The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind

The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind

Paperback

By (author) Steven Pinker

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  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Format: Paperback | 496 pages
  • Dimensions: 128mm x 198mm x 24mm | 200g
  • Publication date: 30 March 1995
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0140175296
  • ISBN 13: 9780140175295
  • Illustrations note: glossary, index
  • Sales rank: 25,803

Product description

Steven Pinker's "The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind" is a groundbreaking study of language's origins as an evolutionary adaptation. How do we 'know' how to speak? In his landmark book Stephen Pinker shows how language is part of our genetic inheritance rather than a cultural creation. From the DNA that builds our brains to the pontification of newspaper columnists, Pinker destroys the myths about language - that children learn to talk by copying their parents, that grammatical standards are in decline, that English defies logic - revealing the innate human instinct to communicate that we are all born with. "Reading Steven Pinker's book is one of the biggest favours I've ever done my brain ...highly accessible to the general reader yet at the same time seminal for professionals ...exhilaratingly brilliant". (Richard Dawkins). "An extremely valuable book, very informative, and very well written". (Noam Chomsky). "Brilliant...Pinker describes every aspect of language, from the resolution of ambiguity to the way speech evolved ...he expounds difficult ideas with clarity, wit and polish". ("Observer"). "Dazzling...Pinker's big idea is that language is an instinct, as innate to us as language is to geese. ..Words can hardly do justice to the superlative range and liveliness of Pinker's investigations". ("Independent"). Steven Pinker is a best-selling author and Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for cognitive Neuroscience at MIT. Pinker has been awarded research prizes from the National Academy of Sciences and the American Psychological Association, graduate and undergraduate teaching prizes from MIT, and book prizes from the American Psychological Association, the Linguistics Society of America and the "Los Angeles Times". He is the author of "How the Mind Works", "The Blank Slate", "The Better Angels of Our Nature", and "The Language Instinct".

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Author information

Steven Pinker is a best-selling author and Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for cognitive Neuroscience at MIT.

Editorial reviews

Another in a series of books (Joel Davis's Mother Tongue, p. 1303; Ray Jackendorf's Patterns in the Mind, p. 1439) popularizing Chomsky's once controversial theories explaining the biological basis of language. Variously mellow, intense, and bemused - but never boring - Pinker (Director, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience/MIT), emphasizes Darwinian theory and defines language as a "biological adaptation to communicate." While Pinker bases his argument on the innate nature of language, he situates language in that transitional area between instinct and learned behavior, between nature and culture. Starting with what he calls a "grammar gene," Pinker describes the way primitives, children (his special interest), even the deaf evolve natural languages responding to the universal need to communicate. He refutes the "comic history" of linguistic determinism, the belief that language shapes thinking, undermining it with examples from music, mathematics, and kinship theory. Following his lively, user-friendly demonstration of even the most forbidding aspects of linguistics, and his discussion of vocabulary, how words are acquired, built, and used, he rises to a celebration of the "harmony between the mind...and the texture of reality." This theme, the power and mystery of the human mind, permeates Pinker's engaging study, balanced with the more sober scientific belief that the mind is an "adapted computational model": "To a scientist," he writes, "the fundamental fact of human language is its sheer improbability." Among the many interesting though not sequential ideas: If language is innate, biologically based, then it can't be taught either to animals or computers. Pinker shows why adults have difficulty learning a foreign language, and he mediates coolly between rules and usage, between systematic and non-prescriptive grammar. Designed for a popular audience, this is in fact a hefty read full of wonder and wisdom. (Kirkus Reviews)

Table of contents

An instinct to acquire and art; chatterboxes; mentalese; how language works; words, words, words; the sounds of silence; talking heads; the Tower of Babel; baby born talking - describes heaven; language organs and grammar genes; the Big Bang; the language mavens; mind design.