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THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT PDF

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The classic book on the development of human language by the world's leading expert on language and the cittadelmonte.info this classic, the world's expert on languag. The Language Instinct. Steven Pinker. June 18 - June 26, Mans uniqeuness in the universe has during recent history suffered many setbacks, the latest of. PDF | This paper examines Steve Pinker's arguments for the existence of a language instinct encoded in the genes of human beings as an explanation for the.


The Language Instinct Pdf

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“A brilliant, witty, and altogether satisfying book.” – New York Times. Book Review. ZZOLIN. Thel. LANGUAGE. INSTINCT. How the Mind Creates Language . An Instinct to Acquire an Art 2. Chatterboxes 3. Mentalese 4. How Language Works 5. Words, Words, Words 6. The Sounds of Silence THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT BY STEPHEN PINKER William Morrow, pages; $ REVIEW BY RANDY HARRIS Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct is.

Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. The language instinct. Steven Pinker. He is also, you may know, a redoubtable philosopher, media critic, and political scientist in his spare time. If you care about language and the mind, you should read this book. Pinker's thesis is the absolute centrepoint of Chomsky's program:

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New Password. Your password has been changed. Returning user. We waved to them to come on, which they did cautiously, stopping every few yards to look us over.

The Language Instinct

When a few of them finally got up courage to approach, we could see that they were utterly thunderstuck by our appearance. When I took off my hat, those nearest to me backed away in terror. One old chap came forward gingerly with open mouth, and touched me to see if I was real. Then he knelt down, and rubbed his hands over my bare legs, possibly to find if they were painted, and grabbed me around the knees and hugged them, rubbing his bushy head against me….

The women and children gradually got up courage to approach also, and presently the camp was swarming with the lot of them, all running about and jabbering at once, pointing to…everything that was new to them. That jabbering was language—an unfamiliar language, one of eight hundred different ones that would be discovered among the isolated highlanders right up through the s.

All of them, as far as we know, already had language. No mute tribe has ever been discovered, and there is no record that a region has served as a cradle of language from which it spread to previously languageless groups. The highlanders conferred intensively, trying to agree upon the nature of the pallid apparitions. The leading conjecture was that they were reincarnated ancestors or other spirits in human form, perhaps ones that turned back into skeletons at night. They agreed upon an empirical test that would settle the matter.

The universality of complex language is a discovery that fills linguists with awe, and is the first reason to suspect that language is not just any cultural invention but the product of a special human instinct. Cultural inventions vary widely in their sophistication from society to society; within a society, the inventions are generally at the same level of sophistication.

Some groups count by carving notches on bones and cook on fires ignited by spinning sticks in logs; others use computers and microwave ovens. Language, however, ruins this correlation.

There are Stone Age societies, but there is no such thing as a Stone Age language. Earlier in this century the anthropological linguist Edward Sapir wrote, When it comes to linguistic form, Plato walks with the Macedonian swineherd, Confucius with the headhunting savage of Assam. To pick an example at random of a sophisticated linguistic form in a nonindustrialized people, the linguist Joan Bresnan recently wrote a technical article comparing a construction in Kivunjo, a Bantu language spoken in several villages on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, with its counterpart construction in English, which she describes as a West Germanic language spoken in England and its former colonies.

The corresponding Kivunjo construction is called the applicative, whose resemblance to the English dative, Bresnan notes, can be likened to that of the game of chess to checkers. The Kivunjo construction fits entirely inside the verb, which has seven prefixes and suffixes, two moods, and fourteen tenses; the verb agrees with its subject, its object, and its benefactive nouns, each of which comes in sixteen genders.

In case you are wondering, these genders do not pertain to things like cross-dressers, transsexuals, hermaphrodites, androgynous people, and so on, as one reader of this chapter surmised. To a linguist, the term gender retains its original meaning of kind, as in the related words generic, genus , and genre.

The Bantu genders refer to kinds like humans, animals, extended objects, clusters of objects, and body parts. It just happens that in many European languages the genders correspond to the sexes, at least in pronouns. For this reason the linguistic term gender has been pressed into service by nonlinguists as a convenient label for sexual dimorphism; the more accurate term sex seems now to be reserved as the polite way to refer to copulation.

Among the other clever gadgets I have glimpsed in the grammars of so-called primitive groups, the complex Cherokee pronoun system seems especially handy. It distinguishes among you and I, another person and I, several other people and I, and you, one or more other persons, and I, which English crudely collapses into the all-purpose pronoun we. Actually, the people whose linguistic abilities are most badly underestimated are right here in our society.

