Friday, September 25, 2015

Book X: The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us By James W. Pennebaker

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press
  • Date of Publication: January 15, 2013
  • ISBN-10: 1608194965
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608194964

Editorial Review:

Penetrating …lively and accessible …Paying closer attention to function words [Pennebaker] advises, can help us understand the social relations that those words reflect. Unfortunately, we might not be able to pay proper attention until we're all equipped with automatic word counters. Until that day, we have Pennebaker as an indefatigable guide to the little words that he boldly calls 'keys to the soul.' (New York Times Book Review)

Reader Review:
James Pennebaker studies words. Originally interested in the beneficial effect of writing about personal trauma, he and his students developed software to analyze this writing. Their investigation soon expanded to include spoken conversations, emails, political speeches, and other language samples. They discovered that much can be learned from the short "stealth words" that we barely notice, but that make up more than half of our speech. "Pronouns (such as I, you, we, and they), articles (a, an, the), prepositions (e.g., to, for, over), and other stealth words broadcast the kind of people we are."

Pennebaker summarizes his trauma research, noting that "people who benefit from writing express more optimism, acknowledge negative events, are constructing a meaningful story of their experience, and have the ability to change perspective as they write." Searching for reliable linguistic indicators of these processes identified writing style rather than more substantive content words. The resulting LIWC software works well regardless of a text's content.

Using both research findings and representative everyday examples, Pennebaker reviews what he has learned. Topics addressed include gender, status and social class, personality, leadership style, deception, interpersonal attraction, and group solidarity. The author not only presents conclusions from his own research, but links to supporting findings using non-linguistic methods. Specific findings include:

- LIWC correctly identifies an author's gender 72% of the time using writing style. This increases to 76% when content words are included. (Human guesses range from 55 to 65%.)

- On detecting depression: "Sadness generally causes people to focus inwardly. Pronouns tend to track people's focus of attention, and when in great emotional or physical pain, they tend to use I-words at high rates. Sadness, unlike most other emotions, is associated with looking back into the past and into the future. In other words, people tend to use past- and future-tense verbs more when they are sad or depressed compared to other strong emotions."

- "No system has ever been shown to reliably catch liars at rates higher than 65 percent. And even those with hit rates in that neighborhood (including me) have done so in highly controlled and artificial circumstances."

- "Linguistic style matching" across nine categories of function words occurs within the first 15 to 30 seconds of an attentive conversation. It is generally beyond conscious awareness. LSM profiles can predict a number of things better than chance, including whether a "speed dating" couple will pursue a further relationship after their initial four-minute discussion.

Pennebaker clearly wants to share, not just his insights, but the methods used to achieve them. Much of his research was done collaboratively, not just with students and fellow researchers, but with public figures, professionals in other fields, and anyone else with interesting documents. Readers are pointed to web sites that let them experiment with Pennebaker's techniques and a version of his LIWC software is available for more in-depth investigations. An appendix includes "A Handy Guide for Spotting and Interpreting Function Words in the Wild."

This book is an accessible summary of James Pennebaker's work with helpful citations of similar research by others. It serves as a guide to more technical discussions of text analysis through an extensive Bibliography and References section--and pointers to downloadable research reports from the author's web site. Interested readers might also enjoy Roderick Hart's Campaign Talk or one of the other related books the author mentions.

- John M. Ford

Why:
This book interests me because it teaches the reader not only how language works, but how we express ourselves through language, and how language can be analyzed to show many things about a person, such as depression, or oppositely how writing can help a person mentally.

Book IX: The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature By Steven Pinker

  • Paperback: 499 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • Date of Publication: August 26, 2008
  • ISBN-10: 0143114247
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143114246

Editorial Review:

