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The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  13,945 Ratings  ·  704 Reviews
Simply by making noises with our mouths, we can reliably cause precise new combinations of ideas to arise in each other's minds. The ability comes so naturally that we are apt to forget what a miracle it is. Pursuing the ideas of Darwin and Chomsky, Steven Pinker offers a look at why we use language and where this ability comes from. Rather than being an acquired cultural ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published March 30th 1995 by Penguin (first published January 1st 1994)
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Muhammad Sabry I believe it's one of the easiest books that interprets language from different dimensions. It's a little bit forked but amusing. Give it another try…moreI believe it's one of the easiest books that interprets language from different dimensions. It's a little bit forked but amusing. Give it another try :)) (less)
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There's a joke in this book that linguists really like. An English woman has just got off the plane at Boston's Logan airport. She takes a cab, and starts questioning the driver about where to obtain various local delicacies.

"Oh yes," she says in her posh English accent. "Could you tell me where you can get scrod here?"

And the driver replies, "You know, you don't often hear that in the pluperfect subjunctive!"


Another linguist joke, for people who haven't
I have this incredible mental block about reviewing nonfiction.

My formal linguistics experience is limited to exactly one History of the English Language class as a college junior (and it remains one of the most fascinating, satisfying and illuminating classroom experiences I've ever had, university-level or otherwise), which was about when I realized that the study of language was up there with the school paper and my creative-writing courses in terms of the all-over fulfillment I found in it.
Jan 30, 2009 Tyas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A friend, a diplomat’s daughter, when asked how she had managed to master Dutch when she went to a school in Suriname, shrugged.
“I don’t know. I remember being so confused during the first day, not understanding a single word. But not so long after that, I was able to speak in Dutch. I just spoke, I don’t know how.”

That had happened years ago, when she was still very young. We have always wondered how come children are able to learn language easily, while many, if not most adults, find the task
May 01, 2011 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I had The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language out of the library for the entire summer. I finally finished it by actively reading it on the train for a couple of weeks. It's interesting, don't get me wrong, it's just LONG and has enough dull/confusing stretches that I couldn't bring myself to read it in my free time - it was pretty much a train-only book.

The book's underlying claim is that all human beings are born with something Pinker calls a Universal Grammar, which causes us to
Steven Pinker and I should be natural enemies. He's a representative of what I consider to be the smarmy, science-precludes-all-else school of hung-up modernist reductionists, while I fly the flag of what he considers to be the wishy-washy, Nietzsche-damaged academic Left. And yet it's difficult for me not to have some respect for his project.

When he's not making potshots at relativism(s), he is generally quite lucid and charming, and throughout writes with a clear, approachable logic. By cogita
In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin wrote, “Man has an instinctive tendency to speak, as we see in the babble of our young children; while no child has an instinctive tendency to bake, brew, or write.” The experimental psychologist, Steven Pinker, took this quote as the inspiration for his book on – what he considers – the idea that there exists an innate language instinct to be found across all cultures. Elaborating on the canonical linguistic ideas of Noam Chomsky, particularly in regard to ...more
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Previously, I had read Steven Pinker's "The Stuff of Thought", which is also an excellent book. I enjoyed that book, so I next read this one--and I'm glad I did. "The Language Instinct" is an absolutely fascinating book! The author presents some very convincing arguments, that the acquisition of language is an instinct that has evolved over many generations, through natural selection. Steven Pinker is right on the money, when it comes to his analysis of evolution. Every chapter is compelling, an ...more
Jul 24, 2014 Nikki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When it comes to something I don't know much about, I'm pretty easily swayed by other people's arguments. Like, I finished this book feeling it was pretty intelligent and interesting, and then I read some criticisms and reviews and heck, I don't know what to think. Still, I did find it interesting, and while the book looks deceptively slim for how long it took me to get through it, Pinker expresses his arguments clearly, with examples and sourcing, etc.

His basic argument is that we're hardwired
Mar 25, 2017 ❀EᖇYᑎ❀ rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 3-stars
*Read for school*

2.5/3 stars

This was an okay read - very technical at some points, so those parts nearly lulled me to sleep. Honestly, I wouldn't have picked it up had it not been for my linguistics class - but i did learn about how languages formed, so in a way, it was pretty interesting.

Nothing remarkable, though.
Koen Crolla
Dec 26, 2010 Koen Crolla rated it did not like it
Shelves: biology, language
Pinker is as much of a twit as his hair suggests: The Language Instinct is a miserable pile of unsupported and unsupportable conclusions, straw man attacks, hypocrisy leap-frogging into doublethink, shoddy reasoning, knee-jerk contrarianism, indeliberate obtusity, and gut-feeling argumentation. Pinker tries to synthesize the ideas of people smarter than he is (Chomsky, mostly), and many of these are perfectly fine the way they were originally formulated; they no longer are after Pinker is throug ...more
Anthony Buckley
I had always supposed that linguists could not write clearly. Rather like psychiatrists who were mad, sociologists who couldn’t get on with people, and social anthropologists who were permanent outsiders, linguists, I supposed, devoted their adulthood overcoming their childhood difficulties with language. Here, however, I discover my prejudices overturned. Considering the inherent complexity of his topic, Steven Pinker’s book on language is witty, lucid and intelligible.

Pinker’s theme is that p
Oct 05, 2007 E rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Interesting for its discussion of language and language acquisition. But: too many people take Pinker's word as gospel, when in fact his theories are quite controversial. This book also bears a lot of responsibility for the rise of pop EvPsych. Evolutionary psychology is a field that has a few worthwhile observations mixed with an awful lot of BS used to justify all sorts of learned behavior. So, read this book with a very large grain of salt.
Ashley Reid
Jun 18, 2015 Ashley Reid rated it it was ok
There were some parts of this that were interesting and worth reading for, but overall it was a waffly and long winded book that I struggled to get through at some boring points.
Jun 12, 2014 May rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just finished reading the most challenging non-fiction leisure book I have ever read: Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct. It was a close call, but I'm relieved that I powered through.

Before I dive into my review, I'd like to clarify that I found it challenging not because my knowledge of linguistics prior to reading this book was terribly basic, but rather because there is so much information packed into The Language Instinct. That is, however, its greatest merit - and the reason why my min
Mar 08, 2017 Elena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really-really like my readings about languages (English and my native Russian), never bored with them, and this particular book was a treat. I’ll read other books of Steven Pinker for sure.
Mar 05, 2009 Emanuela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Elena in particular; in general, to anyone interested in the dynamics of language
I have barely started it but I'm loving it already. I'll be back with a much more enriched review once I've finished it.

Now that I have finished it (about two weeks ago) I can finally write something more about it.

To begin with, I must confess I have had a few troubles finishing this book, but simply because I've fallen so in love with it that it really cost me a lot to end it.

The Language Instinct has definitely made it to the top three list of my all time favorite books. Written in an informa
Mikael Lind
First of all, I am not a big fan of Steven Pinker. I found How the mind works erroneous on many accounts. That said, The Language Instinct is despite its uncompromising MIT cognitivist stance a fun and interesting read. To me, even the title reveals a general error; i.e. How the Mind Creates Language. The mind does not create language; human beings create language in an inter-subjective way. (Compare: brains do not think (except as metaphorical speech, not suitable for scientific writing) people ...more
Hesham Khaled

I think this is the best review
By pinker himself.

نسخة مترجمة من محاضرة بينكر، وهي بشكل كبير مراجعة لكتابه

الترجمة العربية سيئة جدًا، تغني عنها المحاضرة لمن يريد الاطلاع فقط
John Wiswell
Jan 20, 2009 John Wiswell rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review could be long or short. I wasn't sure if I wanted to waste the time, but it's a long book and there are some seriously interesting and seriously stupid things in it. It centers on the issue of language as learned or as instinct, which can be so fine an issue that most people really won’t care. For the short: it's very nice to see so much research on language presented and Pinker does a good job of explaining the often oversimplified theory that there is a genetic basis for understand ...more
Otto Lehto
Feb 13, 2017 Otto Lehto rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(Based on the highly abridged audiobook.)

Pinker's lively popularization of Chomskyan linguistics and cutting edge cognitive science elucidates the best available evidence for a "universal grammar" of the mind. (It is useful to remember, however, that this book was written in the 1990s.)

Pinker's attempts at psycholinguistic theory are often quite amateurish and crude, since he clearly doesn't have in-depth knowledge of the field. His computational model of the mind, as well as his belief in the
Jon Stout
Jan 14, 2013 Jon Stout rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: neurophilosophers and naturalists
Shelves: linguistics
In this very entertaining book, Steven Pinker has given a kind of overview and popularization of contemporary linguistics, as developed by Noam Chomsky. He argues that there is a language instinct, developed through evolution, which shapes how any human being acquires language. This is in opposition to the idea that we are blank slates, perhaps very intelligent blank slates, who learn everything from our environment and our culture. The Chomskyan idea is that all human languages have certain bas ...more
Ik wou al sinds geruime tijd iets van Steven Pinker lezen. Vooral z'n taalgerichte boeken sprongen er bovenuit. Aangezien dit een van de klassiekers in het wereldje is, was de keuze snel gemaakt. Ik heb echter wel voor deze heruitgave gekozen, omdat Pinker een kleine update eraan toegevoegd heeft.

