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58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read it, but read it critically
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...
Published on 2 Oct. 2005 by Peter Reeve

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123 of 137 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Polemical, stimulating, inspiring, but also infuriating
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...
Published on 6 Jan. 2000


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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, 29 Jan. 2015
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good to read
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11 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A refreshing perspective on a difficult subject, 7 Nov. 2001
By A Customer
After reading Pinker's book, I felt relieved that now at last some basic common sense had been applied to the theoretical study of language. Pinker manages to combine a professional style nevertheless accessible to the non-specialist, making for an englightening and highly entertaining read. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 16 Feb. 2015
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Good.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good to read..., 18 May 2006
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...even if you are not studying for a course related to linguistics. Pinker's writing is informative and a delight to read. He doesn't use too much in the way of jargon and keeps things simple which helps if you're entering this area with no experience. Highly recommended.
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18 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Linguistics is not a science., 3 Mar. 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Language Instinct (Paperback)
In `The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker argues that humans are genetically endowed with a capacity for language. On casual reading the book presents a powerful case for a single mental design underlying all human language. However, careful reading shows his arguments are profoundly flawed. There are faults throughout the book: 1. He has got many of his facts wrong. 2. He has drawn illogical conclusions from the facts he states. 3. He has failed to consider alternative explanations for the phenomena he cites. 4. He has failed to provide an explicit description of the underlying mental design for which he argue. I`ll take these points in turn: 1. Wrong facts A. On p.237 he states `All languages have a vocabulary in the thousands or tens of thousands.` On p.261 he talks about a language with a 200 word vocabulary. B. He states, and this is central to his case, that all languages which sre subject-verb-object, SVO have (only) prepositions and all languages that are SVO have (only) postpositions. On p.115, he gives two sentences which show Latin to be SVO although it has almost exclusively prepositions. The two examples of archaic Englsih given on p.240 show the same thing about that language. C. On p.235, he states that `hammered` was originally something like `hammer-did`. This is an interesting statement in itself because it means that the result of a transformation pre-dates the existence of the transformation thus undermining champter 4 (How Language Works) in its entirety. In addition, Pinker later changes his statement to `The English suffix -ed MAY have evolved from "did"`. (p.246)
These are nit-picking examples, but if Mr. Pinker wishes to claim that linguistics is a science, he should uphold the standards normally demanded in sciences. 2. Illogical conclusions A. On p.111, the author jumps straight from the statement "...such consistency has been found in scores of languages..." to the conclusion that the rules apply to "all phrases in all languages". B. On p146 (and 237) there is an argument about compound words being formed with plurals only if the plurals are irregular. It is asserted that children will automatically generate compounds such as `mice-eater`, but never `rats-eater`. It is then argued that the limited exposure they would have had to such constructions makes learning this rule impossible and thus the rule must be innate. There are several faults with this reasoning. Firstly, it is not true. There is no rule in English which permits the formation of compounds with irregular plural , but permits compounds with irregular plurals. On my native island, there is a man called the footpaths inspector and another called a roads officer. (According to Pinker, p.133, the absence of a hyphen makes no difference.) If the children had been asked what an animal that eats oats is called, they may well have replied "oats-eater". Secondly, in French we find compounds formed from regular plurals (grands-meres, grands-peres, beaux-freres). The first of these3 shows number agreement being applied, even when gender agreement is not. If the alleged rule were innate, it would apply in all languages. Thirdly, there is a simpler explanation for this phenomenon. 3. Failing to consider alternative explanations. Most of Mr. Pinker`s evidence has a much simpler explanation than the universal grammar hypothesis. Specifically, the same sentence can be generated in many different ways. For example, the sentence cited on p.279 `What did he eat?` can be generated from `What did he do?` or even learnt as a stock question. Pinker asserts, without evidence, that the question must be generated by the application of Chomsky`s grammar from the starting point `He ate what.` That we occasionally get compounds formed with irregular plurals is more likely to be a failure to apply the principle of not making compounds with any plurals resulting from not hearing plurality in the construction. There is no principle specifically permitting compounds with irregular plurals. We do not say geeseneck, geesebumps, feetball, feetprints, teethpaste or teethbrush. the `fuzzy logic` principle, that we generate language by the wieghting of associations, hinted at on p.211 is a far simpler explanation of nearly all Pinker`s evidence. But the weakest link in the book is 4. The lack of an explicit description of universal grammar. When it comes to identifying the characteristics of the underlying mental design of language, the author is uncharacteristically reticent. On p.234 he assures us that Joseph Greenberg, analysing 30 far-flung languages found no fewer than 45 universals. But he does not identify them. Perhaps they included tha no language uses the same word for `mouse` and `lamp-post`. Pinker`s own universals include `no language forms its negatives by reversing the order within a sentence.` Some universals are described as `statistical` (p.234). Does he understand the word `universal`? He then repeats the untrue statement about prepositions and SVO word order. In fact, all his universals are: 1. Not true, ". Not universal or 3. Not useful in learning a language. Since the fundamental argument for universal grammar is that language would otherwise be too complicated for children to learn, I have to conclude that there is no case at all. Mr. Pinker is to be commended for writing about linguistics in a readable manner, but in doing so he shows that linguistics, in its present form, is no more a science than is astrology.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ok, 2 Oct. 2013
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Was a gift for friend and will ask her and get back to you if ;you think that is ok.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good in parts, though also too dry and technical elsewhere, 18 July 2009
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John Hopper (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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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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20 of 44 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Bookselling Instinct, 25 Oct. 2007
Begin with a title that asserts the conclusion.

