Dogs lie around with their cute or scary barking; birds seem to fly out of being able to; cats chase mice, and spiders make spider webs. They couldn’t have gone to school to learn that whole. All species are born with their own unique abilities, and so are humans. Speaking may be taken for granted unless we have met someone who uses sign language; however, even then we recognize this is in no way lack of communication since they can speak too; in a slightly different way; nevertheless, they can. Communication is therefore as intrinsic to humans at it is building nests to birds.
Controversial Steven Pinker, the author of The Blank Slate and The Better Angels of our Nature, shows a rather spontaneous and poetic description of language; far from the way the academics and pundits of language portray it. Pinker makes a wonderful case for language as an artful instinct rather than a cultural artefact to simply serve a mere mundane purpose, which is to solve a problem. From grammar and rules, Pinker beautifully divides his book into sections which describe how language takes form during childhood to the extent where it can be misleading when used wonderfully but unrealistically.
Nevertheless, what evidence does Pinker offer to make a case for language as an instinct? The first and maybe most undeniable piece of evidence is children. Those small humans who at as early as the age of three can already produce impressive sentences that are not only grammatically correct but are also incredibly creative. This serves as proof that language is not reproduced in the form of repetition or a mere parroting performance, – as Chomsky had already formulated the idea of language being innate – but an ingenious process of creation.
One of the major controversies in his book is the negation of the belief that the English spoken by the working-class is simple or that it even lacks certain linguistic competence. However, Pinker lays a very convincing explanation using reason and common sense to fully disagree with such an assumption. What’s more, the author also reasons that if certain words in standardized English, such as the –s at the end of the third person in the present tense “she walks,” were to disappear, no one would miss it.
Another controversy found in this book is the idea that language is not necessarily bound to be a reference to intelligence. In his research, Pinker notes one particular case; that of a girl who suffered chatterbox syndrome. This peculiarity caused her to be retarded; however, this did not correlate with her language abilities since the child could converse not only with superb fluency but with an extraordinary repertoire of words and structures that most people would not think of.
Piker has come to define language as an “instinct” and a biological adaptation, which he points out was firstly articulated by Darwin. One clear example of this is that there are pidging languages – these result from the encounter of two peoples who do not share the same language, leading to the creation of a way to communicate borrowing words from here and there – around the world. And of course, language changes through time; which not only proves that it is not static, but adaptable. As people change and move to different environments, language is adjusted to their needs.
Whether someone is well-informed in the linguistics department or not, this book is a good introduction for anyone trying to dedicate his or her life to language, and a beautiful study to read about for those who feel curious or attracted to language in general. Were it not for language, one would not find a way to talk about gigantic pink elephants that live on clouds in harmony with the unicorns whom they have as neighbours. A not very surprisingly amazing study about language by a very talented writer, Steven Pinker.