From Publishers Weekly

Unless you have a reasonably good background in linguistics, you'll find this excellent book much easier to read than to listen to. Olsher is not to blame; he reads clearly and at a (slightly rapid) conversational speed. Pinker aims for the educated lay reader, using wit and popular metaphor to clarify his meanings and bring abstruse linguistic concepts to life. But his sentences are dense; you need to reread them and think them through. And the jargon, though clearly defined, requires time and thought to absorb: Though hypernyms are not really examples of polysemy the way metonyms are, their use in emotionally tinged speech is another illustration of how choice among words can make a psychological difference. Such sentences are followed by clarifying illustrations, but they require cogitation—work that is well rewarded by a deeper and more complex understanding of language as a window into the mind. The chapter on the semantics of swearing is particularly fun and enlightening. In every culture swear words concern gods, diseases, excretions and sex, and Pinker tells us why. A person with some knowledge of linguistic theory will enjoy this audio enormously; a person without it will be enriched and delighted by the book, but have great difficulties with the audio version.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Reader Review:
For the verbivore, no one sets out a feast like Steven Pinker. For my money, The Language Instinct is still the best, most comprehensive, and most entertaining introduction to linguistics ever composed, and I have been waiting for more than 10 years for this book (Words and Rules was also a great book, but a little technical for my taste; I am more drawn to semantics than grammar).

The Stuff of Thought can be a little technical as well. After an introduction in the most appealing Pinker style, chapters 2 and 3, on the ways verbs imply metaphorical categories and the reasons competing language theories are wrong, are both persuasive and engaging, but only if you think about them really, really hard. I remember feeling the same way about the sentence trees and bushes early on in The Language Instinct. But the rewards for the persevering reader comes later. Should you find yourself bogging down, skip to the chapter The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television, which treats the subject of George Carlin's famous monologue in a manner that is more comprehensive and penetrating (sorry), but at times equally hilarious. That should provide the fuel to travel the rest of his landscape.

The subject of this book is incredibly important and it represents the culmination of a number of themes. Pinker himself says that it completes two parallel trilogies of books he has been writing for the past ten years, and I also read this as the fulfillment of Lakoff and Johnson's brilliant 1980 book "Metaphors We Live By," which lists the fundamental ways our physical reality structures our mental constructs, as revealed by pervasive metaphors. Pinker argues convincingly that Lakoff's later work pushes the metaphorical envelope too far, but he agrees that metaphor provides key insights into thoughts and understanding. He explores the theme of how language reveals and subtly shapes the ways the human mind makes sense of the world in a comprehensive, thoughtful, and compelling manner, carrying Lakoff's initial premise to a compelling, comprehensive theory of the function of metaphor in language and thought.

The linguist S.I. Hiyakawa observed that the last thing fish would think to study would be water; as we increasingly live in a world where words impinge on our every moment of consciousness, unpacking language helps us all understand the way it reveals and shapes our mental worlds. It also helps us understand what is not up for debate, and one of Pinker's most compelling themes is the universal community of human minds revealed by language commonalities. Pinker's philosophy of language somehow makes me feel both that language reveals individual creative genius (often in unexpected speakers) and a central set of commonalities among all human minds.

As a final note, the beauty of Pinker's writing in itself is sufficient reason to read this book. As a language lover, I find it a discouraging irony that so many linguists are so poor at articulating their arguments and insights, and that so much written about language is difficult and boring to read. Pinker, while taking on complex, abstruce topics, writes with clarity, enthusiasm, and humor. Aside from Richard Lederer, he is the only linguist I know who makes me laugh regularly.

Basically,I feel about Steven Pinker approximately the way Wayne and Garth felt about Aerosmith, and I am certainly dancing happily to The Stuff of Thought. Rock on, Steve!

- Huntington Lyman

Why:
This book teaches the reader how language is both an individual and a group effort, and it interests me as it tells about how a single person or story can change an entire language, but it takes the group as a whole to accept it.

Book VIII: Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language By Steven Pinker

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • Date of Publication: March 8, 2011
  • ISBN-10: 0062011901
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062011909

