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Laboured presentation of a limited subject
on 4 August 2004
I was very impressed by the Language Instinct and the Blank Slate, but this book was not a joy to read.
Essentially, the material (how humans acquire facility in a language with its perverse mix of rules and exceptions) is only sufficient for an extended essay. Pinker stretches it to book length with large amounts of anecdotally presented "experimental data" on how people make judgments on rules and exceptions, especially in relation to noun plurals and verb past forms in English and German. These anecdotes are far too slow and repetitive to be entertaining, and in general the material could have been considerably condensed to great benefit.
Ultimately the book is unconvincing, because it is far from clear that conclusions based on the behaviour of English and German speakers would generalise to speakers of highly inflected languages, or speakers brought up on a non-inflected languages. Furthermore, the English of the book is US English, and some of the author's conclusions on specific points are contradicted by usage in other major dialects of English.
The writer foolishly tries to take the high ground on usage of Latin and Ancient Greek loan words, and, through imperfect knowledge of those languages, commits several solecisms (or at least would be considered solecisms on this side of the pond).