Het is natuurlijk geen eenvoudige kost, maar Pinker heeft het toch zo toegankelijk mogelijk gemaakt. Het is geen droog, academisch werk - althans, het is niet op die manier geschreven -, wel wat losser,
Nov 05, 2009 Joseph rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: linguistics
Given the current divide in linguistics between the Functional/Cognitive theoretical approach to language and the formalist, generative approach which Pinker supports and has largely popularized with this book, The Language Instinct is an intellectually irresponsible endeavor. He frames linguistic nativism as a non-negotiable fact when actually, there is a fierce debate within linguistics which is moving away from ideas of those like Steven Pinker and Noam Chomsky. The opposing school of thought ...more
Dave Maddock
Nov 24, 2014 Dave Maddock rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, language, science
Wow, a fair number of angry 1-star reviews of this book here on Goodreads. I suspect these are anti-Chomskyites or bitter social scientists who didn't like Pinker's criticism of relativism in the final chapter. Or possibly, johnny-come-latelys who are carrying over their critique from his later book, The Blank Slate. As a pop-sci overview of modern linguistics (ie. the whole point of the book), this is excellent.

Some random thoughts on criticism: Within the field Pinker certainly has staked out
Nov 21, 2015 Kevin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yes, this book has grammar trees breaking sentences down like you did in school. No, it doesn't hurt that much.

Pinker shattered for me the conventional wisdom (for which he partially blames the Newspeak essay at the end of 1984) that language determines thought—"Mentalese" is real. His tour of Chomsky's universal grammar and how the world's languages all share a similar underlying structure kept me rapt with the particular deconstructionist fever I sometimes get when programming. My assumptions
Sep 18, 2008 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book that tells you all that you might want to know about how humans are able to communicate with language. Pinker praises the work of Chomsky and tries to show that the fundamentals of language are built into the human mind, an instinct that is refined by our natural surroundings. He gives many examples of a fundamental grammar that all humans speaking whatever language have, which they use to organize sentences in their own language even if the sentence structures of two different languages ...more
Apr 24, 2012 Gendou rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pinker breaks through the superficiality of language to touch on something deep inside all of us.
He gives a language lesson that isn't boring at all.
I have been reminded in my daily life of many observations made in the book.
The thesis of the book is simple and well defended throughout:
Human language is an instinct.
Vague aspects of human language, like communication and symbolism are common in the animal kingdom.
But each different human language is a quirky, fanciful creation.
And the drive to ge
Cassandra Kay Silva
Jan 22, 2012 Cassandra Kay Silva rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Pinker is a fabulous author and has an interesting story to tell with this one. His premise is that much of what we consider to be learned in our early years as children,through practice with language, is actually pre hardwired in our brains as in an almost universal understanding of syntax that can get laid out in a number of different languages in a number of different ways. That the ways humans have developed to think of the world is inherent in our understanding of this language. I don't kno ...more
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Madison Mega-Mara...: # 82 - The Language Instinct 1 2 Nov 30, 2014 01:46PM  
  • The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention
  • The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language
  • The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language
  • How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning, and Languages Live or Die
  • Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World
  • Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind
  • Kinds of Minds: Towards an Understanding of Consciousness
  • The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain
  • The Atoms Of Language: The Mind's Hidden Rules Of Grammar
  • In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language
  • On Language
  • Le Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language
  • Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages
  • Nature Via Nurture: Genes, Experience and What Makes Us Human
  • Limits of Language: Almost Everything You Didn't Know You Didn't Know about Language and Languages
  • A Course in Phonetics
Steven Arthur Pinker is a prominent Canadian-American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, and author of popular science. Pinker is known for his wide-ranging advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time, and The New Republic, and is the author of seven b ...more
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“Chomsky is a pencil-and-paper theoretician who wouldn't know Jabba the Hutt from the Cookie Monster,” 9 likes
“In the speech sound wave, one word runs into the next seamlessly; there are no little silences between spoken words the way there are white spaces between written words. We simply hallucinate word boundaries when we reach the end of a stretch of sound that matches some entry in our mental dictionary.” 9 likes
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