- Series: Perennial Classics
- Paperback: 544 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; 1 edition (November 7, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060958332
- ISBN-13: 978-0060958336
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.2 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 234 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,039,941 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (Perennial Classics) 1st Edition
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"A brilliant piece of work." -- -- Mind and Language
"An excellent book full of wit and wisdom and sound judgement." -- -- Boston Globe Book Review
"An exciting book, certain to produce argument." -- -- Atlantic Monthly
"An extremely valuable book, very informative, and very well written." -- -- Noam Chomsky
"Extremely important." -- -- New Scientist
From the Back Cover
In this classic study, the world's leading expert on language and the mind lucidly explains everything you always wanted to know about languages: how it works, how children learn it, how it changes, how the brain computes it, and how it envolved. With wit, erudition, and deft use it everyday 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 like web spinning in spiders or sonar bats. 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.
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Top customer reviews
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The people who published this for Kindle should be ashamed of themselves for selling this product with a straight face.
As Kindle books are often scanned from printed versions, I'v grown accustomed to seeing the occasional mis-scanned word, as they are usually sparse and don't distract from the content.
This book, however, contains hundreds of mis-scans. I'm talking about a few every page (some pages might contain up to 10 errors). And these are errors that routinely distract from the content of the book, as the errors will sometime spell a different word altogether, giving a sentence a completely different meaning that you will only realize is nonsensical after reading an entire paragraph.
Plus, 2 times out of ten, the combination of letters "th" will be scanned as "di". As you must realize, die difficulty of reading dirough paragraphs full of diese errors, in die kindle version of diis book, dioroughly distracts from the enjoyment of die material.
Pinker, one of the acknowledged greats in the 30-year-young field of linguistics, explores the ability of humans to think and to communicate in language from a variety of angles and with reference to many different fields of study.
Topics covered include: - the structure/grammar of language and for comparative languages - the 'correctness' of standard American English and self-designated "language mavens". - structures and regions of the brain which seem to control our ability to speak - observations on the relationship between age and learning language - evolutionary theory and how come only humans can talk? - universal characteristics of all human cultures and all human grammars - animals who have been trained to "talk"
Pinker may or may not be 100% right, but his thinking is clear-headed and his view of humanity is refreshing, in that it is both broad enough to cover every speaking (human) culture, and specific enough to rely on individually observed and experimental evidence in describing the ways we learn.
THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT: HOW THE MIND CREATES LANGUAGE by Prof. Pinker is a great book on the biology/evolution of human language. It has helped me understand the rationale for Chomsky's GENERATIVE GRAMMAR, esp., X-bar theory of syntax. I've learned from this book what I failed to grasp as a student of Applied Linguistics (which I studied at Indiana University.)
It reads like a story book. Prof. Pinker has an amazing power to explain, with examples, analogies and metaphors drawn from various fields. I found that every paragraph in the chapters is full of revealing research results and has so much new to tell the curious reader.
I canft help quote some of the many passages in the book took me right to the core of GENERATIVE SYNTAX/X-bar theory:
(1) "... language is not just any cultural invention but the product of a special human instinct." (p. 14)
(2) "When it comes to linguistic form, Plato walks the Macedonian swineherd, Confucius with the head-hunting savage of ASSAM [north-east India]."
(3) "... language acquisition cannot be explained as a kind of IMITATION."
(4) "Many biologists have capitalized on the close parallel between the principles of GRAMMATICAL combination and the principles of GENETIC combination. In the technical language of genetics, sequences of DNA are said to contain "letters" and "punctuation;" may be "palindromic," "meaningless," or "synonymous;" are "transcribed" and "translated;" and even stored in "libraries." The immunologist Niels Jerne entitled his Nobel Prize address "The Generative Grammar of the Immune System." (p. 76)
(5) "Chomsky suggests that the unordered SUPER-RULES (principles) are universal and innate, and when children learn a particular language, they do not have to learn a long list of rules, because they were born knowing the super-rules. All they have to learn is whether their particular language has the PARAMETER value head-first, as in English, or head last, as in Japanese." (p. 104)
(6) "Now the story begins to get more interesting. You must have noticed that NOUN PHRASES and VERB PHRASES have a lot in common: (1) head..., (2) role-players..., (3) modifiers..., and (4) a subject... The orderings inside a Noun Phrase and inside a Verb Phrase are the same... It seems as if there is a standard design to the two phrases." (p. 102)
(7) "Phrase structure, then, is one solution to the engineering problem of taking an interconnected web of thoughts in the mind and encoding them as a string of words that must be uttered, one at a time, by the mouth." (p. 94)
(8) "It allows one component (a phrase) to SNAP into any of the several positions inside other components (larger phrases). Once a phrase is defined by a rule and is given its connector symbol, it never has to be defined again; the phrase can be PLUGGED in anywhere there is a corresponding socket." (p. 92)
(9) In Chapter 4 (How Language Works), on page 103, Prof. Pinker provides the ANATOMY OF AN X PHRASE. [Quote begins]
"With this common design, there is no need to write out a long list of RULES TO CAPTURE WHAT IS INSIDE A SPEAKERfS HEAD. There may be just ONE PAIR OF SUPER-RULES for the entire language, where the distinction among NOUNS, VERBS, PREPOSITIONS, and ADJECTIVES, are collapsed and all four are specified with a variable like "X." Since a phrase just inherits the properties of its head..., it's redundant to call a phrase headed by a noun a "noun phrase" -- we could just call it an "X phrase," since the nounhood of the head noun, like the manhood of the head noun and all other information in the head noun, percolates up to characterize the whole phrase. Here is what the SUPER-RULES look like....:
XP ¨ (SPEC) X [x-bar] YP* [sorry, couldnft find the x-bar symbol]
["A phrase consists of an optional subject, followed by an X-bar, followed by any number of modifiers."]
X [x-bar] ¨ X ZP*
["An X-bar consists of a head word, followed by any number of role-players."]
Just plug in NOUN, VERB, ADJECTIVE, or PREPOSITION, for X, Y, and Z, and you have the actual phrase structure rules that spell the phrases. This streamlined version of phrase structure is called "the X-bar theory."
This general BLUEPRINT for phrases extends even farther, to other languages..." [end of quote, p. 103]
Some other quotes on universality of language and how children acquire it are notable:
(10) "... the ability of children to generalize to an infinite number of potential sentences depends on their analyzing parental speech using a fixed set of mental categories." (p. 434)
(11) "For language acquisition, what is the innate SIMILARITY SPACE that allows children to generalize from sentences in the parents' speech to the "similar" sentences that define the rest of English.(p. 433)
(12) "The banter among New Guinean highlanders in the film of their first contact with rest of the world, the motions of a sign language interpreter, the prattle of little girls in a Tokyo playground -- I imagine seeing through the rhythms to the structures underneath,and sense that we all have the same minds." (p. 448)
M. Solaiman Ali, Ph.D.
Technical Report Writing Instructor
School of Engineering
King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah