The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language | Study Guide

Steven Pinker

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Course Hero, "The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language Study Guide," May 1, 2020, accessed June 23, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Language-Instinct-How-the-Mind-Creates-Language/.

The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language | Chapter 10 : Language Organs and Grammar Genes | Summary

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Key Takeaways

  • A defective gene can disrupt grammar as demonstrated by studies of families with Specific Language Impairment (SLI), though this gene does not control grammar.
  • Pinker argues against the widely held notion of "the brain [as] a general-purpose learning device, void and without form prior to experience of the surrounding culture."
  • To be considered an instinct, language must have a space in the brain. Paul Broca's work with aphasia patients helped isolate the left hemisphere as critically connected to language ability. Many other studies have confirmed this. Further studies have shown this area to be responsible for the abstractions of language, not the physical production of speech sounds.
  • The brain's left hemisphere appears to house the underlying grammar of language, including the abstract rules for word and phrase formation.
  • Broca's area of the brain is responsible for grammatical processing but not comprehension of language. However, the specific roles of various parts of the brain in language, such as Broca's and Wernicke's areas, are still unclear.
  • Although accurately mapping specific aspects of language to specific parts of the brain is not yet possible, Pinker argues that evidence for "grammar genes" exists. Moreover, multiple genes rather than one gene would need to contribute to language.
  • With regard to genetic variation, Pinker hypothesizes that the basic design of language would need to be common to all humans or language could not exist. This basic design would include X-bar theory and the universal rules of grammar. However, the "complexity of language circuitry" allows for variation among individuals.
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