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The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language

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4.04  ·  Rating details ·  16,882 ratings  ·  866 reviews
The classic book on the development of human language by the world’s leading expert on language and the mind.

In this classic, the world's expert on language and mind lucidly explains everything you always wanted to know about language: how it works, how children learn it, how it changes, how the brain computes it, and how it evolved. With deft use of examples of humor and
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Paperback, 448 pages
Published November 7th 2000 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published January 1st 1994)
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Povilas Sabaliauskas i'm 2/3 into it. chapters about english grammar was a bit tough for me also. i guess, you have to be native speaker to fully appreciate it. but, as…morei'm 2/3 into it. chapters about english grammar was a bit tough for me also. i guess, you have to be native speaker to fully appreciate it. but, as Jonatan noted, after that it really gets easier and more engaging.(less)
Joshua Key There are definitely a good number of chapters in the Language Instinct that would help with learning a foreign language. When talking about grammar,…moreThere are definitely a good number of chapters in the Language Instinct that would help with learning a foreign language. When talking about grammar, Pinker goes into a depth far beyond what I was taught in English class- a universal grammar that applies to all languages. However, the best book I know of for learning a language is “Fluent Forever” by Wyner. I would recommend that book and “Language Instinct” as a supplement. A bonus to “Fluent Forever” is that it applies powerful modern learning theory and practices to learning a language... so you’ll get much, much more out of it than just learning a language.(less)

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Petra-X
In my bookshop are lots of books like, 'First 100 Words' and "ABC with pictures", you know those sort of books. We talk to our babies in 'motherese' and we point to things and name them, but we do not teach our babies grammar. We say things like 'look at those puppies there, they are much smaller than these ones here'. We don't explain when to use words like 'those' or 'these' or 'there' and 'here' and where we put them in a sentence.

We don't need to, Pinker says, Chomsky said, that grammar is
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Manny
Feb 03, 2009 rated it liked it
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
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Madeleine
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.
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Tyas
Jan 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
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Jessica
May 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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Andrew
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
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David
Dec 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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, ...more
Jimmy
Oct 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Ana
A highly interesting book about how language came about in the human mind. It gets quite technical at times, but that's an added bonus for anyone who is truly interested in the subject.
David
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.
Nikki
Jul 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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Nicholas
Oct 23, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology, biology
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Anthony Buckley
Mar 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
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Sebastian
Jun 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good portion of this book can be summed up in the relatively simple graph that was making the rounds on Twitter a while back: https://twitter.com/robdrummond/statu.... However, Pinker is a good enough writer that reading about the issue in book-length format rarely feels boring, as he throws about a plethora of interesting examples and anecdotes to illustrate the point. What’s more, the book skips around quite a bit, covering just about every aspect of general linguistics I could think of that ...more
Joseph
Nov 05, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
Katherine Elizabeth
*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.
Alatea
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I usually "go with the feeling" when I review books, so it's really difficult to review non-fiction. But I'll try anyway.

The language history was an easy, but satisfying popular-science read. I highly recommend it to everyone who is interested in linguistics or language in general.
May
Jun 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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Koen Crolla
Dec 26, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Ana
I don't know if I would've enjoyed this book half as much had I not listened to the audiobook, but it was a pleasant commute read.
Elena
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
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.
E
Oct 05, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cassandra Kay Silva
Jan 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Biblio Curious
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: linguistics
This book is a prime example of why Pinker's a great non-fiction writer!! It begins with a bare bones introduction to language. Then somehow, he puts in how children learn language. Naturally, he turns into a drunken intellectual with great finesse when hammering the Grammar Police after hours. And finishes us off with a lesson in biology ^.^ What a ride!

I'll review this one and link it here too!! So much to say, goodness, what's the top 10 for this gem?! I've already got the perfect movie
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Ashley Reid
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.
John Wiswell
Jan 20, 2009 rated it did not like it
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 ...more
Gregor
This book is an excellent introduction into linguistics and language-related scientific fields (such as psycholinguistics, evolutionary linguistics, learning theory, etc), for someone like me who has been fascinated by the subject for a long time, but only had the chance to dabble a toe or two into one sub-area or another.
It corrects many popular misconceptions about language and language learning, from the point of view of the author, based on the latest scientific concensus (at the time the
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Krish Perumal
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Main takeaways:
- Language is an innate skill possessed by humans and not acquired artificially through teaching like writing, programming, etc.
- Although innate, the skill can be automatically learnt only during the critical period of up to 6 years of age. Beyond this age, it has to be artificially acquired like a second language.
- Just one generation of children brought up by adults who speak a "pidgin" (a language lacking grammar and consisting of mere words from a number of different
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Cynda
I so so so wanted to like this book. I took one linguistics class and did a number of rhetoric classes so I thought that I would find this book accessible. I did not. I recognize the Chomsky language trees. I did see why the trees were so important to discuss top and bottom sentences and to prove how all humans are hardwired for language so that babies simply learn if their family speaks top or bottom sentences and SVO or some other construction. Yet all human languaget is obviously human. I get ...more
Emanuela
Mar 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
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Madison Mega-Mara...: # 82 - The Language Instinct 1 4 Nov 30, 2014 01:46PM  

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Steven Arthur Pinker is a prominent Canadian-American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, and author of popular science. Pinker is known for his wide-ranging explorations of human nature and its relevance to language, history, morality, politics, and everyday life. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time, and The New ...more
“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.” 11 likes
“Chomsky's writings are 'classics' in Mark Twain's sense: something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” 10 likes
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