Katya Epstein's Reviews > The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language

The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker
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Jul 26, 11


Probably the best book I have read on the topic. For starters, Pinker's writing is a pleasure to read: It's clear, clever, and affable. He writes the way he talks; he doesn't seem to feel the need to use fancy words just because he's writing a book (e.g. from the glossary entry for stem: "The main portion of a word, the one that prefixes and suffixes are stuck onto." He avoids that (inexplicable) academic affectation of pretending that the author and the reader don't exist (i.e., avoiding the first and second person).
And he covers more than just language itself: This book is also a not-bad introduction to evolution, genetics, the brain, and cognitive psychology. Lots of interesting stuff here.
That said, I was not completely convinced by all of his explanations (I still don't understand "trace") and arguments (I'm not convinced that the ability to read and write is not hard-wired to some extent in some people). And it was published in 1994: A lot has been learned since then about how the brain works, so some of his info might be out of date. Also the index leaves a lot to be desired.
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Martin Böhler Often Pinker builds his arguments on disputable (and controversely disputed) presumptions, e.g. that natural language sentences need to have a branching structure.


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