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84 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational, May 24, 2001
This review is from: The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (Perennial Classics) (Paperback)
The enlightened Stephen Pinker delivers a masterful compendium on linguistic theory that is truly enjoyable to read. His fine use of wit and literary fluency makes this book very enjoyable and emulates the great Richard Dawkins in the way that it seeks (and succeeds) in reaching the layman, the student, and the academician. To put it bluntly, I had never been interested in Linguistics. It seemed to be a stuffy field of repetition of high school "grammar". When assigned to read this book for a Cognitive Development Psychology course, I approached it with dread. It turned out to be the highlight of my current academic quarter. Pinker, using clean evidence to back his claims, makes some wonderful assertions about Linguistics. This book, couched in the fascinating field of evolutionary psychology, does a good job of explaining the formation and foibles of a Universal Language. He justly attacks the ridiculously ingrained Standard Social Science Model of Language and delivers a cohesive explanation from a Psychologically oriented perspective. Unlike what most critics state, Pinker does NOT say that genes are the only basis of language, but rather supports the fundamental basis of evolutionary psychology. It goes a bit like this: the environment of our hunter-gatherer ancestors selected for certain genes to proliferate. These genes code us to synthesize certain proteins at certain times in our development to form certain physiological mechanisms (arms, lungs, brain, etc). Of these, he argues that the brain is not a general purpose processing tool but rather a domain specific one with an appropriate "Language Center". This causes us to have an innate mechanism for language and, therefore, an innate "Mentalese" and a Universal Grammar. HOWEVER - he also says that culture is necessary!! Without culture, one could never learn the particulars of their own language and, after a certain developmental threshold, would be without any specific language.
I apologize for the length of this endorsement. It just seemed that some possible, deconstructive critiques could seem compelling without some understanding of what Pinker was really getting at - the inherent beauty of human language and our "instinct" for it. So, if you skimmed this recommendation, know only this: "THIS BOOK IS WONDERFUL AND COVERS A GREAT RANGE AND DEPTH OF LINGUISTICS. A FUN AND INSPIRATIONAL READ".
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Initial post: Jan 15, 2011 3:34:03 AM PST
Very interesting book!

Excellent review!

- author Sam - a linguist
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