Steven Pinker the Language Instinct Pdf

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About Steven Pinker the Language Instinct Pdf

In my bookshop are lots of books like, ‘First 100 Words’ and “ABC with pictures”, you know those sort of books. We talk to our babies in ‘motherese’ and we point to things and name them, but we do not teach our babies grammar. We say things like ‘look at those puppies there, they are much smaller than these ones here’. We don’t explain when to use words like ‘those’ or ‘these’ or ‘there’ and ‘here’ and where we put them in a sentence.

We don’t need to, Pinker says, Chomsky said, that grammar is built-in. That no matter what language a child learns, they will use the words grammatically without any instruction. And if a child learns wildly different languages as say Welsh, Spanish and English (there are many people who grow up speaking these particular three in Patagonia) they will use the correct grammar as well as words without any difficulty at all.

Notes on reading: What I’ve learned so far: that it takes only one generation to turn a pidgin into a creole (language). Immigrant workers in Hawaii, Japanese, Filipinos, Chinese, Koreans even Portuguese and Europeans spoke to each other in pidgin. Pidgin is a collection of words without any grammar. It’s a bit like what most of us who are not linguistically-gifted speak when we travel. We mix the few words we know of the local language with English and (if British) shouted loudly and repetitively until the ‘native’ gets it.

The children of the immigrant workers were looked after together when their parents were in the fields and they, just like that, because of the instinct for language, for grammar, turned the pidgin into a creole, a language that could express anything and everything. Children never speak pidgin, their brains impose structure on words and they learn from each other. Sadly, the window for language acquisition closes as puberty approaches. After that it is only talented individuals who can acquire a foreign language with perfect grammar and accent.

Jamaican, which Jamaicans continually put down as the patois of the poor people’, not proper ‘standard English’ is in fact a proper language with its own grammar, although a majority of the words are derived from English and Akan,

Pinker says he’s not 100% behind Chomsky’s theories. He’s pretty close though. I got bored with the chapters on Chomsky’s language trees, I’m more interested in how we produce language than the structure of it.

Great book, a difficult and academic read (at least to me) and boring in bits too but none of that takes away from opening up a new skein of thought for me, and I enjoy that more than anything else from a book. 

A friend, a diplomat’s daughter, when asked how she had managed to master Dutch when she went to a school in Suriname, shrugged.
“I don’t know. I remember being so confused during the first day, not understanding a single word. But not so long after that, I was able to speak in Dutch. I just spoke, I don’t know how.”

That had happened years ago, when she was still very young. We have always wondered how come children are able to learn language easily, while many, if not most adults, find the task of learning a new language bewildering, bordering with the impossible. Plus, children are not just great imitators. If they were, we would only be repeating things our parents had told us when we were small. But we don’t. We don’t just mimic our parents’ words. Something in our neural circuitry does more than just copying; it analyses grammar, it finds for pattern, it composes new combination of words… frighteningly complex processes that, so far, cannot even be matched by the most advanced of AI. C3PO is still a long way to go.

The ability of learning language is one of the many subjects covered by the book The Language Instinct, written by Steven Pinker, a psycholinguist in Harvard. (No, he’s not some crazy linguist who enjoys slaying people.)

Language is probably the hallmark of human race. We boast our ability to communicate in words, a feature of our culture that no other living forms have. But Pinker shows us that far from being a cultural invention, language is actually an instinct. And because it is, then despite the doubts of the likes of Chomsky, it must be built gradually in the lineages one of which led to us thanks to natural selection. Aiming towards the goal of convincing us about that main point of language being an instinct, Pinker wove an abundance of evidence into this clear, mostly easy-to-swallow book. I said most, because to be frank at times I was lost among a wealth of linguistic terms that I had to crawl through, trying to just grab the general point of some parts.

