LINGUIST List 9.220

Fri Feb 13 1998

Books: Lang Acquisition

Editor for this issue: Helen Dry <>

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  1. Geoffrey Sampson, EDUCATING EVE


Date: Tue, 10 Feb 1998 17:26:48 +0000 (GMT)
From: Geoffrey Sampson <>

Linguist List subscribers may have been puzzled on 7th February by
a posting in which a publisher included a notice of a new book, but
omitted its title and other relevant details. The book was my
EDUCATING EVE. Since there were some omissions in the original
posting, I would like to briefly say what was left out.

EDUCATING EVE, subtitled "The 'Language Instinct' Debate", 160 pp., hardback,
ISBN 0304339083, is available in the USA from Cassell/Books International,
Herndon VA, tel. 1-800-561-7704 or 703 661 1501; and in the UK from
Cassell of London, +44 171 420 5555. It is a reply to Steven Pinker's
widely-read 1994 book THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT. Pinker's book argued that
detailed knowledge of language is biologically innate in human beings.
My EDUCATING EVE examines all of Pinker's arguments, as well as the
older arguments on which Pinker relies. I show that each strand
of argument either is logically fallacious, or is based on false
premisses (or, sometimes, both at once). There is no "language instinct".

The Language Use Discussion list, based at Temple University, has carried
a contribution (by Donald Carroll, not previously known to me)
which commented that EDUCATING EVE "has got to be the definitive
response to Pinker's book and Chomskyan nativism in general
... a wonderful book". I hope my publisher's Internet-naivety will not
prevent EDUCATING EVE being read.

Geoffrey Sampson

School of Cognitive & Computing Sciences
University of Sussex
Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QH, GB

tel. +44 1273 678525
fax +44 1273 671320
Web site


 [Moderators' note: Since mistakes were made in the original posting,
 LINGUIST is reposting the full text of the announcement below.]

Title: Educating Eve
Author: Geoffrey Sampson
Author Affiliation: Lecturer at the School of Computer Science and Artificial 
Intelligence at the University of Sussex, UK
Publisher: Cassell
Field: Linguistics, 
Format: hardback 
Price #45.00/$67.95
Order details: UK and rest of world please call +44 1202 665432
USA: please contact Books International, PO Box 605, Herndon, Virginia 
20172-0605 on tel 703 661 1589, fax 703 661 1501

Synopsis of the book: 

Are we creatures who learn new things? Or does human mental development 
consist of awakening instinctive 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 also holds true for much of the 
specific knowledge and understanding expressed in language. When the first 
human Eve evoleved from pre-human apes (it is claimed), her biological 
inheritance comprised not just a distinctive anatomy but a rich structure of 

Despite the impressive roll of converts which these ideas have gained, there 
is no good reason to believe them. The arguments of PInker and others 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 able 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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