PATTERNS IN THE MIND by Ray Jackendoff

PATTERNS IN THE MIND

Language and Human Nature

KIRKUS REVIEW

 In a challenging, timely, and persuasive argument, Jackendoff (Brandeis; the scholarly Semantics and Cognition, 1983--not reviewed) proposes that language and, by extension, music and visual experience in part culturally engendered--but that, fundamentally, they're expressions of innate, perhaps even genetic, properties of the brain. Redressing the balance between nature and nurture to explain language, Jackendoff contends that language acquisition, a fundamental characteristic of humanity, depends on a universal mental grammar--a set of unconscious grammatical principles that condition the organization, production, and reception of human speech--that's a form of innate knowledge. Considering the ways in which children acquire language (understanding more than they can say, generating speech they haven't heard); American sign language (of which he offers a brief and cogent history); and the learning- impaired and language-deprived, he explores the concepts of this universal grammar. Jackendoff proposes a physiological basis for language in a specialized area of the brain, which can be identified even though its organization is still a mystery. He then extends these principles of universal grammar and innate knowledge to the understanding of music, visual signs, and, most challenging, social interaction. Meaning is ``constructed'' by the innate patterns of the auditor as well as by the speaker, he says, and, by extension, human experience of the world is ``constructed by'' similar unconscious principles--principles that, unlike Freud's unconscious, can never be brought into awareness. In his discussion of semantics, Jackendoff distinguishes between language and thought, between grammar and concept, and between the translatable and the untranslatable, emphasizing human interaction and its implications for society. A powerful, direct, and tidy argument that vindicates Jackendoff's initial purpose: to make linguistics ``part of every educated individual's intellectual repertoire.''

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 1994
ISBN: 0-465-05461-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1993




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