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The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates…
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The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (P.S.) (original 1994; edition 2007)

by Steven Pinker

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4,043421,259 (3.98)93
Member:PAKelley
Title:The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (P.S.)
Authors:Steven Pinker
Info:Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2007), Edition: third edition, Paperback, 576 pages
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Rating:****
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The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker (1994)

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This is my first read from Pinker, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A very accessible and insightful book that will profoundly affect the way you think about language. ( )
  scott.bradley | Jul 24, 2014 |
When it comes to something I don't know much about, I'm pretty easily swayed by other people's arguments. Like, I finished this book feeling it was pretty intelligent and interesting, and then I read some criticisms and reviews and heck, I don't know what to think. Still, I did find it interesting, and while the book looks deceptively slim for how long it took me to get through it, Pinker expresses his arguments clearly, with examples and sourcing, etc.

His basic argument is that we're hardwired for language. That, as with our sight, hearing, etc, we have a 'language sense'; if properly stimulated during the critical period, our brains quickly figure out how to parse language (at least, the language spoken around us when we are at that age, even if that language is sign language). We don't need to hear every word or possible sentence structure (couldn't possibly) to pick up on the rules of grammar and apply them, when speaking and when listening. This only refers to the critical period; a child will learn grammar instinctively on being exposed to a language, but an adult must learn it by rote, in the same way as you have to learn to process visual input during the critical period for that, or you'll never have the same visual acuity as someone who did.

Thus far, I think I'm going along with him. I do have questions of a sort of chicken and the egg nature: which came first, the brain's Universal Grammar module, or language that necessitated it? I'm inclined to think that the structures that we now use to understand language were used for something else earlier in our evolution, and became co-opted into our communications array (so to speak) over time. Our brains formed language, and then the language formed our brains...

All in all, I don't know whether Pinker's right, but I found his work convincing. Having read a couple of other books on language, including Guy Deutscher's Through the Language Glass, and applying what I know from those too, I find it hard to disagree with Pinker even where I want to, for example about relativism. ( )
  shanaqui | Jul 24, 2014 |
This is the first of Steven Pinker's book that I've read and I must say I like the way he writes. There were many instances in the book where he wrote about complex stuff in simple and effective language.

I felt at some points the text was very verbose while stating the obvious.

Well, not that I'm an expert on the subject, but I partially disagree him when he says:
"The mind is organized into modules or mental organs, each with a specialized design that makes it an expert in one arena of interaction with the world."

I have read a few articles and a couple of books that state that the brain is plastic and one 'section' of the brain can be used for multiple 'actions'.

Reference: The Brain that Changes Itself

The chapter Family Values was the most interesting and I kept re-reading a few paragraphs just because I liked them so much.

"Status is the public knowledge that you possess assets that would allow you to help others if you wished to." ( )
  nmarun | Mar 11, 2014 |
Dry. The linguistics-heavier sections are similar to what I've read before, and didn't seem especially well-done. Pinker seems unable to decide how pop to be - getting quite technical in some places, but failing to flesh out interesting examples. For example, I was interested by his note that "I haven't done any work" is functionally equivalent to the oft-deplored "I haven't done no work", but Pinker didn't continue on to consider "Have(n't) you done any work?", which only has a non-standard equivalent in the negative "Haven't you done no work?". Amorey Gethin has mentioned a number of other issues with the book as a whole. I also disagreed with some of his grammaticality judgements, which caused some problems. For example, "mice-eater" is just not correct in my English, sorry Pinker; the interesting question is not "why is an irregular plural permitted in this compound, but not a regular plural?" but "why do children make this mistake?". Pinker's whole idea is to support Universal Grammar, but he seems to rather jump at evidence; at the same time, I found the dearth of non-English examples a crippling weakness in such a project. ( )
  Shimmin | Oct 19, 2013 |
Pinker's books are always easy to read and absorbing. I believe that this was his very first book for a popular audience and he certainly got off to a good start. However, he contradicts himself in the first chapter and in a later chapter seems unaware that "flitch" and "thole" not only sound like they might be English words, but actually are. I'm right there with him when he debunks some stupid usage rules, like the injunction not to split the infinitive. But, although I'm a computer scientist, and know my Chomsky hierarchy and context-free grammars very well, his more technical discussion of grammar seem not to make sense. Somehow, this book feels a little lightweight; probably I'm not quite his intended audience. ( )
  themulhern | Aug 30, 2013 |
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For Harry and Roslyn Pinker who gave me language
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I have never met a person who is not interested in language. (Preface)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060958332, Paperback)

In this classic study, the world's leading expert on language and the mind lucidly explains everything you always wanted to know about languages: how it works, how children learn it, how it changes, how the brain computes it, and how it envolved. With wit, erudition, and deft use it everyday examples of humor and wordplay, Steven Pinker weaves our vast knowledge of language into a compelling story: language is a human instinct, wired into our brains by evolution like web spinning in spiders or sonar bats. "The Language Instinct" received the William James Book Prize from the American Psychological Association and the Public Interest Award from the Linguistics Society of America.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:18 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In this classic, the world's expert on language and mind lucidly explains everything you always wanted to know about language: how it works, how children learn it, how it changes, how the brain computes it, and how it evolved. With deft use of examples of humor and wordplay, Steven Pinker weaves our vast knowledge of language into a compelling story: language is a human instinct, wired into our brains by evolution. The Language Instinct received the William James Book Prize from the American Psychological Association and the Public Interest Award from the Linguistics Society of America. This edition includes an update on advances in the science of language since The Language Instinct was first published.… (more)

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» see all 4 descriptions

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Three editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140175296, 0141037652, 0141037555

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