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The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker
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The Language Instinct (1994)

by Steven Pinker

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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 |
This is the book that blew my mind in college. Never thought of language in this way ever. Perhaps it's the luck of having read this first in my dive into linguistics, but this is one of those books I look fondly back on. Totally made me become much more incensed by grammar Nazis--an idealistic position I now know--and then on a second read a couple years later, made me slid right into the in-between of prescriptive and descriptive ideology where I belong. Definitely recommend. ( )
  TJWilson | Jul 16, 2013 |
I read this for my first and second language acquisition class, and while I didn't love it, I definitely didn't hate it either. I liked Pinker's use of examples when trying to describe complex language issues, however, I wished sometimes that he would have stopped at two or three examples per topic. Once or twice he would use an entire chapter simply to expound upon different examples that helped him make his point. I get it Mr. Pinker.

If you're into books on language, then go ahead and give this a read. ( )
1 vote ElOsoBlanco | Jul 15, 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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