The Language Instinct & Social Instincts

In which I will explain why the social instincts are similar to “the language instinct” suggested by Steven Pinker in his book of that name.

Very simply, Pinker argues that humans have both:

  • an instinctive desire to acquire language – any language
  • an instinctive ability to acquire language

It is their combination to both want to and to be able to acquire language that explains the universal use of language amongst humans and the diverse forms it can take.

The (four) basic social instincts (arguably language might be the fifth) can be viewed in the same way.

The desire and ability to acquire various cultural norms and practices for authority ranking, communal sharing, equality matching and market pricing (to use Relational Models concepts) are also human universals. Everyone does it, instinctively.

What they acquire varies enormously between and even within cultures.

They may also acquire multiple models, for example, of authority ranking. Just as humans often employ multiple versions of language (and even completely different languages) depending on context (e.g. talking to family or friends versus talking in a formal work environment).