The Language Instinct

Myths Debunked

By Steven Pinker
Canadian/American, 1994
Non-Fiction, Linguistics, Evolutionary Psychology 

Table of Contents

1. Instinct to Aquire an Art
2. Chatterboxes
3. Mentalese
4. How Language Works
5. Words, Words, Words
6. The Sounds of Silence
7. Talking Heads
8. The Tower of Babel
9. Baby Born Talking —Describes Heaven
10. Language Organs and Grammar Genes
11. The Big Bang
12. The Language Mavens
13. Mind Design


Cuisine & Delicacies

Ranked as: Hearty Veggie Burger
It’s light with humorous anecdotes and hearty in the linguist information.  Because this book is more of an intelligent introduction to the field of linguistics, I would rank it as a Veggie Burger rather than the more densely Roasted Chicken Dinner.  It’s the accessibility that makes this well written book such a joy to read.  Pinker has taken some complex theories and added lighthearted humour to the mix.  

Destination Summary

Pinker outlines the basics of linguistics and promptly goes on to explore common theories & misconceptions in the field.  He’s sure to include new findings and isn’t afraid to debunk beloved linguistic folktales that we all know & love.  He introduces his theories in an intelligent and easy to understand way.  Overall, the book is thorough in explaining the various aspects of his main topic, What is the Language Instinct?  Where did it come from? 

Off the Beaten Path

Steven Pinker tells a ‘F*cking Brilliant’ Story About Profanity & the Law.  A 2:31 min clip, reminiscent of George Carlin’s 7 Words You Can’t Say on Television, but with a delightful Linguistic Twist!!  Caution: There are swears presented during a rational discussion.

The Language Instinct - Clip of Richard Dawkins Interviewing Steven Pinker.  It’s part of a 50 min. Interview.  This clip is 8 min, raw footage of an informal interview.  

Linguistics as a Window to Understanding the Brain.  A fabulous 50 minute presentation with unique graphics so Pinker can give an overview of his field & research.

Packing List
✓ Sense of Humour & Adventure
✓ Curiosity about What Makes Language ‘Tick’
✓ Perhaps a dictionary for the odd, very unique words

Recommended Resources
Alternate Books
✓ An Introduction to Language By Victoria Fromkin (Orig. 1974, Multiple Eds.) - It’s a common introductory text for 1st year Linguistics students.  A new edition is published every few years.
✓ Psychology of Language By David W. Carroll (Orig. 1986, Multiple Eds.) - It’s an introductory text for 1st or 2nd year Linguistics students.  It gives a great overview in a straightforward way.
✓ How the Mind Works By Steven Pinker (1997) - It’s his next book and a Pulitzer finalist for 1998, 2nd to Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs & Steel.  It seems like the ideas from The Language Instinct are expanded on in this book.

Alternate Movies
✓ Quest for Fire (1981) Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud - It’s a bit dated for special effects but is still a fabulous movie about us before speech.  The most interesting aspect is there is no speech, only grunts for our communication.