Nevertheless, I like Pinker’s book for dissecting language thoroughly. My favourite part is of course about the language mavens – people who think they have the task to safeguard the purity of language and grammar. Pinker showed us that many instances of ‘ungrammatical’ words or sentences according to those mavens, are actually grammatical according to how our brain works. Very enlightening, especially for someone like me who has for quite some time lost her faith in the tyranny of KBBI and EYD of the Indonesian language. (Our own language mavens, for instance, would waste their sweat telling us that the correct spelling for ‘lembab’ is ‘lembap’, though you understand that both mean the same anyway, and that you may not speak of ‘jam delapan’, but ‘pukul delapan’ instead.)

But hey, if this sounds like telling us to ditch our dictionaries and standard spellings and pronunciation altogether, what am I doing, writing something in what, I hope, is a neat piece of review, instead 0f sumth1n l1k3 d33s? (You might even notice that I even care to hit the spacebar twice after a period, but only once after a comma.)

Well, when I talk with my sister and brother, or with my bestfriends, sometimes we use words and phrases only we understand. (I wager none of you know what an ‘exedol’ is.) Sometimes we don’t even have to finish our sentences. Our experience together has created specific words and phrases and shaped the language that we use when we communicate with each other. But, when I write something, keeping a general reader in mind, I must be careful to use words and phrases most, if not all, readers would understand, presenting my thought clearly, preventing misunderstanding or confusion (except if that is exactly my intention, but Joyce I am not). Hence my writing style – but trust me, in verbal communication, I might sound very, very different.

Language is far more interesting than filling up blanks on a question sheet with the right form of verbs, and Steven Pinker has a way of revealing to us how amazing our language and our brain are.

About The Language Instinct Pdf Download Author

Steven Arthur Pinker is a prominent Canadian-American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, and author of popular science. Pinker is known for his wide-ranging explorations of human nature and its relevance to language, history, morality, politics, and everyday life. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time, and The New Republic, and is the author of numerous books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, Words and Rules, The Blank Slate, The Stuff of Thought, The Better Angels of Our Nature, The Sense of Style, and most recently, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.

He was born in Canada and graduated from Montreal’s Dawson College in 1973. He received a bachelor’s degree in experimental psychology from McGill University in 1976, and then went on to earn his doctorate in the same discipline at Harvard in 1979. He did research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for a year, then became an assistant professor at Harvard and then Stanford University. From 1982 until 2003, Pinker taught at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, and eventually became the director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. (Except for a one-year sabbatical at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1995-6.) As of 2008, he is the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard.

Pinker was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2004 and one of Prospect and Foreign Policy’s 100 top public intellectuals in 2005. He has also received honorary doctorates from the universities of Newcastle, Surrey, Tel Aviv, McGill, and the University of Tromsø, Norway. He was twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, in 1998 and in 2003. In January 2005, Pinker defended Lawrence Summers, President of Harvard University, whose comments about the gender gap in mathematics and science angered much of the faculty. On May 13th 2006, Pinker received the American Humanist Association’s Humanist of the Year award for his contributions to public understanding of human evolution.

In 2007, he was invited on The Colbert Report and asked under pressure to sum up how the brain works in five words – Pinker answered “Brain cells fire in patterns.”

Pinker was born into the English-speaking Jewish community of Montreal. He has said, “I was never religious in the theological sense… I never outgrew my conversion to atheism at 13, but at various times was a serious cultural Jew.” As a teenager, he says he considered himself an anarchist until he witnessed civil unrest following a police strike in 1969. His father, a trained lawyer, first worked as a traveling salesman, while his mother was first a home-maker then a guidance counselor and high-school vice-principal. He has two younger siblings. His brother is a policy analyst for the Canadian government. His sister, Susan Pinker, is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the author of The Sexual Paradox and The Village Effect.

Pinker married Nancy Etcoff in 1980 and they divorced 1992; he married Ilavenil Subbiah in 1995 and they too divorced. He is married to the novelist and philosopher Rebecca Goldstein, the author of 10 books and winner of the National Medal of the Humanities. He has no children.

His next book will take off from his research on “common knowledge” (knowing that everyone knows something). Its tentative title is: Don’t Go There: Common Knowledge and the Science of Civility, Hypocrisy, Outrage, and Taboo.

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