Excerpts from reviews
Pinker writes clearly and engagingly about the most difficult
—American Airlines Way
... an excellent overview of what is known about the nature of
language. ... Pinker has a fine knack for elucidating complex
linguistic theory in such clean prose that it all seems transparent—a
difficult feat when performing the graceful but complex aerial turn
of subject-verb-object to subject-object-verb sentence that shows that
Japanese and English sentences actually work the same way. Using the
kind of examples that make you read them out loud and then think,
"That's fascinating," Pinker lays out the last 30 years of linguistic
Dr. Pinker writes with acid verve ... This is an exciting book,
certain to produce argument.
—The Atlantic Monthly
[Best of Year List:]
Finally we have the book we've all been waiting for: everything you
always wanted to know about language but were afraid you wouldn't
understand. In one beautifully written volume we get dazzlingly clear
explanations of theoretical concepts like Chomksy's generative
grammar, the mysteries of phonology and the evolution of language;
exeperimental evidence for how people parse speech or perceive speech
sounds; and lucid discussions of such controversial issues as "the
grammar gene," and the "ultimate mother tongue." Best of all, it's fun
—The Boston Book Review
Examples are clear and easy to understand; Pinker's humor and
insight make this the perfect introduction to the world of
cognitive science and language. Highly recommended.
... an excellent book full of wit and wisdom and sound judgment. ..
better than most college courses on language and the mind—and a
great deal more digestible.
—The Boston Globe
This book, like no other, makes the sciences of language intelligible
to lay readers without patronizing them, even as it entertains with
comedy and wit. ... it probably deserves a Pullet
—The Chicago Tribune
... a fascinating intellectual quest that depends on theory, deduction,
and data. ... The book is peppered (and salted) with excellent and
persuasive examples from both the laboratory and the real world. Most
endearing is his demonstration of the power and beauty of language
with examples from Dr. Seuss to Shakespeare and Yogi Berra to Martin
Luther King. ... Just as Pinker promises in the preface, ... this
book is for everyone!
A book on language by an academic sounds like a surefire recipe for
psychobabble—but not if that academic is Professor Steven Pinker.
Combining unpretentious style with vast erudition, Prof Pinker can
make even the origin of irregular verbs riveting. Inevitably, his
arguments owe much to the controversial linguistics guru, Noam
Chomsky, but anyone who thinks only dolts fuss over split infinitives
can't be all bad.
... combines science and language in a witty and new account of
the nature and structure of our thinking.
Pinker has the requisite intellectual flair and literary panache to
engagingly conduct us through this vast territory. Pinker's
irreverence, wit, and adeptness with language enable him to make an
otherwise dry and abstruse field—linguistics—fascinating and
important to the nonprofessional reader.
... a triumph of common sense over some of the nonsense that has
dominated psychology and linguistics for much of this century.
.. A book about language had better be well written, and Mr.
Pinker's book is superbly so. Rarely can such a rich harvest of
new ideas and profound insights have been made so accessible by
one of their inventors. ... he is unfailingly articulate, funny,
and clear. The book is to Chomsky as Shakespeare is to Spenser.
Perhaps the most significant book about grammar to appear since the
publication of Noam Chomsky's Syntactic Structures (1957) ...
Unlike much of Chomsky's writing, Pinker's theory of language requires
no interpreters. His book has the added advantage of being both witty
I have read nothing so entertaining and intellectually stimulating
this year. ... He sets sets out to demonstrate that language is not a
cultural invention but a neurological mechanism, and along the way
offers up many witty and fascinating reflections on
a cracking book ... marvelous ... wonderful to read.
[Best of Year List:]
In a healthy field of contenders, the big favourite—literate,
humane, funny, touching, and important. ... Words are humankind's true
currency, and this book takes you a lot nearer the mint.
... a dazzling new book. ... This is all immensely fine and
trenchant, and Pinker embarks on his argument with brilliant dash
and swagger: "I want to debauch your mind with learning," he
begins. ... What a wonderful ambition. Not many writers aim this
high. [he is] a canny writer and a bit of a wag. ... The
Language Instinct vibrates with delicious asides and poignant
discoveries. ... Words can hardly do justice to the superlative
range and liveliness of Pinker's investigations.
Steven Pinker writes with the ebullient exuberance of a novelist or
poet. He is clearly in love with language, and not merely in the
intellectual sense. At times he writes as if he is intoxicated with
the richness and diversity of its content. In making a point, he is
just as likely to quote from All My Children as from The Bard.
