Pinker on the Language Instinct

Pinker argues that all languages are built on the same universal grammar and that the language mechanism is built into the human brain; thus the basic structures of language are a part of our biological inheritance.

[A] close-up examination of what it takes to put words together into ordinary sentences reveals that mental language mechanisms must have a complex design, and many interacting parts. Under this microscope, the babel of languages no longer appear to vary in arbitrary ways and without limit. One now sees a common design to the machinery underlying the world’s language, a Universal Grammar. Unless this basic design is built into the mechanism that learns a particular grammar, learning would be impossible. There are many possible ways of generalizing from parents’ speech to the language as a whole, and children home in on the right ones, fast …

Some of organization of grammar would have had to have been there from the start, part of the language-learning mechanism that allows children to make sense of the noises they hear from their parents. The details of syntax … are a case where complexity in the mind is not caused by learning; learning is caused by complexity in the mind.

Pinker, Steven. 1995. The Language Instinct. New York: HarperPerennial. pp. 409, 125. || Amazon || WorldCat