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The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (Penguin Science) [Kindle Edition]

Steven Pinker
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)

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Book Description

'Dazzling...Pinker's big idea is that language is an instinct...as innate to us as flying is to geese...Words can hardly do justice to the superlative range and liveliness of Pinker's investigations'


- Independent



'A marvellously readable book...illuminates every facet of human language: its biological origin, its uniqueness to humanity, it acquisition by children, its grammatical structure, the production and perception of speech, the pathology of language disorders and the unstoppable evolution of languages and dialects' - Nature



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Review

"A brilliant, witty, and altogether satisfying book.""-- New York Times Book Review""An extremely valuable book, very informative, and very well written.""-- Noam Chomsky""A brilliant, witty, and altogether satisfying book.""-- New York Times Book Review""An excellent book full of wit and wisdom and sound judgement.""-- Boston Globe Book Review""An exciting book, certain to produce argument.""-- Atlantic Monthly""Somebody finally got it right. Pinker's thoroughly modern, totally engaging book introduces lay readers to the science of language in ways that are irreverant and hilarious while coherent and factually sound."-- Leila Gleitman, University of Pennsylvania, President, Linguistic Society of America"A brilliant piece of work.""-- Mind and Language""Extremely important.""-- New Scientist"

Review

"A brilliant, witty, and altogether satisfying book.""-- New York Times Book Review""An extremely valuable book, very informative, and very well written.""-- Noam Chomsky""A brilliant, witty, and altogether satisfying book.""-- New York Times Book Review""An excellent book full of wit and wisdom and sound judgement.""-- Boston Globe Book Review""An exciting book, certain to produce argument.""-- Atlantic Monthly""Somebody finally got it right. Pinker's thoroughly modern, totally engaging book introduces lay readers to the science of language in ways that are irreverant and hilarious while coherent and factually sound."-- Leila Gleitman, University of Pennsylvania, President, Linguistic Society of America"A brilliant piece of work.""-- Mind and Language""Extremely important.""-- New Scientist"

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1228 KB
  • Print Length: 546 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0060958332
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (27 Feb. 2003)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002RI9DJW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #75,153 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Steven Pinker is one of the world's leading authorities on language and the mind. His popular and highly praised books include The Stuff of Thought, The Blank Slate, Words and Rules, How the Mind Works, and The Language Instinct. The recipient of several major awards for his teaching, books, and scientific research, Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He also writes frequently for The New York Times, Time, The New Republic, and other magazines.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read it, but read it critically 2 Oct. 2005
By Peter Reeve VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
Addressing as it does issues of cognition, language usage and acquisition, evolutionary biology and innate versus learned behaviour, this work is relevant to many of the great intellectual debates of our time. It is very readable for the most part, although if some of the topics are new to you then you will find a few sections rather heavy going. More illustrations would have helped here. There are syntax structure diagrams and one very grudging, cursory sketch of the language centers of the brain, but many sections cry out for a diagram among all the verbiage.
Pinker's lively, humorous style is often commented on but I sometimes found it wearing. He will illustrate a point with an amusing newspaper cutting, then list a few more, then add "I could not resist some more..." and so on. I sometimes wished he would just get on with it.
A major problem with his nativist approach is that many examples he lists of usages that English speakers would never employ are nothing of the kind. Most of them are conceivable and since the first publication of this book, linguists have been busy recording them in the field. The thesis also becomes somewhat unravelled in the penultimate chapter, where he argues that 'you and I' and 'you and me' are equally correct in all circumstances, because 'the pronoun is free to have any case it wants'. But if this is so then what has become of the innate awareness of correct usage that the whole theory is about? If 'between you and I' sounds instinctively wrong to me and 'between you and me' sounds instinctively wrong to someone else, does that mean one of us has a mutant grammar gene? I doubt it.
The title itself is problematic.
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124 of 138 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This book is certainly well-written and very stimulating, but readers new to the subject should be aware that it is highly polemical, and not at all a neutral dispassionate introduction to the field. The book is written from a strongly Chomskyan perspective - indeed the constant worshipful references to the Great Man become tedious after a while, and the many shortcomings of Chomsky's Transformational/Generative Grammar theory are not mentioned. It is one thing to argue - as Pinker does, convincingly - that human beings are born with an innate ability to deduce the grammatical rules of any language from a limited input. It is another to claim that there exists a Universal Grammar which applies to any language (this is not proven in the book), and it is another still to claim that Chomsky's grammar (which hardly works for English let alone any other language) is that Universal Grammar. The book contains some basic linguistic mistakes, which make one question the real expertise of the author (who is a cognitive psychologist, not a linguist). Just one example: to claim (p127) that in an agglutinative language eight morphemes can be combined in half a million different ways is ridiculous, supposing as it does that they can be combined in any order (in fact each morpheme has to go into a particular "slot" in the word). Nevertheless, a stimulating read - inspiring on one page, infuriating on the next. But please don't take it as Holy Writ (especially the Chomskyan bits).
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but bad 6 Jan. 2009
Format:Paperback
Pinker really goes all the way in this, bathing the reader in wonderful language, interesting ideas and good old fun and games. But the sad part is that his premise and conclusion--that language is an instinct--is a total and complete non sequitur.

