As of 2003, psychologist Steven Pinker holds the post of Johnstone Family Professor in the Harvard University Department of Psychology. Prior to this appointment, he was Peter de Florez Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a position he held starting in 1982, interrupted only once in the 1995-96 academic year, which Pinker spent on sabbatical at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Pinker's work can best be described as cognitive science or cognitive psychology, and although his research on language and the mind is very interesting to me as a linguistics geek, I respect Pinker more for his clear and cogent writing on these and other topics for general audiences. According to his official website (, Pinker is originally from Montreal, where received his B.A. from McGill University in 1976. He got his Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard University in 1979. His first faculty assignments were at Harvard and Stanford University, where he spent a year each. In 1982 he moved to MIT, where he remained until 2003, when he returned to Harvard (as mentioned before). He was born in 1954 and to the best of my knowledge lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I know Pinker best for his work on cognitive linguistics, in particular his books The Language Instinct and Words and Rules (subtitle: The Ingredients of Language). 1994's The Language Instinct argues strongly for the innateness of human language, a theory first proposed by Noam Chomsky in the battle against behaviorism and later expanded in Chomskyan theories of syntax. Pinker started out his work in this field as kind of a Chomsky disciple, subscribing wholeheartedly to the idea that the grammars of all languages can be described by a single set of rules. His research on the psychology of language expands and extends on Chomsky's theories of mind and language. In his 2000 book, Words and Rules, Pinker proposes a theory of syntax that combines the universal grammar hypothesis with newer theories based on modeling cognitive processes with artificial neural networks, and supports it with a clear and cogent analysis of English regular and irregular verbs. Both of these books are, bless them, delightfully approachable, readable and just plain fun.

Pinker's full bibliography (used here in the sense of "discography of books", even if there's really no such thing):

Pinker has won numerous awards for his popular science books, including the 1995 William James Book Prize, Division of General Psychology from the American Psychological Assocation and the 1996 Linguistics, Language, and the Public Interest Award from the Linguistics Society of America for The Language Instinct, which was named as an Editor?s Choice, 11 Best Books of 1994, The New York Times Book Review. as well as one of the Top 100 Science Books of the Century by American Scientist in 1999. How the Mind Works received the 1999 William James Book Prize, Division of General Psychology from the American Psychological Association, and the 1998 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Science and Technology. It was also a 1998 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award nonfiction finalist as well as recognized by the New York and Boston public libraries.

Pinker has received the Troland Award from the National Academy of Sciences for his research on visual cognition and the psychology of language. He has also received teaching awards for his work with graduate students and undergraduates at MIT, a "big machine" of a school notorious for using undergrads as grease (that description is paraphrased from an MIT grad student friend of mine). He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as an associate editor of Cognition. He serves on the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary and the Scientific Advisory Panel of an 8-hour NOVA television series on evolution. Finally, in addition to his books, Pinker writes popular articles for such publications as The New York Times, Time magazine, Slate, and The New Yorker.

I will admit to owning an autographed copy of Words and Rules (on indefinite loan to Igloowhite), having seen Pinker speak on the subject of said book at the Claremont McKenna College Athenaeum during my senior year of Harvey Mudd College. He gives a fun talk: witty, well-organized and carefully paced, to the point where I found myself wondering how much of his speech he had memorized. He also used PowerPoint very well, which is not something to sneer at, considering what a bastard said program can be. Finally, I can confirm, having met the man, that his extremely goofy hair is not just a feature in his dustjacket mugshots. However, Pinker's sense of humor extends to this aspect of his appearance; the "Silly" section of his webpage lists him as a member of the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists and provides links to this site as well as his appearance on

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Pinker, Steven. Lecture at the Claremont McKenna College Athenaeum, 19 February 2001.
Also The Language Instinct, Words and Rules, and his professional website, (formerly

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