Click on the cover image above to read some pages of this book!
Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct propelled him to
worldwide fame in 1994. His groundbreaking book's premise - that
language is instinctual rather than acquired - so shook the foundations
of biological science that the reverberations are still being felt
About The Author
Steven Pinker is one of the world's leading authorities on language
and the mind. His popular and highly praised books include Words
and Rules, How the Mind Works, and The Language Instinct.
The recipient of several major awards for his teaching and scientific
research, Pinker is Peter de Florez professor of psychology in the
department of brain and cognitive sciences at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology.
I have never met a person who is not interested in language.
I wrote this book to try to satisfy that curiosity. Language is
beginning to submit to that uniquely satisfying kind of understanding
that we call science, but the news has been kept a secret.
For the language lover, I hope to show that there is a world of
elegance and richness in quotidian speech that far outshines the local
curiosities of etymologies, unusual words, and fine points of usage.
For the reader of popular science, I hope to explain what is behind
the recent discoveries (or, in many cases, non-discoveries) reported in
the press: universal deep structures, brainy babies, grammar genes,
artificially intelligent computers, neural networks, signing chimps,
talking Neanderthals, idiot savants, feral children, paradoxical brain
damage, identical twins separated at birth, color pictures of the
thinking brain, and the search for the mother of all languages. I
also hope to answer many natural questions about languages, like why
there are so many of them, why they are so hard for adults to learn,
and why no one seems to know the plural of Walkman.
For students unaware of the science of language and mind, or worse,
burdened with memorizing word frequency effects on lexical decision
reaction time or the fine points of the Empty Category Principle, I
hope to convey the grand intellectual excitement that launched the
modern study of language several decades ago.
For my professional colleagues, scattered across so many disciplines
and studying so many seemingly unrelated topics, I hope to offer a
semblance of an integration of this vast territory. Although I am an
opinionated, obsessional researcher who dislikes insipid compromises
that fuzz up the issues, many academic controversies remind me of the
blind men palpating the elephant. If my personal synthesis seems to
embrace both sides of debates like 'formalism versus
functionalism' or 'syntax versus semantics versus pragmatics,'
perhaps it is because there was never an issue there to begin with.
For the general non-fiction reader, interested in language and
human beings in the broadest sense, I hope to offer something
different from the airy platitudes - Language Lite - that typify
discussions of language (generally by people who have never studied it)
in the humanities and sciences alike. For better or worse, I can write
in only one way, with a passion for powerful, explanatory ideas, and a
torrent of relevant detail. Given this last habit, I am lucky to be
explaining a subject whose principles underlie wordplay, poetry,
rhetoric, wit, and good writing. I have not hesitated to show off my
favorite examples of language in action from pop culture, ordinary
children and adults, the more flamboyant academic writers in my field,
and some of the finest stylists in English.
This book, then, is intended for everyone who uses language, and
that means everyone!
I owe thanks to many people. First, to Leda Cosmides, Nancy Etcoff,
Michael Gazzaniga, Laura Ann Petitto, Harry Pinker, Robert Pinker,
Roslyn Pinker, Susan Pinker, John Tooby, and especially llavenil
Subbiah, for commenting on the manuscript and generously offering
advice and encouragement.
My home institution, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a
special environment for the study of language, and I am grateful to the
colleagues, students, and former students who shared their expertise.
Noam Chomsky made penetrating criticisms and helpful suggestions, and
Ned Block, Paul Bloom, Susan Carey, Ted Gibson, Morris Halle, and
Michael Jordan helped me think through the issues in several chapters.
Thanks go also to Hilary Bromberg, Jacob Feldman, John Houde,
Samuel Jay Keyser, John J. Kim, Gary Marcus, Neal Perlmutter, David
Pesetsky, David Poppel, Annie Senghas, Karin Stromswold, Michael Tarr,
Marianne Teuber, Michael Ullman, Kenneth Wexler, and Karen Wynn for
erudite answers to questions ranging from sign language to obscure ball
players and guitarists. The Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences'
librarian, Pat Claffey, and computer system manager, Stephen G. Wadlow,
those most admirable prototypes of their professions, offered
dedicated, expert help at many stages.
Several chapters benefited from the scrutiny of real mavens, and I
am grateful for their technical and stylistic comments: Derek
Bickerton, David Caplan, Richard Dawkins, Nina Dronkers, Jane
Grimshaw, Misia Landau, Beth Levin, Alan Prince, and Sarah G.
Thomason. I also thank my colleagues in cyberspace who indulged my
impatience by replying, sometimes in minutes, to my electronic queries:
Mark Aronoff, Kathleen Baynes, Ursula Bellugi, Dorothy Bishoe, Helena
Cronin, Lila Gleitman, Myrna Gopnik, Jacques Guy, Henry Kucera, Sigrid
Lipka, Jacques Mehler, Elissa Newport, Alex Rudnicky, Jenny Singleton,
Virginia Valian, and Heather Van der Lely. A final thank you to Alta
Levenson of Bialik High School for her help with the Latin.
I am happy to acknowledge the special care lavished by John
Brockman, my agent, Ravi Mirchandani, my editor at Penguin Books, and
Maria Guarnaschelli, my editor at William Morrow; Maria's wise and
detailed advice vastly improved the final manuscript. Katarina Rice
copy-edited my first two books, and I am delighted that she agreed to
my request to work with me on this one, especially considering
some of the things I say in Chapter 12.
My own research on language has been supported by the National
Institutes of Health (grant HD 18381) and the National Science
Foundation (grant BNS 91-09766), and by the McDonnell-Pew- Center
for Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT.
ISBN: 9780141037653 ISBN-10: 0141037652 Series: Popular Penguins Audience:
Number Of Pages: 504 Published: 1st September 2008 Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd Country of Publication: GB Dimensions (cm): 18.1 x 11.3
Weight (kg): 0.29
Edition Number: 1