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The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker: part 1

Updated on August 29, 2014

Recently I bought the book, The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker. I have found it to be very interesting and would like to discuss what I learn as I read it. I am only at the beginning of the book but would like to share what I have read so far. I will write more hubs as I read and learn more.

As we all know, every race in the world has their own language. Language learning has not been passed from people to people or tribe to tribe. There has been no group of people found anywhere in the world that has been mute, however cut off they are from the rest of the world. They may never have seen others outside their own small community but all can speak.

We are all born with the ability to speak. From research, it is believed that this ability is an instinct and not something learned. Pinker says in his book that wherever in the world two people meet, even if they do not speak the same language, within a very short time they soon find a way to understand each other.

Pinker tells us that speech develops spontaneously without effort or instruction, instinctively but not automatically imitating everything we hear. Anyone listening to a small child speak, will note that they do not at first use the grammar they hear the adults use. For instance, a child telling a story that he ran away from someone might say, "I runned away". He did not hear an adult say that, but he instinctively used a past tense even though it was not grammatically correct.

The theory is that we have an inbuilt "Universal grammar" and as children we quickly build up a vocabulary and start to put it into practice.

Another piece of new knowledge I have acquired regards how children may improve on the language of their parents. This takes us back to the time of the slave trade. The book describes how a completely new language was born out of more than one. On the plantations, slaves from different language backgrounds were deliberately mixed. Maybe the idea was that if they did not understand each other they would work and not talk. It is against human nature not to speak. This is when language known as pidgin was developed. They took some words from their owner's language and some from each other's and so they were able to communicate.

Another linguist, Derek Bickerton, found that the children of these speakers of pidgin tranformed the language into a much more complex one. It happened when they were isolated from the parents and influenced by someone speaking pidgin. Instead of imitating, they developed a whole new rich, and grammatical language. The name for this is creole.

There are other instances of creole languages but like the linguists I must also do more research. I am only now taking my first step in this wonderful journey of discovery.


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    • Hummingbird5356 profile image

      Hummingbird5356 7 years ago

      Thank you, Micky. I have so few hubs compared to you that there is nothing new to comment on, you have to keep coming back to the same old ones.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      Hi Hummimgbird. I'm a bad penny! I'll always come back. I enjoy all your work at least twice. God bless you dear one!

    • Hummingbird5356 profile image

      Hummingbird5356 7 years ago

      Thank you for reading. When I have time I wll get round to part 2.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 7 years ago from South Africa

      My language, Afrikaans, is but 350 years old - developed in a new country between immigrants (mainly Dutch) and the natives. Sadly we fear that it will soon become extinct, because English became our language-medium, which is actually the language of the minority of eleven different nations in our country, each with its own language. As far as I remember tonymac wrote a hub about this.

      Thanks for hubbing this interesting topic. I’m looking forward to the rest.

    • Hummingbird5356 profile image

      Hummingbird5356 8 years ago

      Very funny! Thanks again.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 8 years ago

      And what's a metaphor?

      Anything you want it phor!

      Great hub! I enjoyed the videos. Thanks

    • Hummingbird5356 profile image

      Hummingbird5356 8 years ago

      I am glad you found my hub informative. Thank you.

    • Truth From Truth profile image

      Truth From Truth 8 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks for sharing, this was informative and helpful. Thanks.

    • Hummingbird5356 profile image

      Hummingbird5356 8 years ago

      Thank you for reading.

    • DjBryle profile image

      DjBryle 8 years ago from Somewhere in the LINES of your MIND, and HOPEFULLY at the RIPPLES of your HEART. =)

      Thanks for sharing!=)

    • Hummingbird5356 profile image

      Hummingbird5356 8 years ago

      Thank you for reading my hub. Your opinion is important because I think your writing is very good, that is why I linked your hub. It gives a further insight into the subject. I will be working on further parts in the near future.

      Best regards.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks for this interesting introduction to some of Steven Pinker's ideas. Thankis also for the link to my little Hub! It is most appreciated, I can assure you.

      Looking forward to Part 2 (and 3..?).

      Love and peace



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