Sept 17 , 2012
Introduction/ Brain & Language
Big Debates [what psycholinguists care about?]
Brain and Language
1. Rules or Statistics [or both]?
Does linguistic behaviour governed by rules/constraints, or by statistical
regularities [or both]?
The computer Method
Symbolic representation [Chomsky]
Pattern recognition, machine learning
Example: Is syntax predictable from
Finite State Grammar
Colorless green ideas sleep furiously [Chomsky]
Phrase structure rules Ex2. U-shaped acquisition of past tense
Regular forms (-ed): walked, played
Irregular forms: came, went, held, broke
Stage 1: walked, played, came, went
Stage 2: walked, played, comed, goed, holded
Stage 3: walked, played, breaked, broke
Stage4: walked, played, came, went, held
Are children acquiring different phrase structure rules at each stage?
Or are their representations probabilistic?
Nature vs. Nurture
2 endpoints in the debate
o Empiricists: all nurture
o Nativists: all nature
Some evidence to consider
o Speed of language acquisition
o Linguistic ability vs. other cognitive abilities of toddlers
o Any language can be acquired, provided the right input
o Critical age hypothesis (after 3, your ability to learn new things takes a longer
time and if you don’t learn language before 3 the chances of you picking it up is
o Animals appear to lack language
Autonomous or interdependent processes?
Is language mediated by independent modules or are processes interactive?
Example 1: Reading aloud would involve at least 2 modules
o Module 1 - decode visual input at the beginning of task
o Module 2 - perform articulatory operations at the end of the task
Or, different parts of an interconnected network (e.g. visual processing and word
recognition) interact to permit reading and articulation
Language-specific or general cognitive properties?
Chomsky: distinct ‘language organ’
o Bat sonar
Others: Language a collection of other cognitive faculties
Harley describes psycholinguists as ‘methodologically promiscuous (pluralistic) ’
Hypothesis Text Hypothesis Model Test etc.
o Field techniques (e.g. case studies, observation of spontaneous speech)
o Corpus techniques (e.g. analysis of a body of elicited or spontaneous speech, or
other data) o Experimental Methods
Independent variables (e.g. age, gender, location of brain damage,
sentence complexity, ambiguity)
Dependent variable (e.g. reaction time, brain wave activity, subjective
Subject (Human participant)
o A few standard paradigms
Lexical decision paradigm
Subject judges whether the written stimulus is a word
Two dependent variables: response latency, response accuracy
How is stimulus influenced by a previous stimulus?
o “Prime” (first thing) and “Target” (your interest)
o Cat Dog - faster response
o Pencil Dog - slo