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The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates…
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The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (1994)

by Steven Pinker

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Very interesting book. ( )
  StanleyPhang | Jul 18, 2015 |
This is a very fascinating read. Pinker argues that language is an innate human instinct, and that our brains have evolved to have certain grammatical structures hard-wired. He gets into all sorts of different sciences - neuroscience, evolutionary biology, anthropology - and brings in a wealth of evidence to back up his ideas.

The book is ostensibly aimed at a general audience, and assumes no prior knowledge of linguistics. However, it digs really deep into a lot of linguistic concepts, and sometimes I found that to be overwhelming and/or tedious and/or more information than I really needed to understand his point. Then again, he also goes into some really long tangents about what Darwin really meant by "evolution" and some other topics that seemed to go on way too long and those were also overwhelming/tedious, so I found myself skimming quite a bit of the book.

Nonetheless, the information in here is fascinating, and Pinker has a nice wry wit and a pleasant writing style, so I enjoyed the book. ( )
  Gwendydd | May 17, 2015 |
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 |
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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)
As you are reading these words, you are taking part in one of the wonders of the natural world.
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:58 -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)

» see all 4 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140175296, 0141037652

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