Geoffrey Sampson, The “language instinct”
debate. Revised edition. London and New York: Continuum, 2005. Pp.
xiii, 224. Pb $30.00.
First published in 1997 under the title Educating Eve but now
revised and expanded and with a useful foreword from Paul Postal, this
book presents and critiques all the main arguments that have been offered
in support of the thesis that a body of language-specific knowledge is
innate in the human child. Sampson finds the thesis unproven on detailed
grounds of logic or evidence, and proceeds to sketch an alternative basis
for first-language development, rooted in Popperian science and nurture.
As the new title indicates, the book purports specifically to respond to
Steven Pinker's The language instinct, but somewhat
surprisingly Pinker's book isn't extensively debated here: It
seems that the publishing demigod is mostly objected to for having renewed
the intellectual standing of the nativist stance in the 1990s, and matters
are certainly further confused by Sampson's frank admiration for
Pinker's more recent The blank slate.