Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A dorktastic survey + old NOTD: Milani Cyberspace

I've gotten requests for book recommendations on psycholinguistics... which then made me curious about what the other Polish or Perish bloggers might recommend to somebody who was interested in their field:

What books would you recommend reading if someone wanted to understand what you were studying?

This is sort of a disingenuous answer because I'm not sure there are a lot of good non-technical book on discourse processing and pragmatics but these selections are definitely related to the larger field of cognitive psychology. (Click on the links to go to the Google Books page.)

Herbert Clark, Using Language. This is probably the most closely related to what I study: how people use and understand conversation. I've read a ton of papers by Clark... but I have not read this book (shhh, don't tell my advisor). I hear this is actually a sort painful-to-read book... which is bizarre because Clark is a usually a lucid academic writer.

Steve Pinker, The Language Instinct. I don't trust him on much else (like, to explain most of human behavior) but this is a great introduction on psycholinguistics (and you can totally hop around chapters to read about what you're interested in). Pinker's extremely readable and funny and he explains the basics of the field in a clear and entertaining manner. This is the book that got me into psycholinguistics back in high school.

Susan Goldin-Meadow, Hearing Gesture. I think this is an awesome book and I think I've mentioned it before here. This book is on how we use and interpret gesture when we talk. This is related to what I do because I essentially study extralinguistic cues (the information we process when we talk that is NOT the talk itself). I've done a little work in gesture and would love to return to it someday.

Mark Lieberman & Geoffrey Pullum, Far From the Madding Gerund. What linguists do: they describe language... and they don't go around telling you what not to say! Common misconception of what I do as a researcher: I don't give a flyin' flip about proper speech. I give a flyin' flip about how people actually talk (and I'm tellin' you now, pretty much no one speaks properly when they are speaking naturally). I enjoy this group of researchers and am a longtime follower of their blog, The Language Log. This book is a compilation of their greatest hits... probably a much better value to just read Language Log though.

George Lakoff & Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By. This is not really my little section of the field but for those interested in language, this is a really interesting book on common metaphors and how they shape our understanding of the world.

Ulric Neisser, Memory Observed. This is not really about language at all but I rather liked this one. As the title says, it's about memory, which is a huge part of cognition (I actually think it's the most important part of cognition). This book takes a different tack though: it's about remembering in natural contexts... which seems revolutionary to researchers and completely stupid to the lay audience. (A lot of psych research on memory takes place in a lab, under controlled conditions. This is about what happens in memory "in the wild".)

Virginia Valian, Why So Slow? I thought this was a particularly cogent examination of the reasons why girls lag behind boys in math and science (and thus have less representation at the upper levels of academia). I always thought of her as a psycholinguist but her more recent work has focused on gender differences in schooling. This is not really what I study either but I am very much interested in the role of gender (and the effects of emphasizing gender as important) in society.

I feel like I should add in an NOTD photo or something to keep this post "on topic" so here are non-ideal photos of Milani Cyberspace that I didn't originally want to post because they aren't shots of it in natural light (and therefore, do not show off the holo as well).

Milani Cyberspace (lightbox)

Milani Cyberspace (indoors with flash)
I'm working on getting a full Milani 3D review up and will talk about this one more at a later date. I just really felt the need to add it in so people don't feel cheated. ;)

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Grace said...

I'm a little jealous that you CAN explain what you study... when I tell people my field I am usually met with a disgusted expression and then "you can get a PhD in that?" Nice. I then have to explain how academic research in a subject is patently different than the undergrad 101 course you might have taken 15 years ago, or just choke back the urge to say something like "I'm sorry, what terribly fascinating and important career do you have?" Lately, I've just been trying to avoid the question.

PolishMama said...

LOL @ "I don't give a flyin' flip about proper speech." I went to grad school in linguistics, and I'm still explaining to people that I don't speak 400 languages.

The Glitterati said...

LOL@ PolishMama! A drunken acquaintance once stumbled up to me in a bar and asked what I did. I told her I was a Psycholinguist, and she goes "Coooolll.... I'm, like, a Linguist myself. I speak... 9... languages." Genius.

Gah, I don't think I've even read 1 Psycholing-for-the-masses kind of book. I haven't ever touched anything by Pinker, amazingly. Shame: I has it.

Arrianne said...

I've always been interested why certain facial expressions mean certain things. It's funny, and that we all know what that means. I thought about getting into psychology, but decided on something else. Too much school!

flinty said...

@Grace: oh you can get PhDs for ALL sorts of things... ;) What's your field?

@PolishMama: oh, you did a degree in linguistics! you are a brave woman. I can't do linguistics for the life of me. It's one of my not-so-secret insecurities. In the meanwhile, whenever I tell people what I do, they always tell me their folk notions on how they talk and how everyone talks worse than they do. The greater bulk of my work has been on the discourse marker "like" and you can imagine how some people could go off on that.

@Glitterati: No need to ever touch Pinker, really. If you've read a ton of academic papers, which I suspect that you have, there's no need to read any of these, imo. Unless you want an easy introduction to a literature you aren't too familiar with.

@Arrianne: If you're interested in facial expressions, I'd definitely check out some of Paul Ekman's books. He is all about the universality of facial expressions.

PolishMama said...

flinty -- That is so cool that you work on "like." I'm sure everyone tells you stuff like "People just say that when they don't know what they're talking about" and "It's a bad habit." I think "like" is really interesting, though, and the distribution of "like" is a good example to use in intro ling. classes to show that informal speech is rule-governed.

Princess of Polish said...

Pretty nails!

Also, I have been interested in the learning differences in different subject between girls and boys. It was the basis of my science fair project in 8th grade and the subject of a few papers in high school and college. Part of my interest is from the fact that where I live single sex high schools a very common and I wanted to explore the benefits as I am not the best when it comes to math and science. Enough of my rambling!

flinty said...

@polishmama: It's truly amazing how long people can go on to me about how "like" indicates some lapse of thinking... which I can't help but think is shorthand for, "if they say it, they sound stupid; if they sound stupid, they must be stupid". It's so often attributed to teenage Californian girl talk. There was a whole article in Vanity Fair lately on "like" and "y'know" and how it's, like, the ruination of English. The really weird thing, though, is that many of the linguists I've talked to also tend to denigrate "like".

@Princess of Polish: thank you! I went to a single sex college and am very interested in single sex education. I think its benefits are different for college students than for high schoolers but it's still a fascinating topic. I'd give the Virginia Valian book a go if you're interested in this topic.

PolishMama said...

That is strange that you would get that reaction from linguists. Have you heard this song?:

mKat said...

@flinty... I would really enjoy a discussion from the group or hearing your opinion on the merits (and/or hindrances) of single-sex education and how or why you feel its necessity and impact might differ between high school and college.

Wow. That was some questionable writing on my part! I hope my meaning came across.

jaljen said...

I do feel I ought to read one or two of these. Which would you recommend as a readable text for a non-specialist?
My only experience in this area is my undergraduate specialism: Phonology, Morphology and Syntax of Latin. My degree was Latin (hence the specialism).
My anecdotal evidence suggests that "like" is used by the British teenage female to indicate cognisance of/solidarity with/approbation of her American counterpart. It is a cultural marker in the UK amongst some young women that signifies a certain degree of "hipness".
In my daughter (her accent tells you that she's not "common") it's a sign of self-conscious proto-rebellion. In less capable girls with regional accents the effect is one of stupidity.
In the UK all language has huge class-associations. I can't comment on other nations as my fluency isn't adequate. You can never divorce language from context.

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