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Publisher's Summary

In this classic, the world’s expert on language and mind lucidly explains everything you always wanted to know about language: how it works, how children learn it, how it changes, how the brain computes it, and how it evolved. With deft use of examples of humor and wordplay, Steven Pinker weaves our vast knowledge of language into a compelling story: language is a human instinct, wired into our brains by evolution.

The Language Instinct received the William James Book Prize from the American Psychological Association and the Public Interest Award from the Linguistics Society of America. This edition includes an update on advances in the science of language since The Language Instinct was first published.

©2011 Steven Pinker (P)2011 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Pinker writes with acid verve." ( Atlantic Monthly)
"An extremely valuable book, very informative, and very well written." (Noam Chomsky)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

nice background - field has advanced since publish

Important background to linguistics and cognitive science wrt language, though readers should follow up with more recent accounts of particular areas of interest (good suggestions in the afterward).

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Overly Detailed

If you're a English Major or language major in general, you might like this book. Otherwise, you're will to listen will me smashed in by this book's huge list type example methodology.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Too much detail in the middle

I'd give it a mixed review. The book has many details at the level of morphemes that are pretty hard to listen to, but I know I'd never have finished the book reading. Some of the data is dated (e.g. genome mapping, brain hemisphere stuff), which does reduce the credibility of some of the arguments. He also seems to be pretty selective in cherry-picking data to support his ideas. Still though, I learned a lot and enjoyed most of it.

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  • Lloyd
  • SOUTHLAKE, TX, United States
  • 09-05-14

Great Listen. Recommended it to everyone.

If you could sum up The Language Instinct in three words, what would they be?

It was a great book. I am a speech therapist so my interest in this topic would probably be greater than other listeners. It can not be stressed enough, the ability to use language is such a driving force, its is what makes is human. Why wouldn't everyone want to know more about it? The fair use doctrine get a bit bruised in the Great Courses on the same topic by borrowing so heavily from this book. I would recommend using this as a great source.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Language Instinct?

I really like his viewpoint when discussing how monkeys have DNA that is 99% identical to human. His discussion on evolution was insightful. It really put it in prospective.

Which character – as performed by Arthur Morey – was your favorite?

IT was Fine. His frontal lisp (distortion of "s") was noticeable but not a distraction. I only mention it because others made a big deal about it.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

It was a book I did not want to stop listening. But I am unique in my appreciation of his book. I think the average person who is interested in the topic would really like it. It get a bit boggy around chapter four. It's readability level might require someone to possess an undergraduate or graduate degree.

Any additional comments?

It does listen like a text book but is that bad?

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Narrators MUST Do Their Homework

What did you like best about this story?

I'd originally read The Language Instinct about ten years ago, so I knew what to expect. My feelings about the book haven't changed - I think throwing out the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis completely and Pinker's ridiculous attack on the social sciences weaken an otherwise excellent book. I was pleased to see that this new version includes updates with the latest research.

Would you be willing to try another one of Arthur Morey’s performances?

Morey's performance was average at best. When reading a technical/academic text like this, mispronunciations of terms and the names of Amazonian and Australian Aboriginal peoples is unforgivable. 'Warrrlll-pearee' for Warlpiri (prounounced wall-PREE)? Really?

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Interesting but more technical than expected

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

This is a long book, and I found myself skipping forwards through sections as it does become quite technical in parts - more so than I expected.

having said that, it is full of information, interesting anecdotes and case studies, but some of it is difficult to listen to (as opposed to read) given how complex the detail in parts

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Books on language are best on audio

This is a reissue of a classic book from 1994. Arthur's reading is well paced with a calm manor allowing the listener to follow some intense sentence diagrams without the expected PTSD flashbacks from Mrs. Thomas' 8th grade English class. It is an enjoyable book, an interesting subject, precisely written, read well.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Blake
  • Portland, OR, United States
  • 04-14-13

Dense, slow, dry, technical and totally brilliant

I'm kind of conflicted about this book. On one hand, I had some serious difficulty managing to slog through it. Even in his more recent books, Pinker has a hard time making his information tell a story that holds the reader's interest (to his credit, he's gotten a little better in his last couple of books). This being an earlier work, you get to see him take nerd to a level you might not even realize existed without much in the way of charm or readability. His ability to get way too involved in over analyzing the mist insignificant details is both what makes him so fascinating and at the same boring beyond measure.

With all that said, sometimes people are in the mood for actually understanding something. Nonfiction books are supposed to be educational, but too often they are dumbed down and simplified, which can be quite unsatisfying. Sometimes slogging through difficult material can give greater rewards than books that spoon feed and smooth out the edges. Sometimes the tangents that analyze minute details satisfy curiosities that might otherwise linger. Pinker certainly "leaves no stone unturned", as the cliché goes. The result is that I really feel like I learned something instead of reading fluff or unbalanced ideology. Pinker does spend a little too much time getting into the nerd version of pissing matches with his contemporaries, but this isn't the worst example of this I've seen from him.

I've gone back and forth on whether to give this book 3 or 4 stars. I guess it's one book that can fit all over the rating scale for different reasons. But I am very glad I read it, and other people who like to get to the bottom of things will too.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Randy
  • Bakersfield, CA, United States
  • 03-30-13

Not your typical linguistic book.

What did you love best about The Language Instinct?

This book delves into the history and evolution of language. It's nice to get the "how we got here", which is much more enlightening.

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

UGH! Forget It!!

I'm 24% done and that's enough. I'm not learning a thing, it's very text-booky, and nowhere near as interesting as I hoped it would be.

I don't like to waste my money so I often plow through books even if I don't like them ... but this one was only 5$; not worth the effort!

1 of 2 people found this review helpful