Publications

2008
Pinker, S. (2008). High Five: My Five Favorite Cartoon Characters. Forbes.
Pinker, S. (2008).

Freedom's Curse: Why Washington's Crusade Against Swearing on the Airwaves is F*cked Up

. The Atlantic, 4-5. Website
Pinker, S. (2008).

Steven Pinker on Al Bregman

. New York Times Magazine. Website
Berent, I., & Pinker, S. (2008). Compound formation is constrained by morphology: A reply to Seidenberg, MacDonald, & Haskell. The Mental Lexicon, 3(2), 176-187.Abstract
Why do compounds containing regular plurals, such as rats-infested, sound so much worse than corresponding compounds containing irregular plurals, such as mice-infested? Berent and Pinker (2007) reported five experiments showing that this theoretically important effect hinges on the morphological structure of the plurals, not their phonological properties, as had been claimed by Haskell, MacDonald, and Seidenberg (2003). In this note we reply to a critique by these authors. We show that the connectionist model they invoke to explain the data has nothing to do with compounding but exploits fortuitous properties of adjectives, and that our experimental results disconfirm explicit predictions the authors had made. We also present new analyses which answer the authors’ methodological objections. We conclude that the interaction of compounding with regularity is a robust effect, unconfounded with phonology or semantics.
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Pinker, S., Nowak, M. A., & Lee, J. J. (2008).

The logic of indirect speech

. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(3), 833-838.Abstract
When people speak, they often insinuate their intent indirectly rather than stating it as a bald proposition. Examples include sexual come-ons, veiled threats, polite requests, and concealed bribes. We propose a three-part theory of indirect speech, based on the idea that human communication involves a mixture of cooperation and conflict. First, indirect requests allow for plausible deniability, in which a cooperative listener can accept the request, but an uncooperative one cannot react adversarially to it. This intuition is sup- ported by a game-theoretic model that predicts the costs and benefits to a speaker of direct and indirect requests. Second, language has two functions: to convey information and to negotiate the type of relationship holding between speaker and hearer (in particu- lar, dominance, communality, or reciprocity). The emotional costs of a mismatch in the assumed relationship type can create a need for plausible deniability and, thereby, select for indirectness even when there are no tangible costs. Third, people perceive language as a digital medium, which allows a sentence to generate common knowledge, to propagate a message with high fidelity, and to serve as a reference point in coordination games. This feature makes an indirect request qualitatively different from a direct one even when the speaker and listener can infer each other’s intentions with high confidence.
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2007
Pinker, S. (2007). In Defense of Dangerous Ideas. Chicago Sun-Times. presented at the 07/15/2007. PDF
Pinker, S. (2007). Why We Love Sunsets (and Other Cliches). Popular Photography. PDF
Pinker, S. (2007). Words Don't Mean What They Mean. Time. Website
Pinker, S. (2007). How Do We Come Up with Words?. The Los Angeles Times. presented at the 09/30/2007.
Pinker, S. (2007). What the F***. The New Republic,. Website
Pinker, S. (2007). My week: Steven Pinker. The Observer. Website
Pinker, S. (2007). Dating, Swearing, Sex and Language: A Conversation with Questions between Steven Pinker and Ian McEwan. Areté: The Arts Tri-Quarterly, 24, Winter 2007, 24, 81-100. PDF
Pinker, S. (2007).

A History of Violence

. The New Republic. Website
Pinker, S. (2007).

Strangled by Roots: The Genealogy Craze in America

. The New Republic. Website
Pinker, S. (2007).

The Brain: The Mystery of Conciousness

. Time. Website
Pinker, S. (2007).

The Known World: Review of The Canon

. New York Times Book Review. Website
Berent, I., & Pinker, S. (2007). The Dislike of Regular Plurals in Compounds: Phonological Familiarity or Morphological Constraint?. The Mental Lexicon, 2(2), 129-181.Abstract
English speakers disfavor compounds containing regular plurals compared to irregular ones. Haskell, MacDonald and Seidenberg (2003) attribute this phenomenon to the rarity of compounds containing words with the phonological properties of regular plurals. Five experiments test this proposal. Experiment 1 demonstrated that novel regular plurals (e.g., loonks-eater) are disliked in compounds compared to irregular plurals with illicit (hence less frequent) phonological patterns (e.g., leevk-eater, plural of loovk). Experiments 2–3 found that people show no dispreference for compounds containing nouns that merely sound like regular plurals (e.g., hose-installer vs. pipe-installer). Experiments 4–5 showed a robust effect of morphological regularity when phonological familiar- ity was controlled: Compounds containing regular plural nonwords (e.g., gleeks- hunter, plural of gleek) were disfavored relative to irregular, phonologically-iden- tical, plurals (e.g., breex-container, plural of broox). The dispreference for regular plurals inside compounds thus hinges on the morphological distinction between irregular and regular forms and it is irreducible to phonological familiarity.
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Pinker, S. (2007). Toward a consilient study of literature (review of J. Gottschall & D. Sloan Wilson, "The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative"). Philosophy and Literature, 31, 161-177. PDF
Pinker, S. (2007). The evolutionary social psychology of off-record indirect speech acts. Intercultural Pragmatics. Intercultural Pragmatics, 4(4), 437–461.Abstract
This paper proposes a new analysis of indirect speech in the framework of game theory, social psychology, and evolutionary psychology. It builds on the theory of Grice, which tries to ground indirect speech in pure rationality (the demands of e‰cient communication between two cooperating agents) and on the Politeness Theory of Brown and Levinson, who proposed that people cooperate not just in exchanging data but in saving face (both the speaker’s and the hearer’s). I suggest that these theories need to be supple- mented because they assume that people in conversation always cooperate. A reflection on how a pair of talkers may have goals that conflict as well as coincide requires an examination of the game-theoretic logic of plausible denial, both in legal contexts, where people’s words may be held against them, and in everyday life, where the sanctions are social rather than judi- cial. This in turn requires a theory of the distinct kinds of relationships that make up human social life, a consideration of a new role for common knowledge in the use of indirect speech, and ultimately the paradox of ra- tional ignorance, where we choose not to know something relevant to our interests.
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The Stuff of Thought : Language as a Window Into Human Nature
Pinker, S. (2007). The Stuff of Thought : Language as a Window Into Human Nature. New York: Viking.