Sarah Wilson on whether language is instinctual or learned

Claiming that humans are born with an innate capacity for language, psychologist Steven Pinker's 1994 book The Language Instinct reignited a long-running debate. On one side were evolutionary theorists like Pinker, who used Noam Chomsky's ideas, among others, to argue that language evolved through a process of natural selection, and that children are born with a genetic instinct for speech.

On the other were linguists like Geoffrey Sampson, whose 1997 book Educating Eve: The 'Language Instinct' Debate used Karl Popper's theories of learning to suggest that we are born knowing nothing, but are able to learn anything: "Eve was not born a know-all. She was ignorant. But she was a good learner."

The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, published in 2003, was Pinker's response: attacking the idea that a child's mind is a "blank slate" ready to be written upon.

In his latest book, The Stuff of Thought: Language As a Window Into Human Nature, Pinker argues that the words we use, the verbs and nouns, metaphors and grammatical structures, can tell us a great deal about the societies we live in, as well as our own minds and the way they work. He believes all humans share a "language of thought" and that studying the way this works can reveal how we strive to make sense of the world around us.

Thanks to who have provided this article. View the original here.


comments powered by Disqus