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

The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker
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's review
Jun 02, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: biology, psychology
Read in October, 2008

** spoiler alert ** Very interesting. Too long and technical for me. Most of the stuff I didn't care about. Not a criticism of the book but just a mismatch of interest.

Middle was boring. Writing was good. Sharp style. Insults fools and posers. Funny. Charming. The perfect example is the beginning of chapter 11 pg 340. This is the way to argue. Funny, ridiculing, forceful and gets the message across.

His metaphors are really good. Aspire to this.

Language is built into the mind. It evolved by natural selection. It is not a cultural artifact. "Ghetto talk" is just as complex as perfect english. Perfect english is a collection of rules that were sold to allow new wealth from the industrial revolution seem classy.


"Simply by making noises with our mouths, we can reliably cause precise new combinations of ideas to arise in each other's minds."

"Language is not a cultural artifact that we learn the way we learn to tell time or how the federal government works. Instead, it is a distinct piece of the biological makeup of our brains. Language is a complex, specialized skill, which develops in the child spontaneously, without conscious effort or formal instruction, is deployed without awareness of its underlying logic, is quantitatively the same in every individual, and is distinct from more general abilities to process information or behave intelligently."

"In many cases a pidgin can be transmuted into a full complex language in one fell swoop: all it takes is for a group of children to be exposed to the pidgin at the age when they acquire their mother tongue."

"People store genes in their gonads and pass them to their children through their genitals; they store grammars in their brains and pass them to their children through their mouths. Gonads and brains are attached to each other in bodies, so when bodies move, genes and grammars move together. That is the only reason that geneticists find any correlation between the two."

"The brute mathematical fact is that all things being equal, there is a better chance of being a young person than being an old person. So genes that strengthen young organisms at the expense of old organisms have the odds in their favor and will tend to accumulate over evolutionary timespans, whatever the bodily system, and the result is overall senescence."

"Neuroscientists estimate that about thirty thousand genes, the majority of the human genome, are used to build the brain and nervous system."

"Outwitting and second-guessing an organism of approximately equal mental abilities with non-overlapping interests, at best, and malevolent intentions, at worst, makes formidable and ever-escalating demands on cognition. And a cognitive arms race clearly could propel a linguistic one. Ina ll cultures, social interactions are mediated by persuasion and argument...evolving humans lived in a world in which language was woven into the intrigues of politics, economics, technology, family, sex, and friendship that played key roles in individual reproductive success."

"All behavior is an interaction between nature and nurture, whose contributions are as inseparable as the length and width of a rectangle in determining its area." Beautiful
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