Geoffrey Sampson doesn’t believe in the language instinct. I remember reading his book Educating Eve in my final year at university and being splendidly, incoherantly, annoyed by his views on the nature-nurture debate. My girlfriend at the time had been set the book as part of her linguistics course and I singularly failed to express to her just how wrong-headed Sampson’s arguments were – how he completely failed to engage with the whole point of Pinker’s book., for one thing.
Of course I was fresh from reading things like Rethinking Innateness and had all the zeal of the new convert. I can’t remember the details of Sampson’s argument, and now I think i’d like to re-read it to check if i still feel the same way, and maybe to recapture that feeling of annoyance. Maybe my appreciation of it will have changed, I certainly think my appreciation of the language innateness debate has changed – i’ve had the luck to read Terance Deacon’s The Symbolic Species for a start, and that’s a book which should stretch anyone’s appreciation of language and brain evolution.