Linguists repeatedly run up against the myth that working-class people and the less educated members of the middle class speak a simpler or coarser language. This is a pernicious illusion arising from the effortlessness of conversation. Ordinary speech, like color vision or walking, is a paradigm of engineering excellence—a technology that works so well that the user takes its outcome for granted, unaware of the complicated machinery hidden behind the panels.

Behind such simple sentences as Where did he go? Despite decades of effort, no artificially engineered language system comes close to duplicating the person in the street, HAL and C3PO notwithstanding.

But though the language engine is invisible to the human user, the trim packages and color schemes are attended to obsessively. But they have no more to do with grammatical sophistication than the fact that people in some regions of the United States refer to a certain insect as a dragonfly and people in other regions refer to it as a darning needle , or that English speakers call canines dogs whereas French speakers call them chiens.

It is even a bit misleading to call Standard English a language and these variations dialects, as if there were some meaningful difference between them.

The best definition comes from the linguist Max Weinreich: The myth that nonstandard dialects of English are grammatically deficient is widespread.

In the s some well-meaning educational psychologists announced that American black children had been so culturally deprived that they lacked true language and were confined instead to a non-logical mode of expressive behavior. If the psychologists had listened to spontaneous conversations, they would have rediscovered the commonplace fact that American black culture is everywhere highly verbal; the subculture of street youths in particular is famous in the annals of anthropology for the value placed on linguistic virtuosity.

Here is an example, from an interview conducted by the linguist William Labov on a stoop in Harlem. The interviewee is Larry, the roughest member of a teenage gang called the Jets. Labov observes in his scholarly article that for most readers of this paper, first contact with Larry would produce some fairly negative reactions on both sides. Well, bullshit! The most linguistically interesting thing about the dialect is how linguistically uninteresting it is: Like speakers of SAE, Larry inverts subjects and auxiliaries in nondeclarative sentences, but the exact set of the sentence types allowing inversion differs slightly.

In both dialects, be can erode only in certain kinds of sentences. No SAE speaker would try the following contractions:.

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Yes he! Who it? Note, too, that BEV speakers are not just more prone to eroding words. And as we would expect from comparisons between languages, there are areas in which BEV is more precise than standard English. He be working means that he generally works, perhaps that he has a regular job; He working means only that he is working at the moment that the sentence is uttered.

In SAE, He is working fails to make that distinction. Grammatical, for these purposes, means well-formed according to consistent rules in the dialect of the speakers.

For example, if a speaker asked the question Where are you going? Such ellipses are obviously part of the grammar of conversational English; the alternative, I am going to the store , sounds stilted and is almost never used. Ungrammatical sentences, by this definition, include randomly broken-off sentence fragments, tongue-tied hemming and hawing, slips of the tongue, and other forms of word salad.

The great majority of sentences were grammatical, especially in casual speech, with higher percentages of grammatical sentences in working-class speech than in middle-class speech. The highest percentage of ungrammatical sentences was found in the proceedings of learned academic conferences. The ubiquity of complex language among human beings is a gripping discovery and, for many observers, compelling proof that language is innate.

But to tough-minded skeptics like the philosopher Hilary Putnam, it is no proof at all. Not everything that is universal is innate.

The Language Instinct

Language was universal before Coca-Cola was, but then, language is more useful than Coca-Cola. Language is invaluable for all the activities of daily living in a community of people: Necessity being the mother of invention, language could have been invented by resourceful people a number of times long ago.

Perhaps, as Lily Tomlin said, man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain. Universal grammar would simply reflect the universal exigencies of human experience and the universal limitations on human information processing.

All languages have words for water and foot because all people need to refer to water and feet; no language has a word a million syllables long because no person would have time to say it. Once invented, language would entrench itself within a culture as parents taught their children and children imitated their parents.

From cultures that had language, it would spread like wildfire to other, quieter cultures. At the heart of this process is wondrously flexible human intelligence, with its general multipurpose learning strategies. So the universality of language does not lead to an innate language instinct as night follows day. To convince you that there is a language instinct, I will have to fill in an argument that leads from the jabbering of modern peoples to the putative genes for grammar.

The crucial intervening steps come from my own professional specialty, the study of language development in children. Let me now take you down this trail of evidence.

The trail begins with the study of how the particular languages we find in the world today arose. Here, one would think, linguistics runs into the problem of any historical science: Although historical linguists can trace modern complex languages back to earlier ones, this just pushes the problem back a step; we need to see how people create a complex language from scratch. Amazingly, we can. The first cases were wrung from two of the more sorrowful episodes of world history, the Atlantic slave trade and indentured servitude in the South Pacific.

Perhaps mindful of the Tower of Babel, some of the masters of tobacco, cotton, coffee, and sugar plantations deliberately mixed slaves and laborers from different language backgrounds; others preferred specific ethnicities but had to accept mixtures because that was all that was available.

