PSYA02H3 Lecture Notes - American Sign Language, Waggle Dance, Temporal Lobe

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16 Jan 2013
9 January 2013
Cognition is composed of distinct abilities. There are five key higher cognitive functions: acquiring and
using language, forming concepts and categories, making decisions, solving problems, and reasoning.
These five cognitive abilities are critical to our functioning in just about all aspects of our everyday
existence and impairment of these cognitive abilities can result in major and lasting disruptions to our
Language is a system for communicating with others using signals that are combined according to rules
of grammar and convey meaning. Grammar is a set of rules that specify how the units of language can
be combined to produce meaningful messages. Language allows individuals to exchange information
about the world, coordinate group action, and form strong social bonds.
Most social species have systems of communication that allow them to transmit messages to each other
(IE: Honeybees communicate the location of food sources by means of a “waggle dance” that indicates
both the direction and distance of the food source from the hive). Each different warning call conveys a
particular meaning and functions like a word in a simple language.
Three striking differences distinguish human language from vervet monkey yelps:
The complex structure of human language distinguishes it from simpler signaling systems. Most
humans can express a wider range of ideas and concepts than are found in the communications
of other species, and humans can generate an essentially infinite number of novel sentences,
whereas animals do not have anything like this capacity
Humans use words to refer to intangible things (IE: Unicorn, democracy)
We use language to name, categorize, and describe things to ourselves when we think, which
influences how knowledge is organized in our brains
The purpose of language is communication; it allows you to share your minds. Animals most definitely
use their bodies and sounds to communicate, usually in the here and now; but human language is
different, it allows one to transport knowledge and ideas across time and space, it allows us to share our
minds in more richness. Once humans learn something, it is out there for eternity because of language
(IE: When an archer learns how to use a bow and arrow, others know also because he teaches them
through language, unless he dies without teaching someone then we must wait until someone relearns
it). Three key concepts to our domination of the planet:
Bi-Pedalism which is the freeing of our hands
Frontal Cortex which figures out useful ways to use our hands
Language which is the ability to transmit all this across generations
There are approximately 4,000 human languages, which linguists have grouped into about 50 language
families. All of these languages share a basic structure involving a set of sounds and rules for combining
those sounds to produce meanings. Phonemes are the smallest units of sound that are recognizable as
speech rather than as random noise (IE: ba, pa b and p are classified as separate phonemes in English
because they differ in the way they are produced by the human speaker). Phonological Rules indicate
how phonemes can be combined to produce speech sounds (IE: The initial sound ts is acceptable in
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German but not in English). People learn these phonological rules without instruction, and if the rules
are violated, the resulting speech sounds so odd that we describe it as speaking with an accent.
Morphemes are the smallest meaning units of language, what combined phonemes make (IE: Brain
recognizes the pe sound you make at the beginning of pat as a speech sound, but it carries no particular
meaning. The morpheme pat, on the other hand, is recognized as an element of speech that carries
meaning). A sentence, the largest unit of language, can be broken down into progressively smaller units:
phrases, morphemes, and phonemes.
Syntactical Rules indicate how words can be combined to form sentences. Every sentence must contain
one or more nouns, which may be combined with adjectives or articles to create a noun phrase. A
sentence also must contain one or more verbs, which may be combined with noun phrases, adverbs, or
articles to create a verb phrase.
All languages have grammar rules that fall into two categories: rules of morphology and rules of syntax.
Morphological Rules indicate how morphemes can be combined to form words. Content Morphemes
refer to things and events (IE: cat, dog, take). Function Morphemes serve grammatical functions, such
as tying sentences together (IE: and, or, but) or indicating time (IE: when). Content and function
morphemes can be combined and recombined to form an infinite number of new sentences, which are
governed by syntax. Syntactical Rules indicate how words can be combined to form phrases and
Sounds and rules are critical ingredients of human language that allow us to convey meaning. A
sentence can be constructed in a way that obeys syntactical and other rules, yet is entirely lacking in
meaning or semantics. Deep Structure refers to the meaning of a sentence. Surface Structure refers to
how a sentence is worded. Many animals, especially dogs, have strong receptive language abilities;
some even have language production abilities (IE: Chaser the dog). Receptive language is when they
remember the word to the object, not really understanding the definition of the word, because of
operant conditioning. To impress scientists an organism must use language in a very flexible way, words
are symbols used to represent and convey ideas a so-called abstract symbol system that can be used
very dynamically (IE: Surface VS. Deep structure: Joe took a bite out of his burger VS. Joe’s burger took a
bite out of his wallet this shows how the order of words matter. Steve likes music VS. Steve enjoys
music VS. Music is one of Steve’s hobbies VS. Music is Steve’s favourite thing VS. Steve thinks music is
Three characteristics of language development:
Children learn language at an astonishingly rapid rate
Children make few errors while learning to speak and the errors they do make usually result
from applying, but over generalizing grammatical rules they’ve learned
Children’s passive mastery of language develops faster than their active mastery, they
understand language better than they speak
The left hemisphere works on language and sounds, the right hemisphere works on non-language. At
birth, infants can distinguish among all of the contrasting sounds that occur in all human languages.
Within the first 6 months of life, they lose this ability, and, like their parents, can only distinguish among
the contrasting sounds in the language they hear being spoken around them. Infants can distinguish
between speech and non-speech sounds as early as 9 months. At birth they are sensitive to all relevant
sound distinctions but they actually lose the ability to make distinctions not relevant to their culture (IE:
the L/R distinction in Japanese children lead and read, however in the Japanese culture, there is no
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