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Lecture 2

PSYCO105 Lecture 2: PSYCO 105 Chapter 2

Course Code
Geoff Hollis

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PSYCO 105: Language & Reasoning
oMost social animals are capable of communicating with other
members of their species, and even across species. However, these
forms of communication are typically not considered languages.
oA communication system is typically considered a language if it has
three defining properties:
General purpose
A communication system is considered general purpose
if it can be used to convey information about any
arbitrary topic, able to convey our thoughts and feelings
Honeybee waggle dance to communicate with other
bees to give information on how far or close the nectar
is, faster (the further), slower (the closer). Conveys
information but not general purpose. (Only distance and
direction of nectar)
Human languages allow their speaker to convey any
sort of meaning. Not true for animal communication
Symbiotically Arbitrary
It is commonly believed that the reason a specific word
refers to a specific meaning is, ultimately, arbitrary. Any
other word could have done the job equally well.
oSymbol that is used to convey a meaning. Wolf
angry = shows teeth, man angry = weapon
Most animal communication is not symbolically
arbitrary. The meaning of a message is tied
fundamentally to how that message is conveyed.
oPrairie dogs yelp when encounter a predator, the
yelps are all identical for a specific predator 
NOT arbitrary (random)
There is evidence that human languages may not be
symbolically arbitrary either! Although symbolic
arbitrariness is typically thought to be a hallmark of
language, theories are beginning to change.
In practice, the form and meaning of some words have
non-arbitrary relationships to each other: (encounter
words that have similar meaning and similar form, from
different origins)
Fire, flicker, flame, flash
Slide, slip, slush, sluice
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These types of words are called phonesthemes. More
broadly, this phenomenon is an example of Sound
Symbolism. Sometimes, the sound or spelling of a word
is symbolic of its meaning.
Tend to preserve the meaning and forms of the words
Issue of Symbol Grounding: How did early ancestors
communicate with each other if the words they chose
were arbitrary? Word forms must be non-arbitrary to
some extent if language were to arise. What is the
immediate real-world referent of a word, and how do
individuals know that? How do we know what language
relates to the meaning?
oIe: Apple, how it looks, sounds
oWe seem to have a preference for using
continuant sounds (ba, la, ma) to refer to shapes
(smoothness and curve) and using stop sounds
(ke, te, sk) to refer to shapes with angles (pointy
objects) Convey in a more straightforward
o;) actually looks like a winky face, links to how it
actually looks like to make it easier to learn
So are words really symbiotically arbitrary?
oYes and No
Too complicated of an issue for a definite
answer like yes or no to be completely
Question is: why symbolic arbitraries
would be a property of language or why it
would not?
Etymology: Study of history of words and their origins
and how words come into existence
oInternet slang:
Reserve short words for very common
Roflmao is less used, disappear and get
replaced by rofl and then lol
Newbie  newb  n00b  noob
Earlier days, newbie meant
someone very sophisticated but
was new to something but now it
means that someone is clueless
about something that is new
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Baby speak
oHow babies learn new words
What is the most important to the baby,
milk and source of food is from their
primary care giver – mother: mama
oBaby speak is interpreted across cultures: (12
Mama = mother, milk
Dada = father, dog, diaper, pacifier
Baba = father, grandmother, brother,
Susu = milk, breast, pee
oNon-arbitrary meanings?
Generative/ Generativity
A system is generative when a finite number of elements
can create an infinite number of possible outcomes
oIe: LEGOS, using finite number of lego blocks to
make multiples and infinite different structures
Finite elements of language (building blocks that make up
complex outcomes):
oLetters (combine to have lots of flexibility in speech)
Outcomes/products of language
Most animal communication is not generative. Either it is:
oNot capable of conveying infinitely many meanings
oRequires infinitely many communicative elements
(building blocks) to do so.
Ie: prairie dogs, specific calls for each unique
oBasic vocal sounds that combine to produce speech
Basic units of sound (Ah- Ke- Te)
oNot all languages utilize the same phonemes
oImportantly: every language only uses a finite
number of phonemes
Different languages uses different phonemes
May hear a language that sounds like
alien talk but bc never been heard
before and the use of phonemes are
very different
oPhoneme acquisition
Question: are people from different cultures
fundamentally different from birth, in
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