Editorial Review:
"This book tries to illuminate the nature of language and mind by choosing a single phenomenon and examining it from every angle imaginable," Pinker writes. "That phenomenon is regular and irregular verbs, the bane of every language student." It is serious linguistic business that he is about, but what fun he has with it! Turning languages (mostly English) inside out, upside down and backward, he seeks to show through the way people say things something of how the mind works. Many of the speakers are children as they go about mastering their language and in so doing come up with such constructions as "I buyed a fire dog for a grillion dollars." Pinker, author of the best-selling How the Mind Works (1997), is professor of psychology and director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Musing on the "boundless expressive power" of language, he asks what the trick is behind our ability to fill one another's heads with so many different ideas. The premise of this fascinating book is that "there are two tricks, words and rules. They work by different principles, are learned and used in different ways, and may even reside in different parts of the brain." The word-and-rule theory, he says, "has solved many puzzles about the English language, and has illuminated the ways that children learn to talk, the forces that make languages diverge and the forces that make them alike, the way that language is processed in the brain, and even the nature of our concepts about things and people."
EDITORS OF SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN
Reader Review:
If The Language Instinct described Pinker's view of the development of language and How the Mind Works described his views about cognition in general, this latest work details his ideas about the cognitive organization of language. And like his other books, Pinker tries to persuade the reader to agree with his assessment of things using humorous examples, occasionally odd logic, hyperbole, and in this case a 290 page extended example.
Pinker believes that the brain's representation of language is rule based - morphology (such as adding -s to a noun to make it plural or -ed to a verb to make it past tense) occurs because a system in the brain applies a rule during language production. During the past twenty years or so, many cognitive scientists have begun to think that perhaps this type of morphology is not rule based at all, but instead occurs because of the specific pattern of connections in the brain. The goal of this book is to convince the reader that connectionism is wrong, and a rule based system is correct. To do this, he talks about irregular verbs; their etymology bastardization by children, idiosyncrasies, and production by non-typical populations. I never thought that irregular verbs and oddly pluralized nouns could be interesting. I was right. This topic is so much more esoteric than his other books, that even his entertaining examples could not overcome either my skepticism or my boredom. After a while you just want to hear something different. Pinker is not reporting a phenomena, and evenhandedly evaluating various explanatory theories; he is presenting one view to be dismantled, and another to be exalted as correct. But giving selective evidence could bias his readers towards his view, and I am not convinced I was given a chance to really evaluate the competing theories. I anxiously await the rebuttal by the connectionist school.
If you have read Pinker's popular books before, I can only say that this book is not at the same level. Its scope is much narrower, and its subject matter a bit more technical. That being said, if you love Pinker's way of presenting material, you will not be disappointed. If you haven't read Pinker before, I recommend that you start with one of his other books - they truly live up to their reputations.
-Shawn Weil
Why:
This book interests me because it teaches the reader how languages actually naturally form inside the mind, and how the first language most likely formed. It covers not why, but how the first language took on its first shape.

Book VII: The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language By Christine Kenneally

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • Date of Publication: May 27, 2008
  • ISBN-10: 0143113747
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143113744

Editorial Review:
“ Scientists who study the origins of language are a passionate, fractious bunch, and you don’t have to be an egghead to be tantalized by the questions that drive their research: how and when did we learn to speak, and to what extent is language a uniquely human attribute? What [Kenneally] describes is fascinating.”
The New York Times Book Review 

Reader Review:
More than anything else, I came away from The First Word thinking that linguists love to argue. In fact, every few pages I found myself arguing with author Christine Kenneally and I'm not even a linguist. I disagreed with much of the book and wanted more evidence for many of her arguments. But when I find myself thinking about a book this much and discussing it with people at length, I have to give it five stars.

The subject is the origin of human language. How did it start? Obviously there's no way of knowing, but that doesn't (nor should it) keep linguists from looking for the answer. Since no one can prove or disprove any of the theories about language origin, it's a free-for-all. Linguists seem to enjoy knocking their colleagues' theories even more than they enjoy defending their own theories.

Kenneally is mostly even-handed in her presentation of the many interesting theories currently in debate. However, she chides Martin Gardner for a 1980 article he wrote debunking experiments claiming to have taught chimps, apes, and dolphins human language. Gardner acknowledged the popularity of such experiments, especially when they featured an attractive blonde scientist teaching an ape (evoking Beauty and the Beast) to "talk." Kenneally suspects that no one writes of Chomsky or other male scientists by describing their hair or appearance. Yet Kenneally thinks nothing of mentioning Steven Pinker's "flop of curls" or that Stephen Jay Gould is "short and remarkably loud."

Many of the theories about language origin seem to rest on isolated cases. Linguists cite the case of Genie, a girl who was raised by people who didn't speak to her. She didn't learn to speak and when she was removed from the abusive environment as a teenager, she couldn't learn to speak. It is difficult to draw valid conclusions from a few psychologically scarred individuals.

