There is no language instinct

Geoffrey Sampson


This paper examines Steve Pinker’s arguments for the existence of a language instinct encoded in the genes of human beings as an explanation for the human language capacity. The analysis covers Pinker’s own arguments as well as those by Chomsky and by other authors in the nineties. All arguments in favour of a biologically-governed language
capacity are refuted to show that, according to available evidence, there is no language instinct. The alternative view, namely, that language is a cultural artefact learned on the basis of a general capacity to formulate and test hypotheses, must be thus the best approach to understand language acquisition.


language acquisition; linguistic nativism; grammar


Copyright (c) 2008 Geoffrey Sampson

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