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Lecture 9

Lecture 9 Language Detailed Note.docx

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Joe Kim

Psychology Lecture 9: Language Introduction to Language  Researchers have identified four criteria that outline a true language o Language is symbolic  To communicate using language, a user must understand that various language stimuli represent different meanings and concepts  In an oral language, the relevant stimuli are the sounds that you emit in the form of words  Although different oral languages have different type of stimuli for the same meaning, in all languages the relevant stimuli (words) are not necessarily concrete examples of the concept, but rather, represent the concept as a whole  Ex. Pointing at a cookie vs. saying you want a cookie  In the latter, the cookie does not have to be there for you to be understood  The word is a symbol that represents the cookie  The ability to refer to objects in their absence opens the possibility to communicate about complex ideas and hypothetical concepts  It even allows us to discuss objects that we might never directly see and only exist in theory (black hole) o Language is regular  Governed by rules and grammar o Language is arbitrary  Lack of resemblance between the words and their meanings  Nothing about “cat” indicates that it refers to a furry animal with whiskers  Arbitrary associations allows various languages to use different sounds to label the same item  If sounds used to identify items and concepts were associated with their inherent meaning, all languages would use the same sound to identify a given item  However, there are some examples of words whose sounds are associated with their meaning, referred to as onomatopoeia  “Meow”, “splash”, “hiccup”  The sounds of these words are not set arbitrarily, but attempt to imitate natural sounds to reflect their meaning o Language is productive  Allows its users to combine a series of representative symbols to express novel meanings in groupings of words that may never have been presented together before  Whorf-Sapir hypothesis o Language influences our thoughts and the ways we perceive the world o One line of evidence supporting this theory came from a study of Piraha, a tribe of hunter-gatherers in Brazil o Piraha language consists of only three counting words, one, two and many o According to hypothesis, this tribe should have difficulty understanding fine numerical concepts because their language lacks fine words for these fine distinctions o As expected, the Piraha were able to identify objects in groups of one or two, but could not do the same for objects greater than groups of three o Evidence against hypothesis  Ex. Cultures that lack specific name for relatives  Any senior male relative in English is Uncle  But many different names in different languages  Despite this, Anglophones clearly understand the differences between these individuals Structure of Language  Morpheme o Smallest unit of sound that contains information (has meaning) o Often a word, but some words contain multiple morphemes o Ex. The world “table” is a single word that contains a single morpheme, but the word “tablecloth” is a single word that contains two morphemes o Morphemes can also stand alone as individual words, both “table” and “cloth” can stand alone o However, not all morphemes can stand alone, some must be added to another morpheme to make sense o “Tables” is made up of two morphemes, the morpheme “table” identifies the object and the morpheme “s” indicates that there is more than one o “Renewable”  3 morphemes  “Re”, “new”, “able” o “Screwdriver”  3 morphemes  “Screw”, “driv(e)”, “er”  In oral language, morphemes are the smallest unit of sound that contain information, but they are not the absolute smallest unit of language  We can break morphemes apart into constituent sounds, called phonemes o Ex. Morpheme “dog” has three phonemes, /d/, /o/ and /g/ o We can also combine certain phonemes to make sounds in English, such as /ch/, /ai/, /r/  Some languages (such as Italian) have a more consistent letter-to-sound correspondence, so that a given letter will always make the same sound o Called transparent orthographies and they have important consequences for reading development o Children learning to read languages with transparent orthographies have a much easier time than children learning to read English and master reading faster  Syntax o The rules that govern how sentences are put together o Also known as grammar o Differences in syntactic rules among languages are as varied as the cultures they originate from  Ex. Gender agreement in French, but not in English  Also differ in terms of order in which words occur in a sentence  Ex. English uses a “subject-verb-object” order of presentation, while Hindi and Japanese use a “subject-object-verb” order  Semantics o Refers to meaning of each word o A sentence may have perfect syntactical structure, but no semantic meaning whatsoever o Ex. The colourless green ideas sleep furiously. Development and the Segmentation Problem  Language production increases systematically throughout infancy and childhood  Eve very young infants show language-related skills, such as responding to the presence of others and smiling socially o Ex. Even very young infants will respond to the presence of another person o In the still-face procedure, an adult looks at an infant while maintaining a non- responsive, neutral facial expression o Infants who are only 2 to 3 months old will become distressed during this procedure, indicating that even at this young age, they have some expectations about how a face-to-face social interaction should proceed o Sometime during the first two months of life, we also typically see an infant’s first social smile, a smile in direct response to a social interaction  These social behaviours are followed by the pre-linguistic behaviour of cooing o Infants begin cooing between the ages of 2-4 months, making sounds that combine consonants with “oo” and “ah” sounds o During this stage of development, parents can practice “conversational skills” with their infants by making turns cooing or vocalizing with them  The skills that allow children to communicate appropriately and effectively in a social situation are called pragmatics  Between 4-6 months of age, infants start babbling o Characterized by drawn-out sounds made up of a variety of vowels and consonants o May sound like a real sentence or question because the use of inflection and rhythm in the production of the babble o Combinations progress to become real words  As infants progress in their language development, they begin to repeat certain combinations of sounds, which eventually forms her first words (typically around 1 year) o Typically her first word refers to something important to her infant environment  Infants next enter the holophrastic phase, where a single word is used to indicate the meaning of the entire sentence o Ex. A child may say “ball” to indicate that he wants you to give him his ball  At about one and a half to six years of age, children enter the “language explosion”, AKA “naming explosion” or “word spurt” where vocabulary increases very rapidly and most children have mastered the major aspects of language o A characteristic process observed during this time of rapid vocabulary growth is fast mapping, whereby children learn the meaning following only 1 or 2 encounters with a new word  Characteristics of early language o During the holophrastic phase, children tend to make some very characteristic errors in their language o Underextensions  Occur when children apply a rule to a specific object only  Ex. May use the word “doggie” to refer to her pet dog, but not other dogs o Overextensions  Occurs when children apply a rule too broadly and can occur at the level of meaning or syntax  Ex. If a child learns that his family pet is called a “doggie” he may start to use the word doggie for any four-legged animal  Similarly, a child may add the suffix “ed” when saying that she played with her friend, but may also use it to say she “runned” o Once children have established a more substantial vocabulary, they enter the phase of telegraphic speech (starts sometime between 3-4 years)  Use short phrases that contain only the most crucial information they are trying to communicate  Ex. “More juice”, “Where teddy” o As children come to use more complex language, they start to use overregularizations  Syntactic errors which involve using a grammatical rule too broadly  Ex. “foots”, “goed” (went)  Receptive and expressive vocabulary o The words that children use to speak are referred to as the expressive vocabulary o Words that children can understand, but may not yet use are referred to as receptive vocabulary  Develops well before expressive vocabulary  Production vs. Comprehension o While an infant may progress to gain language comprehension, language production can be limited to factors such as vocal anatomy  Segmentation Problem o Problem translates into your perception that a person speaking an unfamiliar language often sounds as though they are speaking very quickly o Interestingly, researchers found that early speech segmentation skills show a strong positive correlation with expressive vocabulary at age 2 o Most children who now had a large expressive vocabulary had earlier demonstrated good speech segmentation as infants, while most children who had a small expressive vocabulary had demonstrated poorer spee
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