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." Course Hero. 1 May 2020. Web. 23 June 2021. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Language-Instinct-How-the-Mind-Creates-Language/>.

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Course Hero. (2020, May 1). The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 23, 2021, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Language-Instinct-How-the-Mind-Creates-Language/

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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/.

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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 7 : Talking Heads | Summary

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Key Takeaways

  • The human brain comprehends speech not only effectively but also efficiently.
  • Comprehension of sentences begins with parsing. The human brain has a "mental program" that analyzes sentence structure, referred to as a "parser." The brain parses speech, finding subjects, verbs, and other parts of speech, innately and unconsciously.
  • Grammar is like a database that determines which sounds go with which meanings. Productive and receptive language share the same database, which facilitates communication.
  • The parser is constrained by memory, specifically short-term memory, and the need for decision-making. Memory is easy for AI and hard for humans; decision-making is easy for humans and hard for AI.
  • Sentences with multiple embedded elements pose difficulty for the human brain. The difficulty lies not in insufficient memory, but in the type of memory needed for effective analysis.
  • The human brain uses a "depth-first strategy" for making meaning from ambiguous sentences. That is, the brain chooses a meaning and pursues it until the meaning doesn't fit, then starts over until meaning is constructed.
  • Understanding of language is mediated less by a person's general knowledge than by the innate mechanisms for language use within the human brain.
  • Understanding a sentence results from parsing and then making reasonable inferences based on context. Fragments of sentences must be integrated into the mental database, not as a list but as part of a complex framework.
  • Communication is far more complex than a two-way transfer of information.
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