Skip to main content

Linguist Steven Pinker Discusses the Instinct for Language.

Steven Pinker, a psycholinguist at MIT and director of its Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, has a new book on how language works: "The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language" (Morrow). He argues that language is not simply a cultural invention taught by parents and schools, but a biological system, --an instinct-- partly learned, and partly innate. To Pinker, a three year old toddler is a "grammatical genius", capable of obeying adult rites of language, similar to web-spinning in spiders or sonar in bats. His book also takes on "language mavens" like William Safire and Richard Lederer, accusing them of underestimating the average person's language skills.

14:52

Other segments from the episode on March 2, 1994

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 2, 1994: Interview with Donna Williams; Interview with Steven Pinker; Commentary on the use of English in Berlin, Germany.

Transcript

Transcript currently not available.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

52:30

'Fresh Air' remembers Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim (Part 3)

We conclude our tribute to Sondheim by listening to archival interviews with collaborators and performers, including Stephen Colbert, James Lapine, Paul Gemignani and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

52:30

'Fresh Air' remembers Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim (Part 1)

Sondheim, who died Nov. 26, was the lyricist and composer who gave us Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods and other shows. In 2010 he spoke about his writing process, from rhyming to finding the right note.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue