Summary: The Language Instinct, by Steven Pinker

To Notice and to Learn

There has been a revolution in the field of linguistics over the past 50 years, initiated by the work of Noam Chomsky.  Prior to him, social scientists thought, consistent with the dominant Behaviorist perspective of the day (and also with common sense), that children picked up language from those around them through simple exposure, imitation, and reinforcement.  Chomsky was the first to question this, and raised as counter-evidence the rather obvious observation that as children start using language they often utter things that they almost certainly did not hear, such as “I eated the spaghetti yesterday” and “Why are you joking me so much?”  It thus appeared that they were attempting to apply rules rather than imitating what they heard.  This insight has led to a re-conceptualization of the field of linguistics and there has been an explosion of research on how grammatical rules are…

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