Kenneally is a linguist and also a journalist, so she is able to condense and present these complex ideas to people who have no background in linguistics but who are interested in it anyway. Sometimes the going gets a little tough, but there are some amusing asides to ease the way, such as the story of what happened when two gorillas who had learned sign language got together and had a sign language shouting match.

It's obvious that there's a lot more that we don't know about language origin and less that we do know. Only twenty or thirty years ago anthropologists were listing the attributes that make us human. Opposable thumbs, using tools, making tools, language, self-awareness. Point by point, evidence has shown that we are not unique, at least not in the ways we had defined ourselves. The same thing has happened with our arguments for why we speak but other animals don't: the descended larynx, the bigger brain, more complex thoughts, a greater need to communicate. Maybe we should stop trying to teach dolphins and apes to use human language and try to communicate with dolphins and apes in their language. We might learn something.

In any case The First Word is a great introduction and a tidy summary of the debate on language origin as it stands today. But read it soon because the evidence and theories are bound to change quickly.

-Takeadayoff

Why:
This book covers how many linguists are attempting to discover the first language, through many theories. I believe this is important as discovering the first language could give great insights into how language evolves as well as how the human brain initially conceived of it.

Book VI: Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World By Nicholas Ostler

Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • Date of Publication:June 27, 2006
  • ISBN-10: 0060935723
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060935726

Editor's Review:
“[A] monumental new book... Ostler furnishes many fresh insights, useful historical anecdotes and charming linguistic oddities.” (Chicago Tribune)

Reader Review:
This impressive work is a study of language dynamics over five millennia. Ostler deals with the birth, rise and decline of those languages that spread most widely through history, and the factors that played a part, like trade, conquest and culture. Of course the book is also by definition a history of civilization. The narrative begins in Sumeria and ends with English as the most important international language of today. The author rightly observes that the study of language history and historical linguistics will be mutually rewarding. He also attempts to indirectly capture the inward history of languages & the subtle mindsets that characterize individual ones, especially as regards the abandonment of mother tongues for new languages.

Part Two: Languages by Land, looks at the Middle & Far East: Sumerian, Akkadian, Phoenician, Aramaic, Arabic, Turkish & Persian, Egyptian & Chinese whilst chapters 5 & 6 considers Sanskrit & Greek respectively. The last two chapters deal with Celtic, Latin, German & Slavic. Part Three: Languages by Sea, explores the spread of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and the remarkable career of English. Part Four deals with the current Top 20 languages and reflects on the meaning and implications of the global survey.

The life-spans of languages differ greatly; if one compares Latin with Greek, for instance, Greek continued to thrive under Roman hegemony alongside Latin and eventually supplanted Latin again in the Byzantine Empire. Some significant civilizational languages like Latin and Sanskrit have all but died as spoken tongues, but they gave birth to rich families of related languages, whilst Old Chinese's pictographic script still serves its daughter languages very well.

A major change occurred around the 16th century when the European voyages of discovery spread the languages of Europe far and wide to the Americas, Africa and Asia. Launched by trade, these languages became tongues of empire through conquest. In that way Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English spread around the globe. Dutch gave rise to the vibrant Afrikaans in Southern Africa and lingers on in some form or other in Suriname and on some tiny Caribbean islands but has disappeared from Indonesia. French & Russian are in decline, having lost much prestige and many speakers the last few decades.

Ostler differentiates between languages that grew organically (like Chinese) and those that grew by "merger and acquisition". Of the former, Mandarin Chinese is spoken by more than a billion people whilst English with around 500 million, is in second place. Hindi (derived from Sanskrit) is third with about 490 million, followed by Spanish in 4th place with 418 million speakers. Of course as a second language, English is of greater global importance than Mandarin. The book is full of fascinating facts and stuff that will appeal to linguists and hobbyists alike. For example: There are an estimated 7000 linguistic communities today, but at least half of them are on the verge of extinction with fewer than 5000 speakers. Within one generation many of these languages will disappear.

