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 13 : Mind Design | Summary

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Key Takeaways

  • The notion of language as instinct challenges the belief that there is no universal human nature.
  • The Standard Social Science Model (SSSM) is a relativistic doctrine that has taken a place of prominence since the 1920s. The SSSM holds that human behavior is controlled by culture, not biology, and human infants are blank slates that can be shaped through learning. This view contrasts with the doctrine of "biological determinism," which has historically served as a justification for discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and economic status.
  • Pinker argues that while neither heredity nor environment is adequate for explaining language ability, the "nature and nurture" perspective is also inadequate. Language behavior differs considerably from one person to the next because of the discrete combinatorial system underlying human language.
  • According to evolutionary psychology, a branch of psychology that borrows many ideas from scientific studies of language, learning requires an innate mechanism to facilitate it. Learning occurs as a result of a complex interaction of many different modules.
  • Though languages appear to vary considerably, all share the underlying design of Universal Grammar.
  • Children learn language by generalizing, but they do so according to the constraints of Universal Grammar.
  • If language is an instinct, the mind is made up of "adapted computational modules" rather than the blank slate of the SSSM.
  • Both differences between people and commonalities among them are innate. Natural selection ensures uniformity of biological systems but thrives on variation among individuals. Those variations that are poorly adapted disappear.
  • To the linguist the differences among the world's languages are only "skin-deep," as the linguist knows the complex underlying Universal Grammar is common to all human language.
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