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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.

Topics: Language, Essays, Informative, Genetics, Evolution, Communication, Babies, Neurology, and Canadian Author

Published: HarperCollins on Dec 14, 2010
ISBN: 9780062032522
List price: $11.99
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Steven Pinker's work is fifteen or so years old, but it feels fresh and vital and very, very necessary. Pinker makes a compelling case for there being a true, hereditable, evolved language centre in the brain, and he gives many, many examples of how this could work, and why it is probably true. 'The Language Instinct' is an excellent introduction to the science of biological linguistics; should I take my studies in this area no further, I will at least know now a lot more about this fascinating topic than I did before.read more
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I enjoyed the way that Pinker is able to make difficult and often dry subject matter appealing to a wider audience, but I think at times he went a bit far with the pop-culture references and it started to annoy me.read more
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I had a hard time with this book. When I started it, I was excited because the introduction was really good and it looked like the rest of the book would be also. But it soon got very technical and dull. Then it would get more interesting again. Then it would be very hard to read and understand. Then we'd have several pages of diagrams and obscure notation.I don't really know how to rate this book. The basic idea is that language is a human instinct, and that language is acquired naturally. I understood a lot of his examples and some of what he said made sense. But I was frankly lost a lot of the time. I did study linguistics at least a little back in college, but that was not much help here.I would say if you are interested in the subject, it might be worth a try, but it's certainly not for everyone.read more
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Steven Pinker's work is fifteen or so years old, but it feels fresh and vital and very, very necessary. Pinker makes a compelling case for there being a true, hereditable, evolved language centre in the brain, and he gives many, many examples of how this could work, and why it is probably true. 'The Language Instinct' is an excellent introduction to the science of biological linguistics; should I take my studies in this area no further, I will at least know now a lot more about this fascinating topic than I did before.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I enjoyed the way that Pinker is able to make difficult and often dry subject matter appealing to a wider audience, but I think at times he went a bit far with the pop-culture references and it started to annoy me.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I had a hard time with this book. When I started it, I was excited because the introduction was really good and it looked like the rest of the book would be also. But it soon got very technical and dull. Then it would get more interesting again. Then it would be very hard to read and understand. Then we'd have several pages of diagrams and obscure notation.I don't really know how to rate this book. The basic idea is that language is a human instinct, and that language is acquired naturally. I understood a lot of his examples and some of what he said made sense. But I was frankly lost a lot of the time. I did study linguistics at least a little back in college, but that was not much help here.I would say if you are interested in the subject, it might be worth a try, but it's certainly not for everyone.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I greatly enjoyed this book, and read all but the last quarter of the last chapter about 5 years ago, maybe more. I set it down, and never finished it. I came across it again in the book case, started at the bookmark, and finished it. I know I never counted it in any of my yearly book lists, though it has influenced my thought since I started reading it. His thesis is that the mind has an instinct for language - that we are Not a blank slate when we are born. The mind makes certain assumptions about patterns, and what patterns are meaningful. He does this by looking at commonalities across languages, experiments in (and humor created to show) how people use words, and studies of how children acquire their native language. Pinker is a Darwinist, so he examines how this instinct could have been selected for, evolutionarily. His writing style is readable and clear, but on the dry side. He leavens it with humor, but still it takes some effort to get through. Here is one example, from the book opened at random: "To become speakers, children cannot just memorize; they must leap into the linguistic unknown and generalize to an infinite world of as-yet-unspoken sentences. But there are untold numbers of seductive false leaps: Mind -> minded, but not Find -> finded," and he goes on with more examples (found on page 281). Another example from p. 85: "The way language works, then, is that each person's brain contains a lexicon of words and the concepts they stand for (a mental dictionary) and a set of rules that combine the words to convey relationships among concepts (a mental grammar)." Then he goes on to discuss the examples that support this thesis. But for anyone interested in language, linguistics, and how the mind works, Steven Pinker's books are all essential reading. Just give yourself the time. They are not a quick read. There is much to chew on here.
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This is the most delightful book written by the amazing and brilliant Steven Pinker. It covers the nature of human language from the most modern perspective. It is also a thoroughly delightful read for anyone with any interest in this area.
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It took me 7 weeks to get through this - very interesting in parts, esp. the last quarter which I got through in two or three days, but very dry and technical in others, where I would just be reading a few pages a couple of times a week. I mostly accept the author's theory of the language instinct and a universal grammar underlying all languages, though perhaps he overstates it in parts. He is good at debunking linguistic pedants (mavens) and those who romanticise "talking" chimpanzees.
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