and function of profanity in our everyday life as I have discussedearlier. It seems to be applicable to us especially when we have issues of our president’sprofanity. Pinker’s arguments might explain how some people have grown fond of thepresident despite this while others are beckoned in their deepest emotions that eventuallymaking them getting hurt.It is also commendable that he was thoughtful enough to help the human beingsdespite being in the tyranny of the cave. He was able to construct different aspects that dealwith human beings to make the solution more probable to understand. Just by reading the lastchapter of the book, even though he presented that we are being slaves of our mind, for somereason, he has also given us the ways in which how we can get out of that tyranny. Hementioned that through the use of language’s conceptual metaphor, we could be able to takeour concepts of space, time and causality away from the physical contents that they areRunning Head: THE COMPLEXITY OF LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT RELATIONSHIP11aimed for. Rather, these concepts will be applied to the residual framework to airier subjectmatters (Pinker, 2007). Apart from that, he also mentioned that we could use the power ofinfinite use of our language to construct the empirical events that usually happen in oursurrounding. This will lead us away to the limitation of what our present language structureand rules are giving us for our worldview. In addition to these 2 ways, he also mentioned thatwe should not be fixated in relying on our emotions because sometimes we can be divertedfrom reality when it infuses our language. It may seem a common knowledge but it wasimportant for him to emphasize this because sometimes people use emotion to deceive otherpeople, what more if our mind use it against us, to deceive our own selves. Nonetheless, weshould not give up on believing in our language. Even though it does not actively help us getaway from this imprisonment in the cave without our active action as human beings, it at leastshows us the way to venture out of it. His example of managing the freedom of Americans byachieving the liberal democracy was a product of the powerful language that we have, thatapparently has a big help for us humans to live in this social world.Running Head: THE COMPLEXITY OF LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT RELATIONSHIP12ReferencesBermúdez, J. L. (2003). Thinking without words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Bures, F. (2016). How Thinking of the Body as a Machine Affects Healthcare. RetrievedDecember 10, 2017, from, O. (2017, September 06). The Social Benefits of Swearing. Retrieved December 11,2017, from, S. (2007). The stuff of thought: language as a window into human nature. London:Penguin Books.Sample, I. (2017, May 04). Strong language: swearing makes you stronger, psychologistsconfirm. Retrieved December 11, 2017, from, C. (2005, April 11). Indecent influence: The positive effects of obscenity onpersuasion. Retrieved December 9, 2017, from, R. (2015, July 11). The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letterwords? Retrieved December 10, 2017, from, P. H., & Boroditsky, L. (2011). Metaphors We Think With: The Role of Metaphorin Reasoning. PLoS ONE, 6(2). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016782  

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