Being a fan of Chomsky, Pinker submits to the notion (and a notion it is) that language and communication aren't necessarily related (as Chomsky (1975) said, "communication is only one function of language, and by no means an essential one"). Although Chomsky in recent years has done a lot to moderate his position, and a lot of research at least suggest that the world has come out of the post-skinnerian, anti-"blank slate" state in which it was in the seventies, when Chomsky reigned, Pinker upholds the sharp divide between grammar and usage. Why?

Because The Language Instinct isn't really about language. It's about completing Pinker's reductionist trilogy, consisting of this one, The Blank Slate, and How the Mind works. In The Language Instinct, Pinker doesn't analyze the facts and draws a valid conclusion. He simply tells us how convenient to his worldview it would be if language really was an instinct. I believe that makes The Language Instinct theology (or at best, philosophy) and not science.

Still, this book is a fine introduction to chomskyan grammar, X-bars and the like. Plus it's fun. But scientifically, it lacks stringency, humility and honesty. The book is filled with thin case studies that could mean the "instinct hypothesis" is correct or wrong, depending on your interpretation (of course Pinker chooses "correct"), and quote mining (the worst example being one in which Pinker gets the one name he's quoting wrong--twice!--plus, the book he's quoting is really about something else than what Pinker claims.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, easy to read and informative 14 Jun. 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was recommended to my by a tutor as additional reading around the topic of how we learn language. It is a great introduction to some linguistic theories and in depth enough to really get to grip on some of the theory.

As the title suggests, the book argues that we have a "language instinct." comparable to the instinct that birds have to navigate and spiders spin webs. It doesn't suggest that no linguistic input is required, rather that we are hard wired to respond to and decipher this input, or in the absence of adequately complex language. It is the sort of book that you can read for pleasure and chat about too.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good.
Published 3 months ago by Kemal Batuhan Mesutoglu
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book. Really interesting ideas and we'll written.
Published 3 months ago by Cleve
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
good to read
Published 3 months ago by Caroline B.
4.0 out of 5 stars Broad and impressive
This proved to be an unsuspectingly vast book that had me from its premise of language being an instinct than an acculturated, learned trait: an idea more pervasive in the... Read more
Published 4 months ago by CultureDrinker
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but tries to cover too much ground in ...
Interesting, but tries to cover too much ground in one volume. Author takes the view that language is a "pre-programmed instinct" in humans, which is an unorthodox view. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Wildcat
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Just as described!
Published 4 months ago by Georgeiul
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
Answers most question one would think about what language is all about. Great book!!
Published 6 months ago by Bernardo Mendoza
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Recommended reading in my psych undergrad degree. Really good, accessible reading. Not like reading a text book!
Published 7 months ago by Mother of 3
3.0 out of 5 stars ok
Was a gift for friend and will ask her and get back to you if ;you think that is ok.
Published 19 months ago by V. E. Livingston
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Fantastic book. Well-suited for the tyro and student alike. The early chapters quickly bring you up to speed with the basis for the book and its arguments. Read more
Published on 19 May 2013 by O. Peatman
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