Folium: Language as a Window into Human Nature via RSA Animate

Folium: Language as a Window into Human Nature via RSA Animate

Folium: Language as a Window into Human Nature via RSA Animate

Folium: Language as a Window into Human Nature via RSA Animate

Steven Pinker is a Harvard College Professor who conducts research regarding language and cognition. He has published seven books and has recently been a presenter for the nonprofit organization TED, which is devoted to “ideas worth sharing” from the realms of technologyentertainment, and design.

(If you’ve never heard of TED Talks I hope this sparks an interest in your intellect and drives you to seek out more informational presentations similar to this one. It’s all extremely interesting educational stuff, I promise!)

In his presentation, which described concepts taken from his newest book, The Stuff of Thought, Pinker declared:

“Language is a window into social relations!”

This seems an obvious statement, doesn’t it? Consider the fact that people relate to others depending most highly on their communication skills. Relationships are created, defined, and demolished by language. This particular video sheds some light on the silly little tricks we English speakers use to – as they say – “save face” to avoid potential confrontation. Steven Pinker calls these “indirect speech acts”, which refers to how a person can say one thing, and have a veiled meaning behind the actual words spoken.

For example:

“If you could please pass the guacamole that would be awesome!”

The speaker of this statement doesn’t really think remarkable and awe-inspiring effects will take place because you passed the guacamole. It is a simple request that relies on the listener’s ability to “read between the lines and entertain a proposition that might be incompatible with (their) relationship.”

In short, Americans often talk in circles either to avoid direct confrontation or facilitate politeness. Somehow, even when both parties are aware of the direct intention, an innuendo or a mere suggestion of the intention is more comfortable to deal with than direct speech.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering: Do native speakers of other languages behave this way linguistically as well? Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for you just yet. Your guess is as good as mine on this one.

I’ll encourage you to continue your studies in languages and if you find an answer with some good examples post in the comment section below!

Ed. – (Alyssa Davis is a guest contributor for LEAF, and we hope to hear more from her in the future!)


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