The Language Instinct

I finished Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct this afternoon and I thought it was terrific. I never thought I would find grammar and language so fascinating, but Pinker hooked me and I am eager to start the next book, Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language.

The Language Instinct convinced me to ease up on some of my pet peeves with English grammar. The main thrust of the book is that our brains are wired for a universal grammar and much of the books goes into detail with examples and experiments that demonstrate this. Still, I was particularly impressed with the chapter called “The Language Mavens” where Pinker drew a distinction between “prescribed” grammar and something being grammatically correct outside prescription. He made a logical, reasonable argument and convinced me. By no means was he arguing that language should be a free-for-all; in fact, he argued the opposite: that it can’t be a free-for-all, even if we wanted it to be. But things like split infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions are all grammatically correct from a syntactical perspective. It is the evolution of English to conform more with Latin that makes them, to grammar school teachers, seem incorrect.

The book was published in 1994 and the edition I have has a P.S. section at the end where the author briefly brings it up to date based on research and discoveries that have taken place over the last 14 years. I found that section to be very useful and interesting.

I plan on starting Words and Rules this evening, but no before getting a little bit of writing done.

About Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin writes fiction and nonfiction for a variety of publications including Analog, Clarkesworld, The Daily Beast, 99U, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies. He was featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series. He has been blogging since 2005. By day, he manages software projects and occasionally writes code. He lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.