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Introduction to Psychology II - Lecture 001

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University of Toronto Scarborough
Steve Joordens

9 January 2013 CHAPTER 9: LANGUAGE & THOUGHT 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 lives. STRUCTURE OF HUMAN LANGUAGE 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 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 sentences. 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 fantastic). LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT 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 distinction, they grow older having difficulty sensing the difference). Infants can distinguish among speech sounds, but they cannot produce them reliably, relying mostly on cooing, cries, laughs, and other vocalizations to communicate. Between the ages of about 4 and 6 months, they begin to babble speech sounds. By 8 – 10 months they understand some words (IE: no, mommy) and simple requests. At about 10 to 12 months of age, babies begin to utter (or sign) their first words. By 18 months, they can say about 50 words and can understand several times more than that. Toddlers generally learn nouns before verbs, and the nouns they learn first are names for everyday, concrete objects (IE: chair, table, milk). There is environmental influence on the vocabulary of children. The child is exposed to a wider and larger vocabulary the more professional the jobs of the parents. Fast Mapping is when children map a word onto an underlying concept after only a single exposure enables them to learn at this rapid pace. Around 24 months, children begin to form two word sentences (IE: more milk) referred to as Telegraphic Speech because they are devoid of function morphemes and consist mostly of content words. There are critical periods of learning languages, the longer you wait in life decreases the level of fluency of a language than as a native speaker. Young children memorize the particular sounds (IE: words) that express what they want to communicate. But as children acquire the grammatical rules of their language, they tend to over generalize (IE: I ran, I runned). By about 3 years of age, children begin to generate complete simple sentences that inc
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