Pinker's prose is a pleasure to read, laced through- out with wit and
humor. You might think that the entertainment would be bought
at the price of sacrificing scientific precision, but Pinker has a rare ability
to express profound, original reflections in a way that is frankly entertaini-
ing. As a consequence, although the book is packed full of new ideas, often on
difficult and challenging topics, it is simply a delight to read. ...
[Pinker's] science is deeply imbued with an appreciation of the joy to
be had from indulging in the creative side of human behavior, balanced
with humanistic concern over possible misuse of concepts of innateness
in furthering the understanding of human behavior. Hopefully, those
who follow will be equally sensible in balancing scientific rigor with
an appreciation of the enormous creative potential with which
language, and the Universal Grammar, enriches the lives and members of
—Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Pinker eloquently explains the details of Chomsky's revolutionary
theory, and then proceeds to bring us up-to-date on the latest
advances in linguistics. ... Luckily, he's also a user-friendly writer
able to transform technical stuff into a fun and informative read. ...
But don't be fooled by the entertainment: Pinker is dead serious about
... an impressive book. It is vividly written by a man of great
learning. ... full of useful information to impart at cocktail
... an accessible, entertaining, and authoritative introduction to the
modern science of language. ... It is a joy to witness, at last, the
promise of linguistics fulfilled.
—London Review of Books
Splendid ... Not bad for a supposedly stuffy scholar from MIT.
—The Los Angeles Times
Steven Pinker has made several landmark contributions to cognitive
science in the past, and his latest book The Language Instinct
constitutes yet another one. [It is] written in an exceptionally
clear, engaging, and witty style and directed towards a general
audience. ... A brilliant piece of work. It succeeds in demonstrating
that the recent discoveries about the uniquely human ability to
acquire and use language are as elegant and exciting as anything in
—Mind and Language
A mightily ambitious book ... With an unusual and attractive blend of
patience and wit, Pinker is extremely good at explaining. ... Pinker
is not yet 40; with his voracious intelligence and his gift for prose,
we can expect many more installments from the front lines of
—The Montreal Gazette
Because the book is laced throughout with wit and humor, we might
think that the entertainment is bought at the price of sacrificing
scientific precision. But Pinker has a rare ability to express
profound, original reflections in a way that is frankly entertaining.
As a consequence, the book is a a delight to read, even though it is
packed with new ideas, often on difficult and challenging
... a marvelously readable book about language, written by a real
expert. Steven Pinker tackles with wit and erudition the kinds of
question everyone asks... [he] brings not only an expertise in
linguistics and psychology and a wide knowledge of biology, but also
an ability to understand the ordinary peron's linguistic hang-ups and
to shake them loose with gentle ridicule. ... Whatever its eventual
impact on linguistics and psychology, The Language Instinct will
unoubtedly be greeted as a distinguished contribution to the lay
understanding of science. ... With its wealth of examples, its
flawless typsetting, its wide-ranging bibliography and its
irresistable good humour, Pinker' book is certain to increase its
readers' respect for the amazing natural phenomena that the author and
his colleagues have made their life's study.
... extremely important... The power of the book ... is in the
elegant assembly of a coherent argument, based on a foundation of
evolutionary biology. ... The Language Instinct is
provocative. But there are no cheap points scored nor is there
any intemperate denunciation of opposing views. ... The case is
intelligently structured, forcefully argued, and couched in
beautiful prose. Readers may reject Pinker's conclusions, but
they will greatly enjoy the experience of the journey through his
... Pinker is
unfailingly stimulating, as well as writing in a genuinely
democratic style that combines elegance with unforced touches of
—New Statesman and Society
For anyone with even the slightest sympathy for Chomsky's work,
Pinker's book The Language Instinct is a most impressive
achievement. Already much acclaimed for his ingenious research, Pinker
demonstrates here a remarkable ability to explain the principal
methods and findings of the contemporary study of language. ... I
expect that many readers will be delighted and informed, if not
reformed, by this book. ... [a] masterful exposition of the human
#8212;The New York Review of Books
The most arresting chapter in Steven Pinker's chatty, wide-ranging new
book is titled "Mentalese," after what the author calls the "silent
medium of the brain" in which thoughts are couched. ... Mr. Pinker's
compulsion to joke is by turns amusing and instructive ... a useful,
—The New York Times
... a brilliant, witty, and altogether satisfying book. ... Mr.
Pinker has that facility, so rare among scientists, of making the most
difficult material accessible to the average reader. Most important,
he never talks down to his reader. ... the fundamental unity of
humanity is the theme of ... this exciting book.
