- This is a picture of Maurice Druon, the Honorary Perpetual Secretary of L'Academie francaise—the French Academy.
- He is splendidly attired in his 68,000-dollar uniform, befitting the role of the French Academy as legislating the correct usage in French and perpetuating the language.
- The French Academy has two main tasks: it compiles a dictionary of official French—
- they're now working on their ninth edition, which they began in 1930, and they've reached the letter "P."
- They also legislate on correct usage, such as the proper term for what the French call "email," which ought to be courriel.
- The World Wide Web, the French are told, ought to be referred to as la toile d'araignee mondiale—the Global Spider Web—recommendations that the French gaily ignore.
- Now, this is one model of how language comes to be: namely, that it's legislated by an academy.
- But anyone who looks at language realizes that this is a rather silly conceit, that language, rather, emerges from human minds interacting from one another.
- And this is visible in the unstoppable change in language—
- in the fact that by the time the Academy finishes their dictionary, it will already be well out of date.
- We see it in the constant appearance of slang and jargon, in the historical change in languages, in the divergence of dialects and in the formation of new languages.
- So language is not so much a creator or shaper of human nature so much as a window into human nature.
- In a book that I'm currently working on, I hope to use language to shed light on a number of aspects of human nature, including the cognitive machinery with which humans conceptualize the world and the relationship types that govern human interaction.
- And I'm going to say a few words about each one this morning.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Steven Pinker on language and thought