Steven Pinker: Using Grammar as a Tool, Not as a Weapon

November 10, 2014

Host: Lindsay Beyerstein

The English language is often treated as delicate and precious, and disagreements about what is “proper English” go back as far as the 18th century. Then as now, style manuals and grammar books placed innumerable restrictions on what is and isn’t “correct,” as "Language Mavens" continue to delight in pointing out the unforgivable errors of others. To bring some fresh perspective to this remarkably heated topic (and to let some of us who are less than perfect, grammatically speaking, off the hook), Point of Inquiry welcomes Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, author of the new book The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.

Pinker’s previous works include such award-winning books as The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, The Stuff of Thought, and The Better Angels of Our Nature. He’s been honored by such institutions as the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, and the American Psychological Association, as well as having been named named Humanist of the Year and one of Time magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People in the World Today.”

And most appropriate to this episode, he is currently the chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage dictionary.