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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
ISBN: 9780062032522
List price: $11.99
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As the title of this book might suggest, Steven Pinker, following in the footsteps of Noam Chomsky, contends that humans are born with an innate instinct for language. Not with language itself, obviously, but with mechanisms in our brains that make it easy for us to learn language and that account for commonalities of structure that exist across all languages, despite their obvious variability. Some of Pinker's arguments and conclusions are stronger than others, but the general idea seems pretty sound to me, although I know there's still some controversy over it, two decades later.Pinker goes into a lot of detail about how languages are structured and how our brains process that structure. I found this detail quite interesting, but rather slow going, despite the fact that Pinker's prose is very accessible to the layman and is broken up here and there with moments of humor or the occasional whimsical quotation. Those who are just looking for a general overview of the subject might find those chapters, which make up about half the book, to be a bit much, but if you're at all interested in the nitty-gritty details of how the human brain constructs sentences, it's well worth reading.more
This is indeed quite an amazing book. The writing style is simple, and Stevenmanages to handle this considerably complex subject with a great deal of dexterity. Each chapter is complete in itself, and I would recommend that each chapter be read on a separate day. This allows you to think about what has been written, before proceeding further. It is not a book for the casual reader, nor for the dilettante.It is a book that you must return to after a while.more
A highly readable account on how language is an inherent characteristic of the human species, which I found a bit unpleasant to read at times. Pinker is such a good writer that I feel a little inadequate in responding to his book, but that aside, I thought it was an erudite book on a complex topic, like all Pinker’s books. It is also a bit controversial, as Pinker skewers many a layman’s misguided ideas about language, its origins, and its uniqueness to humanity. And not only a layman’s ideas; Pinker takes everyone from the social scientists to what he calls the ‘language mavens’ (editors and other arbiters of prescriptive grammar) to task for promulgating false ideas about language. I found Pinker’s more polemical chapters a bit uncongenial, mostly because they attack some of my own subconscious ideas about language. I didn’t realise that I felt as strongly about prescriptive grammar until Pinker attacked it and its proponents. I don’t mind Pinker’s attacks on some of the more archaic rules of grammar (such as split infinitives and ending sentences on prepositions, and so forth) but I did find his fulminating a bit tiresome at times, especially when he sets up some straw men that he can easily knockdown. A quibble, really, but still.Pinker is on much firmer, and to me more interesting, ground when he explains the psychological and evolutionary origins of language. This is simply brilliant and lucid exposition, and I enjoyed it immeasurably. Pinker’s explanation of how language evolves in children, and how this seems to argue for a ‘language instinct’ in humans (Chomsky’s Universal Grammar) is masterful. I also enjoyed his withering refutations of the assertions of those primatologists who claim to have taught chimpanzees sign language, and the more absurd claims of some anthropologists (such as the infamous ‘100 different words for snow’ claimed for the Eskimos).My one problem with the book is that it came out in 1994, so how up to date it is, in an ever-changing field, is problematic. I wish Pinker would update the book, but maybe he’s too busy writing books about the decline in violence (The Better Angels of Our Nature, which I intend to read next year), and whatnot.Highly recommended, but not one to swallow hook, line, and sinker.more
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.more
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Reviews

As the title of this book might suggest, Steven Pinker, following in the footsteps of Noam Chomsky, contends that humans are born with an innate instinct for language. Not with language itself, obviously, but with mechanisms in our brains that make it easy for us to learn language and that account for commonalities of structure that exist across all languages, despite their obvious variability. Some of Pinker's arguments and conclusions are stronger than others, but the general idea seems pretty sound to me, although I know there's still some controversy over it, two decades later.Pinker goes into a lot of detail about how languages are structured and how our brains process that structure. I found this detail quite interesting, but rather slow going, despite the fact that Pinker's prose is very accessible to the layman and is broken up here and there with moments of humor or the occasional whimsical quotation. Those who are just looking for a general overview of the subject might find those chapters, which make up about half the book, to be a bit much, but if you're at all interested in the nitty-gritty details of how the human brain constructs sentences, it's well worth reading.more
This is indeed quite an amazing book. The writing style is simple, and Stevenmanages to handle this considerably complex subject with a great deal of dexterity. Each chapter is complete in itself, and I would recommend that each chapter be read on a separate day. This allows you to think about what has been written, before proceeding further. It is not a book for the casual reader, nor for the dilettante.It is a book that you must return to after a while.more
A highly readable account on how language is an inherent characteristic of the human species, which I found a bit unpleasant to read at times. Pinker is such a good writer that I feel a little inadequate in responding to his book, but that aside, I thought it was an erudite book on a complex topic, like all Pinker’s books. It is also a bit controversial, as Pinker skewers many a layman’s misguided ideas about language, its origins, and its uniqueness to humanity. And not only a layman’s ideas; Pinker takes everyone from the social scientists to what he calls the ‘language mavens’ (editors and other arbiters of prescriptive grammar) to task for promulgating false ideas about language. I found Pinker’s more polemical chapters a bit uncongenial, mostly because they attack some of my own subconscious ideas about language. I didn’t realise that I felt as strongly about prescriptive grammar until Pinker attacked it and its proponents. I don’t mind Pinker’s attacks on some of the more archaic rules of grammar (such as split infinitives and ending sentences on prepositions, and so forth) but I did find his fulminating a bit tiresome at times, especially when he sets up some straw men that he can easily knockdown. A quibble, really, but still.Pinker is on much firmer, and to me more interesting, ground when he explains the psychological and evolutionary origins of language. This is simply brilliant and lucid exposition, and I enjoyed it immeasurably. Pinker’s explanation of how language evolves in children, and how this seems to argue for a ‘language instinct’ in humans (Chomsky’s Universal Grammar) is masterful. I also enjoyed his withering refutations of the assertions of those primatologists who claim to have taught chimpanzees sign language, and the more absurd claims of some anthropologists (such as the infamous ‘100 different words for snow’ claimed for the Eskimos).My one problem with the book is that it came out in 1994, so how up to date it is, in an ever-changing field, is problematic. I wish Pinker would update the book, but maybe he’s too busy writing books about the decline in violence (The Better Angels of Our Nature, which I intend to read next year), and whatnot.Highly recommended, but not one to swallow hook, line, and sinker.more
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.more
Took me a terribly long time to get through this book, but I did enjoy it a lot.more
This is a book I gave to my oldest son one Christmas when he was in lovewith language and it looked like he was heading down the path to becoming alinguist. He went back to school before I could steal the book off his bookshelfto read it, so when I found it on his bookshelf in Seattle I was overjoyed. I'vewanted to read this book for a long time. It was worth the wait. Pinker is anexcellent science writer and he makes the (often difficult) material as easy tounderstand as anyone could. An excellent book.more
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