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19 of 42 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Bookselling Instinct, 25 Oct 2007
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This review is from: The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind (Penguin Science) (Paperback)
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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