The Language Instinct

Book Recommendation:

If you are an advanced English learner, or English teacher, or just interested in language and where it comes from, I’d like to recommend the following book:

Steven Pinker: The Language Instinct (Penguin Books, 2000)

Pinker - Language Instinct

Basically investigating where language, and our linguistic ability comes from, it raises questions about why our languages are all so different, why English spelling is so confusing (there’s a very good reason for this!) and contains some fascinating facts about world languages.  Did you know…?

84% of English words follow some kind of spelling ‘pattern’, so the spelling is not as random as it seems…

– Every English verb has only 4 possible forms: walk, walks, walking, walked. In Spanish each verb has 50 forms. In Turkish each verb has 2,000,000 forms!!! So learners of English are quite lucky in this respect…

– Despite what you may think, Eskimos do NOT have 200 words for snow. They have about 4. English, on the other hand, has over 10. How many can you think of?

– Of the world’s 6000 languages, it is estimated that up to 3000 are dying, or already dead. Approximately 90% of languages will be extinct in the next 100 years.

– My grandmother always used to say: “Never finish a sentence with a preposition!” How, then, could she explain the following sentence, which ends in 5 prepositions??

(father brings a book upstairs to read Johnny a bedtime story) Johnny: “Dad! Why did you bring that book that I don’t want to be read out of up for?”

And here are some questions to think about:

– Are we born with a natural language ability or do we have to learn it?

– Why does it get harder to learn a language when you get older?

– How many words do you know? Shakespeare knew 15,000…

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