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The Atoms of Language: The Mind's Hidden Rules of Grammarby Mark C. Baker
It's difficult to fathom that the incredible number of languages in the world can be broken down into a small group of shared parameters. Mark Baker shows that this is possible due to a key uniting factor: grammar. His investigation spans the Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, linguistics' resemblance to chemistry, and the evolution of languages. For linguists and non-linguists alike, this book proves fascinating, erudite, and immediately personal to each of us.
Synopses & Reviews
Whether all human languages are fundamentally the same or different has been a subject of debate for ages. This problem has deep philosophical implications: If languages are all the same, it implies a fundamental commonality — and thus the mutual intelligibility — of human thought. We are now on the verge of answering this question. Using a twenty-year-old theory proposed by the world's greatest living linguist, Noam Chomsky, researchers have found that the similarities among languages are more profound than the differences. Languages whose grammars seem completely incompatible may in fact be structurally almost identical, except for a difference in one simple rule. The discovery of these rules and how they may vary promises to yield a linguistic equivalent of the Periodic Table of the Elements: a single framework by which we can understand the fundamental structure of all human language. This is a landmark breakthrough, both within linguistics, which will thereby become a full-fledged science for the first time, and in our understanding of the human mind.
"Baker's is the first book aimed at a general readership that outlines the nuts and bolts of one of the main courses of current linguistics training and research — what is called the 'Principles and Parameters' school." Books & Culture
"A welcome introduction to what many linguists are actually engaged in every day, helping to fill a glaring gap in the popular nonfiction literature." Books & Culture
"The Atoms of Language...is for linguistic heavy hitters, but his discussion of the Navajo 'code talkers' is an ear-opener." The New York Times
"A significant contribution to the field....Recommended for undergraduates, graduates, faculty, and general readers." Choice
"A unique and lucid treatment of the structure and diversity of language." C&RL News
"Though Baker's comparison between linguistics and chemistry...may seem extreme to some, his clarification of complicated linguistics theories is more accessible than most. Sadly, few Americans care about word order (even in English), so this significant book may only get attention from specialists and libraries." Publishers Weekly
This skillfully crafted work...combines acute theoretical insight, deep understanding of a wide variety of typologically different languages, and impressive lucidity. It is a wonderful and valuable achievement."--Noam Chomsky
Includes bibliographical references (p. -262) and index.
About the Author
Mark C. Baker is a professor in the Department of Linguistics and the Center for Cognitive Science at Rutgers University. He lives in Camden, New Jersey.
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