Migration was the primary cause of language spread. Global navigation arrived later and today we have electronic communication. There is an interesting passage of speculation on the future of English. Ostler identifies prestige & learnability as the two main growth factors in creating a larger human community. The first might offer wealth, wisdom or literary enjoyment to attract speakers. The ability to learn a new language depends on structural similarities between the population group's existing language & the new one. Owing to structural correspondences, Arabic took root where Afro-Asiatic languages like Egyptian & Aramaic were spoken but it could not displace Persian or Spanish. It is well known that speakers of Japanese learn Turkish easily but battle with English for the same reason.

For those interested in the many facets of language, I also recommend: On the Origin of Languagesand A Guide to the World's Languages by Merritt Ruhlen, The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher, Genes, Peoples, and Languages & The Great Human Diasporas by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza plus The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language by John McWhorter. As a linguistic history of the world, Empires Of The Word is unique, highly readable and a valuable reference source. It contains many tables & figures as well as beautiful and informative maps. This well-researched and absorbing work concludes with notes, an index and a bibliography.

- Peter Uys

Why:
This book is a historical account that guides readers throughout all of the worlds languages which have risen and fallen, examining the pieces that made each language successful, and those that mad each language fall. This book sounds interesting because it looks at history from the point of view of language, and how it has been affected by human success just as much as religion or any other aspect of human culture.


Book V: Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World By Naomi Baron

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Date of Publication: March 3, 2010
  • ISBN-10: 0199735441
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199735440

Editor Review:
"Naomi Baron skillfully weaves together cutting-edge technology topics with historical vignettes, and scholarship with provocative views. She is not afraid to take a stance on hot-button issues, be it the effects of the Internet on language change, whether writing done in electronic media is debasing standards for the written word, or whether we are changing fundamentally as social and thinking beings as a result of being constantly connected through technology." -- Susan C. Herring, Professor of Information Science and Linguistics, Indiana University

Reader Review:
Always On, by Naomi Baron, was primarily focused on how the transformation from a print culture, into a more digital culture, is affecting text. She placed a lot of emphasis on how language has changed, and how gender differs, in the digital world. However, the most interesting topic Baron discussed, in my opinion, was how digital communication leads to an altered presentation of the self. Erving Goffman, who is actually mentioned in Baron's text, wrote The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life about how individuals engage in impression management in their daily lives.

Baron's book begins with discussions on how the transition from print to digital culture is affecting language and making us worse writers. She defines a lot of vocabulary and gives a historical outline of how "netspeak" first came to be. She even analyses a research study she performed on IM conversations to discover if they were more like speech or formal writing. Throughout the book, Baron describes several other research studies that have been preformed on digital culture. One of the more interesting topics in the book was "controlling the volume", which explained how digital culture allowed people to control the amount and content of their social interactions with digital culture. The most interesting chapter, in my opinion, explains how Goffman's impression management plays out even in digital culture. She describes away messages and profiles as a type of selective self presentation.

Ultimately, the book reaches the conclusion that digital culture is destroying language and people are losing their ability to spell and use proper grammar. She glamorizes writing and threatens that digital culture will mean the disappearance of literature. She blames technology for the "me" generation's lack of morals. Overall, this book was interesting, but the conclusion is the least scientific and grounded part. She remains neutral throughout most the book, as a good scientist would do, and then loses it in the end. Her biased perspective comes off as frustrating and elitist. At times she seems to be lecturing her readers. In the end, this book is very much worth the read for anyone who is interested in how text is changing as we transform from a written to a digital culture.

- Chameleon_Girl

Why:
This book expounds on the idea of how the change from a print to a digital world affects language and its development in the modern world, diving into how the change in how we speak affects how we present ourself to others in real life, and how the language is not only written, but used. I believe it covers one of the most modern issues concerning language today, how it will survive globalization and how it will change.

