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on 4 April 2017
A well written book, with copious examples, of how language is used and how it is constructed. Pinker doesn't always agree with the status quo, but he gives some good reasons when he doesn't. But these details don't really impinge. The interest for me was in the sheer scope of the book's material. Well worth a punt if you are interested in that subject.
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on 28 May 2017
The condition of the book was excellent. I am very impressed with how fast I recived the item as well. However, the book didn't look the same as the image on this website but that is a minor issues considering how brilliant the condition is and how fast I recieved it. I would reccomend this book for anyone who is looking to go to university and study Psychology or linguistics. This is also on the suggested reading list for Oxford University in the UK.
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on 27 July 2017
Just got this. And it looks good. There is a problem, however, with the index. Due to what appears to have been a mistake by the publishers. The page number for every index entry is wrong. If you see an item in the index listed on page 100 you will, in fact, find it on page 98. Every index page reference seems to be 2 pages beyond where it should be. Be sure to take this into account.
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on 22 April 2017
Not convinced by his argument. Underestimates human creativity in language acquisition. Part of his arguement seems circular. Very interesting though with many good points and helps to frame the overall argument well.
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on 17 October 2014
Recommended reading in my psych undergrad degree. Really good, accessible reading. Not like reading a text book!
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on 15 May 2017
I've had this on my 'to-read' list for many years and have only recently got to it. I read a lot of non-fiction, particularly science and business books. This one, however, while very good was hard work at times. While it's very informative and often challenges the way you think about language it's also laboured at times. It gets into a lot of details and technical information, and the author seems to love quoting long passages from others. With some judicious editing, you could cut one hundred pages or so and rather than lose anything the book would probably be better.
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on 1 May 2017
A vivid presentation of how the human mind reacts to the language. Through series of varied chapters Pinker creates space for new discoveries about language functions and expresses their relevance. A very enticing read!
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on 19 January 2015
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 post-behaviorist world that surrounds us today. I am surprised at how new this book's arguments sound considering this is the twenty first year since its publication and the nature vs nurture debate still continue unabated ravaging intellectual pillars with fire and counter-fire. Clearly the think-tank on the other side of the fence has found more takers in the publishing and media world.

After dismantling many of the presumptions of and around "learning" language, I was then enticed by the patient anatomical dissection of language. Seeing words dismantled into syllables and phonemes, sentences into phrases prefixed with verbs, nouns and the vagaries of syntax: all this was my first sail into the great ocean of linguistics and I was glad to have Mr Pinker handling the ropes.

Being bilingual and a casual translator, I am now more able to describe the triple struggle of taking philosophical leaps (easy!), syntatical leaps (difficult) and philological leaps (impossible!) while translating that drains much beauty, wit and intended poetry of the parent language. I am grateful to Pinker for quenching my curiosity about the hidden semantic world of thinking about components of language and grammar. It was also a special delight to see him aligning these with the components of genetics using examples of families with dyslexia and specific language impairment. I was also impressed by his leap into evolutionary psychology where he posits the faculty of language to be an analogous (not homologous!) trait exclusive to humans as evidence corroborating evolution and spends many a page sniggering at the experiments involving adopted chimpanzees being hectored to communicate in sign language.

Before his ultimate essay on the existence of Universal Grammar and Universal People, there is a detour to take the cause of grammar pedants, and while this goes too long despite my shared exasperation with the author, I found myself mostly convinced by his evolution and neuroscience centered arguments for existence of language in all its complexity. Part of the charm is that by using biology in his explanatory models, he brings the world with all its languages and tongues, on one level-playing field and debunks many inter- and intra-cultural myths, legends, biases and prescriptions.

The book is not without his flaws: concepts sometimes overstay their welcome by ten pages too many, and the crowd of interlocking, entwined semi-theses, suppositions and research summaries on language usage and language instinct don't always gel into a cohesive whole. But Pinker writes with vigour, is a man of many ideas and as an introduction to his prolific later works where he expands on many of his theories, the Language Instinct is a good place to start.
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VINE VOICEon 2 October 2005
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. 'Instinct' is not a word much in favour among biologists nowadays and whatever language is, it is certainly not instinctive in the traditional sense. Early in the book, Pinker admits as much, but determines to use the word anyway, a use that owes more to marketing than to science.
Still, this is probably the best introductory linguistics text currently available. If you are new to linguistics, start here rather than with Chomsky, but please go on to read Geoffrey Sampson's work, perhaps starting with his website, to get an alternative view. As with most academic disputes, the answer no doubt lies somewhere in the middle. Since Chomsky's early work, the nativists have toned down their claims considerably, while their opponents have made concessions. On page 34 of this book, Pinker says, "No one has yet located a language organ or a grammar gene, but the search is on." More than a decade later, the search is still on. Good luck with that.
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on 6 January 2009
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. The book in question is Heath (1983), Ways With Words.)

So, this book doesn't really tell us much about language, nor about language acquisition. What it does, however, is to educate us in Pinker's worldview, luckily for us in an entertaining manner. But need you learn of language, you must turn to someone who understands communication. Check out Pinker for laughs and a quick read, but if you want to learn something, I suggest Michael Tomasello, Jerome Bruner or Albert Bandura. They have what Pinker lack: an understanding of how complex human communication really is.
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