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The Language Instinct (by Steven Pinker)

I had heard a lot about Steven Pinker, so when I saw one of his books, I didn’t think twice before buying it.

He’s a professor of psychology at Harvard University and there’s a very long Wikipedia page about him. In this book, he speaks about the topic of language.

He’s not a linguist, but a cognitive scientist, which means he focuses on how the brain processes and creates language. Can it get any more interesting than this? As someone who is passionate about understanding how the brain works, I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Steven Pinker

In the book, Pinker explains how language works. From the way children learn to speak, to the evolution and changes of language over time, and the ways in which it can both unify and divide humanity, Pinker offers a thorough and enlightening examination of this subject.

It’s an excellent book. However, as a lay reader, I found it to be a bit of a challenge. The level of detail and technical terminology used in the book made it difficult for me to fully comprehend at times. So, I found myself often skimming, while wondering if it was intendend as a book for university students. Additionally, the small, dense text of the edition I read didn’t make the reading experience any easier.

In the book, he used the word “retarded” to describe children with cognitive impairment. While I understand that this may not have been considered offensive when the book was originally published, it was still disturbing to read in the present day.

He’s clearly a fan of the Darwinian evolution and mentions passionately Chomsky (who is now 94 years old and still active!) so many times that it triggered a real interest in me to read more about him and I’m sure I’ll end up reading one of his books too.

I appreciated Pinker’s clever humor that was present throughout the book and made me genuinely smile.

In Conclusion

It’s an excellent and fascinating book and I look forward to reading more of Pinker’s work in the future. However, I didn’t find it suitable for a lay audience to which I belong to.

So, if you’re into linguistics, you cannot miss this book. If you’re a casual reader instead, you might want to skip this one.

Watch this lecture where Steven Pinker discusses linguistics as a window to understanding the human brain

Title: The Language Instinct. The New Science of Language and Mind
Author: Steven Pinker
Year first published: 1994

From Goodreads:

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 wordplay, Steven Pinker weaves our vast knowledge of language into a compelling story: language is a human instinct, wired into our brains by evolution. The Language Instinct received the William James Book Prize from the American Psychological Association and the Public Interest Award from the Linguistics Society of America. This edition includes an update on advances in the science of language since The Language Instinct was first published.