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Lecture 5

PSYC20008 Lecture Notes - Fall 2017 Lecture 5 - Steven Pinker, Neuroendocrinology, Amygdala

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Katherine Johnson

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The components of language
Symbols systems for representing thoughts, feelings, knowledge and communicating them to
Creative and flexible use of symbols is a capacity that sets us apart from other species
By 5 y/o, children have mastered the basic structure of their language, whether spoken or
manually signed
Language comprehension precedes language production
Components of language
1. Phonological development acquisition of knowledge about phonemes (the elementary units
of sound that distinguish meaning)
2. Semantic development learning the system for expressing meaning in a language, beginning
with morphemes (smallest unit of meaning in a language)
3. Syntactic development learning the syntax/rules for combining words
4. Pragmatic development acquiring knowledge of how language is used, which includes
understanding a variety of conversational convention (particularly difficult for children)
Language and the brain
o Language is a species-specific behaviour
o Only human acquire language in the normal course of development (some primates have
been taught to sign and recognise words)
o Localised in the brain - ~90% of right-handed people have language being controlled in the
left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex
o Bilingualism
Adults who learned a second language at 1 to 3 years of age show the normal pattern of
greater left-hemisphere activity in a test of grammatical knowledge
Adults who learned a second language later show increase right hemisphere activity
What is required for language?
Language development mastery of components: language generativity, semantic development
and pragmatic development
o Language generativity
Phoneme basic unit of sound used to produce language
Phonological development acquisition of knowledge about the sound systems of one’s
own language
Morpheme smallest unit of meaningful sound, usually one or two phonemes
o Semantic development learning to express meaning in language (includes word learning)
Syntax rules for the ways in which words can be combined to make sense
Syntactic development learning the rules for combining words in a given language
o Pragmatic development acquiring knowledge about how language is used eg rules for
Adults have metalinguistic knowledge (properties of language and language used) that
children do not have
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