PSY270H1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 13: Universal Grammar, Noam Chomsky, Language Development

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Published on 4 Apr 2019
PSY270 Lecture 9 Language
Language, very broadly, is a set of rules used to communicate
Can be spoken or written (or signed)
Language is a very complex skill that we master effortlessly
Hockett’s Universal Characteristics of Language
Semanticity language conveys meaning
Arbitrariness signal doesn’t resemble what it represents
Flexibility and naming referents have labels and they can be changed
Duality of patterning the signal can be broken down into smaller units
Productivity we can create an infinite number of new meaningful utterances
from a finite number of meaningful signals
Displacement we can communicate about things that aren’t present
Theories of Language Acquisition
Language is acquired according to the general laws of learning and is
similar to any other learned behaviour
Language development is a result of adults' reinforcement and gradual
shaping of infants' babbling
Many aspects of children’s language acquisition can’t be explained by
learning theory models
Children say things they’ve never heard: “I holded the baby
Children don’t say things they hear a lot: e.g., a and the
Innatist Theory
Principles of language are inborn, not learned
Chomky’s poverty of stimulus argument:
1. Not all language addressed to or overhead by young children
consists of complete well-formed utterances
2. children come to use and understand sentences which
presumably never occur in their language-learning environment
3. children learn grammar despite receiving little or no negative
Even when adults do attempt to actively teach language, children don’t
seem predisposed to make use of such information
Children think they’re saying the right thing but don’t repeat
exactly what’s being said
Language is hard-wired bioprogram that will develop once the child ius
exposed to language
No explicit instruction or teaching is required because the rules of
language are pre-programmed
Chomsky proposed universal grammar
The idea that all the rules and elements of human language
already exists when a child is born
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Universal Grammar (UG) considers the principles, elements, and
rules that underlie all possible human languages to be innate
Children are born with UG that has parameters
representing the dimension along which languages can
The task of acquiring a language is simply a task of parameter setting (i.e.
identify which setting of each parameter applies to his/her language)
Ex: Word order is a parameter in some countries .In universal
grammar, you are born knowing you have to pay attention to how
people around you are considering word order. The child’s job is
to set the parameter at the right place
Language learning involves inborn skills and fine tuning or
parameter setting based on some input from the environment
Bickerton suggests children have an innate grammar that is available
biologically if the language input is insufficient (language bioprogram
Support of universal grammar
Deaf children not exposed to conventional sign language
developed their own systems of manual sign communication that
incorporated many of the formal features of language. Not any
recognized version of sign language but it is a form of
communications that follows a set of regular rules and is language
like. (Goldin-Meadow & Mylander, 1990)
Adults use a pidgin to communicate when there is no common language
Usually happens in immigrant communities, they already speak
their own language and they have to somehow communicate with
each other. A pidgin is not a language, but a basic form of
communication using language symbols but no regular rules of
grammatical structure
Ex: Building high place wall part time nowtime
and then now temperature every time give you
There is a message being said there but the words
are put in random ways to get their point across
Children use pidgins from their parents and develop a creole
Children of these adults will develop a creole with consistent word order,
the use of complex syntax with relative clauses, the distinction between
definite and indefinite articles
Creole is a language
Ex: Get one electric sign high up on da wall of da building show
you what time and temperature get right now
Need at least some linguistic input of some type for language
Studying Language
There is something special in some way about language
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Phonology: the study of the speech/sounds of language
Morphology: the study of words; words, the parts of words, and how you make
Semantics: the study of meaning of language
Syntax: studying the rules of language
Pragmatics: the everyday use of language
The study of phonology, morphology and semantics is the study of understanding
The study of semantics, syntax, and pragmatics is studied for understanding
The study of semantics and syntax is used for understanding stories
Understanding Words
A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound that makes a difference to
The smallest unit of language. Does not carry any meaning but
can change the meaning of an utterance of what is being said
E.g. cat vs. bat differs by the first phoneme. The sound “c” and “b” has no
meaning, but it alters the meaning of the word
C-a-t-b are each phonemes
Phonemes can be consonants or vowels
There are more phonemes than there are letters. In English, we
have between 40-44 phonemes (one letter can make more sound
and combination of letters can be a phoneme)
Phonology: Are Phonemes Special?
Yes they are, they are treated differently than other sounds. We can
recognize language sounds and non-language sounds
Lack of invariance problem
There is variance in our speech. The physical energy getting into
our ear is different. It varies from context to context, but we don’t
notice it which is why it’s a problem. If there’s a physical difference
we hear something different. This is why phonemes are different
from other sounds. For some reason, we don’t hear all the
physical differences in sounds.
This is something that is learned, it’s very specific to the language
Ex: the words cola vs. can. These words are physically different
but the phonemes (“c”) are the same, we don’t hear a difference
Phonemes are different depending on the context they’re in
Phonemes are nearly always coarticulated
Accent, speed, facial expression, physical differences, carefulness
all affect the speech stimulus. These all change the physical input
but we don’t hear the physical difference
Segmentation Problem
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