Sunday, November 7, 2010

Steven Pinker on language and thought 03

Part Three
  • Now, many events can be subject to either construal, kind of like the classic figure-ground reversal illusions, in which you can either pay attention to a particular object, in which case the space around it recedes from attention, or you can see the faces in the empty space, in which case the object recedes out of consciousness.
    • How are these construals reflected in language?
    • Well, in both cases, the thing that is construed as being affected is expressed as the direct object: 
      • the noun after the verb.
    • So when you think of the event as causing the muffin to go somewhere—
      • where you're doing something to the muffin—
        • you say, "Give the muffin to the mouse."
    • When you construe it as, "cause the mouse to have something," 
      • you're doing something to the mouse, 
        • and therefore, you express it as "Give the mouse the muffin."
  • So which verbs go in which construction—the original problem with which I began—depends on whether the verb specifies a kind of motion or a kind of possession change.
    • To give something involves both causing something to go and causing someone to have.
    • To drive the car only causes something to go, 
      • because Chicago's not the kind of thing that can possess something.
    • Only humans can possess things.
    • And to give someone a headache causes them to have the headache, 
      • but it's not as if you're taking the headache out of your head and causing it to go to the other person, 
        • and then plan to get it in their head.
    • You may just be loud or obnoxious, or in some other way causing them to have the headache.
    • So, that's an example of the kind of thing that I do in my day job.

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