CBR book reviews – Language as a Window into Human Nature

  • The Brain That Changes Itself  By Dr Norman Doidge
  • The Most Human Human  By Brian Christian
  •  Life in Physics  By Lise Meitner
  • Language as a Window into Human Nature: The Stuff of Thought By Steven Pinker
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks By Rebecca Skloot
  • Fixing My Gaze  By Professor Susan Barry
  • The Human Brain: A Guided Tour  By Professor Susan Greenfield
  • I’m not stupid, just disabled: some serious chitchat about life after a stroke  By Wolfgang Haufe
  • The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul By Dr Francis Crick 
  • Pieces of Mind: 21 Short Walks Around the Human Brain By Michael C. Corballis


Language as a Window into Human Nature: The Stuff of Thought

By Steven Pinker
Reviewed by:  Dr Cathy Stinear, Neuroscientist

Most of us use words to communicate with others, and to think our own thoughts, pretty much all day every day. In this book, Steven Pinker shows us how our words and the way we use them reveal so much about the way we humans understand the world. 

For example, Kiwis say “get off the couch”, and Americans say “get off of the couch”; you can say “Vince chipped at the stone” but “Clara kissed at the baby” sounds weird. What do these types of innate language rules tell us about our conceptions of time, space, number and causation? 

With chapters on wide-ranging topics, including metaphor, names, and the seven words you can’t say on television, this is a broad and thought-provoking account of how our concept of reality is embedded in language. 

It can get technical at times, but Pinker moves through the material with humour and good examples from a wide range of languages and cultures. After 500 pages, you’ll have a fresh perspective on language and consciousness. And you’ll probably choose your words more wisely with a better understanding of what you’re really saying!