Review of The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (1994)


Steven Pinker (writer).

Read in 2019.

Human wetware for language. Pinker argues that Chomsky’s universal grammar is best explained by evolution through natural selection and sees varied evidence in psycholinguistics.

It hasn’t aged terribly well. Pinker’s conclusions are still good and the book is still a useful, surprisingly comprehensive survey of a number of common questions, but much has happened with fMRI and similar lines of evidence since 1994. It’s cute that Pinker mentions writing the book in Emacs, but it’s also indicative of how far computers have come. Their weakness and inability with language in 1994 is one of his main arguments. The Language Instinct could use a remake for the era of OpenAI’s GPT2. I hope it gets written in Emacs.

References here: The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002), The Stuff of Thought: Language As a Window Into Human Nature (2007).

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