Recap & Photos: Steven Pinker Book Launch
On Tuesday evening, September 29th, 2015, Steven Pinker gave a lecture at the Bill Bordy Theatre at Emerson College as part of the book launch of the paperback edition of his bestselling The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Bookbuilders was a co-sponsor of the event.
Pinker is an experimental psychologist and world-renowned writer, centering on topics of language, human nature, and the mind. He has also won numerous prizes for his works. Some of his most famous previous books include How the Mind Works and The Language Instinct.
“Our children is learning…”
Pinker discussed the pros and cons to “following writing rules” and described how our own “sense of style” has changed through the decades. Blame technology, blame our fast-paced society or blame our digital natives, but the truth is that writers break the rules all the time, and often, they should.
To illustrate how we manipulate grammar rules, Pinker provided humorous examples of errors that have gone viral in our pop culture, ranging from “I can haz cheezburger?” to “me want cookie” to “our children is learning….” Why are some of them funny but one of them isn’t? Which ones are actually ungrammatical?
But regardless of what the Cookie Monster teaches us as toddlers or what ironic message spills out from a former president of the United States, the fact is that we all make grammatical errors from time to time. So we inevitably ask: is our society evolving to a new (lower) standard when it comes to writing and speaking? Or are we getting lazy? Pinker says: neither! People have been complaining about devolving grammar and writing style perhaps for as long as humans have been writing, and certainly for hundreds of years.
The Humanities vs. the Sciences
…An intellectual battle that has gone on even longer than Christianity. And here the two cross paths again. Creativity, which is a part of the mind, could be perceived as a science (psychology), but it is also arguably an art.
On the flip side, writing—as an art—means getting in touch with our creative sides. But we are raised to conform to rules and standards, which have proven to hinder creativity rather than help it.
Many would argue that reconnecting with creativity means bending or breaking the rules. But at what point is it okay for writers to break the rules in order to convey a creative message or expression?
According to Stephen Pinker, both modern linguistics and cognitive science enhance our writing. So is it OK for writers to break the rules if it means they are displaying a level of creativity or communicating just fine?
What do you think?
Thanks to Porter Square Books for providing copies of The Sense of Style for sale at the event and for the post-event book signing.
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