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NIH Record

MIT's Pinker To Give Director's Cultural Lecture

Popular author Dr. Steven Pinker, professor in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director of the McDonnell-Pew Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT, will deliver the NIH Director's Cultural Lecture on Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 3 p.m. in Masur Auditorium, Bldg. 10. He will speak on "Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language."

Pinker's research has focused on the psychology of language, including empirical studies of linguistic behavior as well as theoretical analyses of the nature of language and its relation to mind and brain. His revolutionary theory of how children acquire language specifies the information-processing steps in the child's brain that make language so instinctive to humans. He sees language as a biological adaptation of Homo sapiens, and in his book The Language Instinct used this idea to synthesize a vast literature on the science of language, including its structure, development, history, neurological basis and relation to the rest of the mind.

Bestselling author and
scientist Dr. Steven Pinker will
deliver the NIH Director's
Cultural Lecture on Nov. 4

In this lecture, Pinker will discuss his model system for studying language and how it illuminates the overall design of language.

Presenting evidence from cognitive psychology, linguistics and neuroscience, he asserts that two distinct cognitive mechanisms underlie the vast expressive power of human language: associative memory and symbol-manipulating rules. Regular inflectional morphology (e.g., "walk/walked", "dog/dogs") is computed by a rule-based system; irregular morphology (e.g. "run/ran", "mouse/mice") is computed by an associative memory system.

Pinker is well known for his lively sense of humor and ability to explain a variety of difficult topics clearly to a general audience. When necessary, he explains technical material with newspaper headlines, jokes and literary texts. His 1994 book The Language Instinct was named among the 10 best books of 1994 by the New York Times, the London Times, and the Boston Globe, and won prizes from the American Psychological Association and the Linguistics Society of America. His latest book, How the Mind Works, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Science, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has also written for Time, the New York Times, Discover, the New Yorker, the New Republic, Slate, and Natural History.

He received a B.A. in psychology from McGill University in 1976 and a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Harvard University in 1979. After serving on the faculties of Harvard and Stanford, he moved to MIT in 1982.

Pinker has received research prizes from the National Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, and a teaching prize from MIT. He was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychological Society.

A reception will follow his lecture. For more information, or for reasonable accommodation, contact Hilda Madine, 594-5595.

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