I am not a linguist, formally trained in the subject, nor do I have any relationship with Mr. Steven Pinker. In fact, I have only discovered him by accident, as a result of an article that I found while browsing websites, that referred to a letter addressed to The Linguistics Society of America on docs.google.com and “signed” by a number of signatories.
Although I am not a formally trained linguist, I have informally studied linguistics throughout my life, including as an adult teacher of language to my four sons after they were born and have taught them the importance on not projecting on a person’s words or to assume what is not there. I’ve also spent many years as an investigator, and realize the importance, when trying to get the truth of some matter, to abstain from projection, and to also take context into consideration. I also come from a country where there are many dialects of English, and words may have different meanings.
One (and especially those who claim to study linguistics) ought to remember that ideas, symbols (words), and things are not the same and are not equivalent.
An important (to me) essay that touches on linguistics that I’m familiar with (I wonder if it is still used today as a text?) is John Locke’s “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.” One might also want to refer to “Language In Thought And Action” by S. I. Hayakawa.
I’ve also studied (informally) logic and critical thinking, and was blessed to have a father who encouraged the questioning of my own premises, including the idea I might be misinterpreting or even completely twisting the words of an author or writer, or anyone in general who is expressing ideas, by projecting my own thoughts and emotions on the expressions.
Through this, I learned that insane thinking is the opposite of sane thinking. Insane thinking actually includes emoting, projection and imaginations (fantasies) about the ideas being expressed, instead of taking the ideas being expressed for what they are, and in the context they were expressed.
Sadly, it seems that there are some in the linguistic community who actively engage in insane thinking, as can be seen by their signatures on the letter addressed to the ”
Linguistic Society of America” here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/17ZqWl5grm_F5Kn_0OarY9Q2jlOnk200PvhM5e3isPvY/preview?pru=AAABc1S8LAA*DacwQGd7hN4FSC814wESOw
I don’t intend to go through the letter (this has already been done by a one Jerry Coyne (here: https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2020/07/05/the-purity-posse-pursues-pinker/) but I found it curious that within the letter, I read this (from #1 of the so-called six “relevant occasions”):
“Let the record show that Dr. Pinker draws this conclusion from an article that contains the following quote:” and then goes on to quote Dr. Pinker, but leaves out other relevant context.
So, with that in mind:
Let the record show that the signatories of this letter have either been dishonest or have engaged in insane thinking. I suppose one might argue that at least some of the signatories did not bother to actually research for themselves, what they were signing and therefore did not know, but that in itself is a sign of insane thinking or dishonesty, to sign a letter that one is not fully aware of the details.
While it is true that words can have many meanings, it is also true that it is the one who expresses their ideas using the words they have used is the one that truly KNOWS the idea that were expressed.
It is also equally true that to take words out of context with an attempt to infer another meaning is absolutely dishonest and shows a mind that is immoral if you agree that lying is immoral.
With this in mind, I would urge The Linguistics Society of America, after doing their own investigation using critical thinking skills that requires sane thinking while rejecting the insane thinking of the author(s) that include their fantasies about the expressions they are writing about, to utterly reject the request of the letter. Then, the Society might consider suggesting to the author(s) and signatories to brush up on logic, critical thinking, and perhaps even the study of linguistics itself.