The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (P.S.)

The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (P.S.)

Steven Pinker

Language: English

Pages: 576

ISBN: 0061336467

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

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.














behind you, a full 180 degrees back, like an owl. (Stop at 180 degrees; don't go around and around like the girl in The Exorcist.) Now imagine that your head is stuck in that position. Your nerve cables have been given a half-twist, so the left brain would control your right body and vice versa. Now, Kinsbourne is not suggesting that some primordial rub- bernecker literally got its head stuck, but that changes in the genetic instructions for building the creature resulted in the

peach. The psychologist Edgar Zurif, jesting the neurologist's habit of giving a fancy name to every syndrome, has suggested that it be called anomia for bananas, or "banananomia." Does this mean that the brain has a produce section? No one has found one, nor centers for inflections, traces, phonology, and so on. Pinning brain areas to mental functions has been frustrating. Frequently one finds two patients with lesions in the same general area but with different kinds of impairment, or

e smell nember ef vewels cen remeen quete expresseve, so we cannot con- clude that a hominid with a restricted vowel space had little language. So far I have talked about when and how the language instinct might have evolved, but not why. In a chapter of The Origin of Species, Darwin painstakingly argued that his theory of natural selection could account for the evolution of instincts as well as bodies. If language is The Big Bang 355 like other instincts, presumably it evolved by

meaningful sense. For this reason, people are bound to be confused by claims like "Intelligence is 7 0 % heritable," especially when the newsmagazines report them in the same breath (as they inevitably do, alas) with research in cognitive science on the basic workings of the mind. All claims about a language instinct and other mental modules are claims about the commonalities among all normal people. They have virtually nothing to do with possible genetic differences between people. One

man, is it because we have neural patterns that correspond one-to- one to the English words Socrates, is, a, and man, and groups of neurons in the brain that correspond to the subject of an English sentence, the verb, and the object, laid out in that order? Or do we use some other code for representing concepts and their relations in our heads, a language of thought or mentalese that is not the same as any of the world's languages? We can answer this question by seeing whether English

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