Book IV: The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language By Steven Pinker

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
  • Date of Publication: September 4, 2007
  • ISBN-10: 0061336467
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061336461

From Publishers Weekly

A three-year-old toddler is "a grammatical genius"--master of most constructions, obeying adult rules of language. To Pinker, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology psycholinguist, the explanation for this miracle is that language is an instinct, an evolutionary adaptation that is partly "hard-wired" into the brain and partly learned. In this exciting synthesis--an entertaining, totally accessible study that will regale language lovers and challenge professionals in many disciplines--Pinker builds a bridge between "innatists" like MIT linguist Noam Chomsky, who hold that infants are biologically programmed for language, and "social interactionists" who contend that they acquire it largely from the environment. If Pinker is right, the origins of language go much further back than 30,000 years ago (the date most commonly given in textbooks)--perhaps to Homo habilis , who lived 2.5 million years ago, or even eons earlier. Peppered with mind-stretching language exercises, the narrative first unravels how babies learn to talk and how people make sense of speech. Professor and co-director of MIT's Center for Cognitive Science, Pinker demolishes linguistic determinism, which holds that differences among languages cause marked differences in the thoughts of their speakers. He then follows neurolinguists in their quest for language centers in the brain and for genes that might help build brain circuits controlling grammar and speech. Pinker also argues that claims for chimpanzees' acquisition of language (via symbols or American Sign Language) are vastly exaggerated and rest on skimpy data. Finally, he takes delightful swipes at "language mavens" like William Safire and Richard Lederer, accusing them of rigidity and of grossly underestimating the average person's language skills. Pinker's book is a beautiful hymn to the infinite creative potential of language. Newbridge Book Clubs main selection; BOMC and QPB alternates.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Reader Review:
For the educated layperson, this book is the most fascinating and engaging introduction to linguistics I have come across. I know some college students who had received xeroxed handouts of one chapter from this book, and these were students who were just bored of reading handouts week after week... but after reading just a few paragraphs from The Language Instinct, they were hooked, fascinated, and really wanted to read the whole book (and did). I wish I had come across such a book years ago...
If you've wished you'd taken linguistics, and never did, get this book. This one book will do it for you! Pinker is intelligent, but more importantly is a master of illustrative examples for the layperson. However, the text is never "dumbed-down" and can be a challenge to any reader.
I've read some of the other readers' reviews... unfortunately some focus more on applying academic thought-criticisims of his nativist viewpoint. Certainly, if you are coming from an academic bent, yes, I would agree that it would be a gross misrepresentation to say that Pinker presents the definitive state of the art in linguistics, or that all linguists think like he does... in fact, the critical reviewers are right, Pinker is but one linguist in one theoretical camp, the "nativist" camp, i.e. the theory that genes drive language and its acquisition in a task-specific manner. But so what? Pinker's theory is not what drives enjoyment of the book; it's the enthusiasm and skill with which he can introduce any reader to the topic of the study of language! : It's not dry! It's fun!
His viewpoint is already apparent by the title; the true value of this gem of a book is for introducing to the layperson LINGUISTICS and the depth of the kinds of questions that can be asked about language... these questions can be "beautiful," and certainly most readers would not have thought of these issues themselves, yet after Pinker's examples, it all makes wonderful sense, and is memorable and lucid. Whether or not the reader agrees with Pinker after becoming sophisticated upon further readings is not relevant; without The Language Instinct, Pinker's engaging introduction to the field, many would never wish to become linguistically sophisticated in the first place!
The sort of reader who should pay attention to the specific thought-criticisms of some of the other reviewers should really be elsewhere, reading and critiquing Pinker's academic works, e.g. journal articles, or his book "Language Learnability and Language Development," not nitpicking a book meant for introducing the masses to the beauty of language! If you aren't a linguist, I would hazard that the majority of potential readers are safe to completely ignore these thought-criticisms when pondering their potential enjoyment of purchasing this book from Amazon.
These critical reviewers should be reading/writing journal articles in the academic literature! However if you are in the grey area of reading this book for an academic reason not strictly defined as Linguistics, these specific thought-criticisms are valid to take note of and to consider-- I would concede that some niches of academics (e.g. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh of chimpanzee artificial language) may be taking The Language Instinct text, a book for the layperson, as an academic gospel of the entire field of Linguistics, without really considering the underlying technical issues or counterarguments.
Overall, you likely won't find another book which presents the beauty & complexity of language with the ease of The Language Instinct. If you are to have but one book in your library on language, this should be the one.

Why:
This book dives more into the neurological aspects than other books focused on language, teaching its readers how children are the masters at learning languages, and how culture also helps advise children in the use of their language. It is more in depth on how the human brain, unlike other animals, has the capability to form abstract ideas and communicate it through symbolic language. I believe this book analyzes the science behind humanity, and one of the most important aspects that has led to its success.