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Lecture 9

PSYCH 1X03 Lecture Notes - Lecture 9: Morpheme, Animal Communication, Soltyrei

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Joe Kim

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Psychology 1X03 - Online Lecture 9: Language
Introduction to Language
Researchers have identified four criteria that outline a true language
oLanguage 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)
oLanguage is regular
Governed by rules and grammar
oLanguage is arbitrary
Lack of resemblance between the words and their meanings
Nothing about “cat” indicates that it refers to a furry animal with
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

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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
oLanguage 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
oLanguage influences our thoughts and the ways we perceive the world
oOne line of evidence supporting this theory came from a study of Piraha, a
tribe of hunter-gatherers in Brazil
oPiraha language consists of only three counting words, one, two and many
oAccording to hypothesis, this tribe should have difficulty understanding
fine numerical concepts because their language lacks fine words for these
fine distinctions
oAs 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
oEvidence 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
oSmallest unit of sound that contains information (has meaning)
oOften a word, but some words contain multiple morphemes
oEx. The world table” is a single word that contains a single morpheme,
but the word “tablecloth” is a single word that contains two morphemes

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oMorphemes can also stand alone as individual words, both “table” and
“cloth” can stand alone
oHowever, 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
oEx. Morpheme “dog” has three phonemes, /d/, /o/ and /g/
oWe 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
oCalled transparent orthographies and they have important consequences
for reading development
oChildren learning to read languages with transparent orthographies have a
much easier time than children learning to read English and master
reading faster
oThe rules that govern how sentences are put together
oAlso known as grammar
oDifferences 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
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