Educating Eve: The 'language Instinct' Debate

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Cassell, 1997 - Psychology - 184 pages
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Are we creatures who learn new things? Or does human mental development consist of awakening structures of thought? A view has gained ground -- powerfully advocated, for example, by Steven Pinker's book The Language instinct - that language in much of its detail is hard-wired in our genes. Others add that this hold too for much of the specific knowledge and understanding expressed in language. When the first human Eve evolved from pre-human apes (it is claimed), her biological inheritance comprised not just a distinctive anatomy but a rich structure of cognition. Despite the impressive roll of converts which these ideas have gained, there is no good reason to believe them. Pinker's and others' arguments depend on earlier and more technical contributions, by writers such as Noam Chomsky. Many readers take these foundations on trust, not realizing how weak they are. This book examines the various arguments for instinctive knowledge, and finds that each one rests on false premises, or embodies a logical fallacy. A different picture of learning is suggested by Karl Popper's account of knowledge growing through 'conjectures and refutations'. The facts of human language are best explained by taking language acquisition to be a case of Popperian learning. Eve was not born a know-all. She was born knowing nothing, but ably to learn anything. That is why we can find ways to think and talk about a world that goes on changing, today.

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User Review  - juglicerr - LibraryThing

I'd recommend this to anyone interested in the issue of whether or not language is instinctual. Sampson scores some hits against those believing that language is inborn. I admit that I'm a pushover ... Read full review

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User Review  - misterO - LibraryThing

I enjoy looking at both side of an argument; as an introductory linguistics course I am taking has highlighted this book as a good way of looking at the other side of the Chomskyan claims I swiftly ... Read full review


The Original Arguments for a Language Instinct
The Debate Renewed
Language Structure Turns Queens Evidence

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About the author (1997)

Sampson-University of Sussex

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