Start the book by aligning the author with Chomsky in postulating an innate, universal grammar capacity. The language instinct is indeed already a done deal.

Be guided carefully through selected cases that either seem to confirm the existence of a language instinct or selected cases to discount arguments to the contary.

So do you think we have a language instinct? If so, you are ready for the next sell, the reasoning instinct. And the list of 40 or so other innate capabilities that we all may have.

And we might find the very genes that make this possible. These instincts and genes fortunately don't seem to enslave us (as being conditionable would). They make us free and creative beings. Sound like a great payoff, right?

See how how the mind creates language? By instinct. Not just any instinct, an instinct based on genes. It's all clear now, isn't it? Too deep? If not, you're ready for the actual conclusion: we all have the same mind. So, Pinker affirms, even if you can't understand a New Guinea tribesperson, you can feel comfortable as you listen to him/her that the universal grammar is at work.

We are free and we are all one. Now you don't have to go back to the ancient Greeks or earlier to get that warm message of unity.

Skinner and behaviorism get no creditin this book despite some promising steps by behaviorists with language, such as helping autistic children to speak. It seems hard to deny we have some great capacities and it seems hard to deny that we can be conditioned - being able to be conditioned seems one of our great capacities. Pinker says we are have the same mind, but in this book excludes behaviorist contribution, so I wonder what kind of sameness he has in "mind".

No one should accept this book as adequate. I expect from his credentials and his excellent writing that the author could do a lot better. A science needs to do a lot more than appeal to "instinct", "mind". "freedom" and "oneness". It certainly may seem good to acknowledge we are amazing beings: you may feel warm and cozy when you finish this book, but ask yourself how you can apply what was presented in this book. Move past feeling wonderful about the structure of language and consider how language functions - as B.F. Skinner did in "Verbal Behavior", a less accessible but more useful and scientific try at understanding what we are doing with language.

When we seem not to have many useful answers, it's dangerous to write as if it's all clear. Don't be lulled by Pinker. If you read this book, ask yourself honestly: "Do I understand now how the mind creates language? Can I even see whether the mind creates language?" But first be sure to thank your mother and father for helping you to say "Momma" and "Dada" meaningfully.
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2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Professor Pinker's potentially pointless pontifications prove precisely what perchance?, 26 Mar. 2013
To summate. Blah, blah, BORING, BORING, conjecture, blah. Thinly veiled attack on Chomsky. Blah, blah, unproven hypothesis. Another attack on Chomsky. Anthropological anecdote, reference to Japan. BLAH. Hypothesis, conjecture, subjectivity, BLAH. Dull, dull, boring, dull. Funky cover.

Thankfully, there will come a time in the not too distant future when this kind of self-congratulatory soft-science anecdotal fluff is no longer produced. Either because there will be no-one left to consume it or no-one left to write it. When the Academe finally shows the likes of Professor Pinker the door we may at last be able to shift the paradigm and move academia forward to occupy a place where, by adopting the same rigorous standards as the hard-sciences, the soft-sciences can take their rightful place at the top table. Either that or the veil is lifted once and for all and the likes of both Pinker and Chomsky are shown for what they are - THEORISTS. Academics whose collective hypotheses have, for the most part not been proved and thus remain still conjecture. Quite why these two individuals have been lauded for so long is beyond me. If your (at least) sixty year-old hypothese has not yet been proved you might want to take it down off the pedestal and invite some alternative thinkers to the BBQ...
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4 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably the best book I've ever read, 15 Mar. 1999
By A Customer
This book completely changed how I think about language and the mind. Huge in scope, brilliantly clear and fantastically well argued.
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