The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language
by Steven Pinker
Language is a very complicated thing. How do we learn it? Why are there so many languages? Is it from nature or nurture? Or a bit of both? Are our brains hard-wired to learn language from birth? Is language an instinct?
Steven Pinker is one of the world's leading experts on language and the mind. In The Language Instinct, he seeks to prove one thing: that language is an instinct we are born with.
Pinker draws from various sources including Noam Chomsky but relies a lot on his own studies. He explores the complexity of grammar and speech and demonstrates in many, many ways how these are just too complex to be simply taught and that we must be hard-wired to be able to develop an understanding of the rules of grammars and the various exceptions. He also explores the way in which language learning can be altered or partially lost due to mental illness, brain injury or other unfortunate circumstances.
This book is an excellent source of knowledge especially if you are interested in linguistics. I took a Linguistics course in college as an undergrad and always wished I could study it more. Hence, why I decided to read this book. However, the book was so very dry. It barely kept my interest. I think there were a few factors at play. Pinker tried too hard to be funny. Sometimes so hard that it became uncomfortable. He made a joke about those people who correct others for using "hopefully" in an incorrect manner. He said it's like telling someone Cleveland is really Cincinnati and Cincinnati is really Cleveland. I'm one of those people so I felt pretty insulted. He also made several jokes at the expense of Red Sox fans which I thought were completely unnecessary. Other times Pinker makes really interesting observations like comparing different languages to different species of animals. For example, fox and wolf and English and German are of the same ancestor/origin but are different species/languages with a long list of differentiating characteristics. I also enjoyed little trivia bits like the fact that "orange" was really "norange" but the "n" dropped off. I had hope for more of that and less of the sad jokes.
I don't think it helped my case that I listened to the book on audio. The narrator was so-so and had a voice that was a bit monotone for my taste. It hurt the narration that the text was so dry and that it went on for 19 hours. It took me a few months to listen to this book just because I needed breaks on a regular basis.
If you are a linguistics enthusiast or a linguistics student, I do recommend this book. Perhaps in paperback or ebook and not audio. If you are just a person with a passing interest in linguistics, find something else.