—The New York Times Book Review
... a brilliant exposition. ... he expounds ideas with clarity,
wit, and polish.
...shows an artistry with language that matches his knowledge of
A book to inspire. ... It is beautifully written and can serve as a
model of making complex material understandable.
—Perspectives of The Orton Dyslexia Society
[an] exciting synthesis—an entertaining, totally accessible
study that will regale language lovers and challenge
professionals in many disciplines. ... a beautiful hymn to the
creative potential of language.
a great book... Its author is in love with language and revels in its
uses ... While providing an astonishingly thorough course in
psycholinguistics, Pinker also manages to be funnier than I would have
thought such a substantive, critical discussion could possibly be.
... Pinker's biology is impeccably up-do-date. Indeed, he displays a
much more sophisticated and critical understanding of issues in
evolution and adaptation than most biologists. The Language
Instinct should be a candidate for best book of the 90's. Or at least
a Pullet Surprise.
—Quarterly Review of Biology
A remarkably engaging book ... packed tight with observations,
experimental results, insight and forceful arguments based on what we
all know of language but never analyze. This reader finds Professor
Pinker's genuinely instructive volume funny as well, a delightful
member of that rare genre headed by the classic "Life on the
...a remarkable work of scientific imagination. ... Pinker's book is a
tour de force, bringing the science of language to bear on the
wilder shores of anthropology, neurology, and genetics. ... It is a
work of philosophy as much as science, with that teasing hint of
theology that make Stephen Hawking's Short History of Time a
bestseller. ... Once entered, I found it hard to leave.
... an important and fascinating book.... Professsor Pinker
writes very clearly and wittily. He makes us appreciate the
marvelous nature of what we ordinarily take for granted—one
of the marks of a good populariser.
—The Sunday Telegraph
His own use of language is a powerful advertisement for this human
ability, as he lays his stall out with clarity and candour. ...
Darwin ... would surely be impressed by the way in which Pinker sheds
light on these questions. ... a superb book, simply at the level of
being a good read: it is packed with fascinating facts and information
... Pinker debunks with panache, cuts through the confusion of jargon,
and tells a mean anecdote. He does for language what David
Attenborough does for animals, explaining difficult scientific
concepts so easily that they are indeed absorbed as a transparent
stream of words. ... The Language Instinct is the kind of book that
doesn't come along very often... We are scarcely into the second
quarter of 1994 yet, but I will be astonished if a better science book
of any kind, let alone one accessible to the general reader, comes
along this year. Surely, in just about a year from now Pinker will be
picking up the next science book prize. His book is groundbreaking,
exhilirating, fun, and almost certainly correct. Do yourself a favour
and read it.
—The Sunday Times (London)
... a truly fascinating account of new thinking about
—The Sunday Times (London)
Absorbing ... he makes a persuasive, entertaining case for his
... a brilliant study of language. ... Language is full of
mysteries, which Pinker excavates like a pig after truffles.
Professor Pinker ... was a brave man to write this book, for who
would have taken it seriously if it had been clodhoppingly
written? As it happens, he writes splendidly.
—The Times (London)
A fascinating book about words, full of nuggets that you want to read
out to other people.
—The Times (London)
Here, in vivid understandable terms Steven Pinker ... presents the
revolutionary insights of Noam Chomsky, together with his own ideas.
... The Language Instinct is rich in sometimes unfamiliar and
quite difficult ideas, but it is written to be understood and enjoyed.
... How did langauge evolve? Why is structural grammatical language
specifically human? How old is language? Such quesions are discussed
here with a rare vitality of intense excitement to understand and
communicate. ... It is a real achievement to bring all this together
into such a readable work of imaginative deep
—Times Higher Education Supplement
[an] excellent contribution to the genre [of books on our origins].
... manages to convey ... how exciting even the driest patches of
linguistic and palaeological science can be.
—Times Literary Supplement
the most lucid, charming, and wide-ranging popularization of Noam
Chomsky's linguistics ever written.
—Toronto Globe and Mail
... mind-changing ... at the new frontier ...
Please have someone buy it for you, or buy it for yourself. ... To my
many word-curious correspondents, ... I am now inclined to reply
"Read Pinker, and call me back tomorrow." I devoured the book in one
unsettling session, ... and now plan to digest it more carefully.
... takes you as painlessly as possible into Chomskian
He writes with authority and grace about the sprawling science of
linguistics, making even its thornier branches accessible to
general readers. ... [many subfields] are clearly and wittily set