Pidgins are choppy strings of words borrowed from the language of the colonizers or plantation owners, highly variable in order and with little in the way of grammar. Sometimes a pidgin can become a lingua franca and gradually increase in complexity over decades, as in the Pidgin English of the modern South Pacific.

Prince Philip was delighted to learn on a visit to New Guinea that he is referred to in that language as fella belong Mrs. But the linguist Derek Bickerton has presented evidence that in many cases a pidgin can be transmuted into a full complex language in one fell swoop: That happened, Bickerton has argued, when children were isolated from their parents and were tended collectively by a worker who spoke to them in the pidgin.

Not content to reproduce the fragmentary word strings, the children injected grammatical complexity where none existed before, resulting in a brand-new, richly expressive language.

The language that results when children make a pidgin their native tongue is called a creole. Though the slave plantations that spawned most creoles are, fortunately, a thing of the remote past, one episode of creolization occurred recently enough for us to study its principal players.

Just before the turn of the century there was a boom in Hawaiian sugar plantations, whose demands for labor quickly outstripped the native pool. Many of the immigrant laborers who first developed that pidgin were alive when Bickerton interviewed them in the s. Here are some typical examples of their speech:. From the individual words and the context, it was possible for the listener to infer that the first speaker, a ninety-two-year-old Japanese immigrant talking about his earlier days as a coffee farmer, was trying to say He bought my coffee; he made me out a check.

But the utterance itself could just as easily have meant I bought coffee; I made him out a check, which would have been appropriate if he had been referring to his current situation as a store owner. The second speaker, another elderly Japanese immigrant, had been introduced to the wonders of civilization in Los Angeles by one of his many children, and was saying that there was an electric sign high up on the wall of the building which displayed the time and temperature.

One of the kinds of food was pfrawg, which he caught for himself in the marshes by the method of kank da head.

The Language Instinct: How The Mind Creates Language

The pidgin did not offer the speakers the ordinary grammatical resources to convey these messages—no consistent word order, no prefixes or suffixes, no tense or other temporal and logical markers, no structure more complex than a simple clause, and no consistent way to indicate who did what to whom. But the children who had grown up in Hawaii beginning in the s and were exposed to the pidgin ended up speaking quite differently.

Here are some sentences from the language they invented, Hawaiian Creole. Do not be misled by what look like crudely placed English verbs, such as go, stay , and came , or phrases like one time. They are not hap-hazard uses of English words but systematic uses of Hawaiian Creole grammar: In fact, this is probably how many of the grammatical prefixes and suffixes in established languages arose.

For example, the English past-tense ending - ed may have evolved from the verb do: He hammered was originally something like He hammer-did. Indeed, creoles are bona fide languages, with standardized word orders and grammatical markers that were lacking in the pidgin of the immigrants and, aside from the sounds of words, not taken from the language of the colonizers.

Bickerton notes that if the grammar of a creole is largely the product of the minds of children, unadulterated by complex language input from their parents, it should provide a particularly clear window on the innate grammatical machinery of the brain.

He argues that creoles from unrelated language mixtures exhibit uncanny resemblances—perhaps even the same basic grammar. This basic grammar also shows up, he suggests, in the errors children make when acquiring more established and embellished languages, like some underlying design bleeding through a veneer of whitewash.

When English-speaking children say. But his basic idea has been stunningly corroborated by two recent natural experiments in which creolization by children can be observed in real time. These fascinating discoveries are among many that have come from the study of the sign languages of the deaf.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, sign languages are not pantomimes and gestures, inventions of educators, or ciphers of the spoken language of the surrounding community. They are found wherever there is a community of deaf people, and each one is a distinct, full language, using the same kinds of grammatical machinery found worldwide in spoken languages. For example, American Sign Language, used by the deaf community in the United States, does not resemble English, or British Sign Language, but relies on agreement and gender systems in a way that is reminiscent of Navajo and Bantu.

Until recently there were no sign languages at all in Nicaragua, because its deaf people remained isolated from one another. When the Sandinista government took over in and reformed the educational system, the first schools for the deaf were created.

The schools focused on drilling the children in lip reading and speech, and as in every case where that is tried, the results were dismal. But it did not matter. View all. Events Podcasts Apps. Contact us Contact us Offices Media contacts Catalogues. Home The Language Instinct. Penguin Published: Buy from.

Words can hardly do justice to the superlative range and liveliness of Pinker's investigations' - Independent 'A marvellously readable book Share at. More from this Author. Enlightenment Now Steven Pinker. The Sense of Style Steven Pinker.

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