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10. PSY270 Language.docx

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University of Toronto St. George
Kristie Dukewich

10. PSY270 Language 12/6/2012 11:25:00 AM Overview: 1. What is language? 2. Perceiving and understanding words 3. Understanding sentences 4. Understanding texts and stories 5. Producing language i. Producing language: speech errors ii. Producing language: conversations 6. Culture, language & cognition 1. What is language?  Language is a system of communication that uses sounds or symbols that enables us to express our feelings, thoughts, ideas, experiences.  Human language can be distinguished from animal communication by its o Creativity o hierarchical structure (components combined = larger units = wordsphrasessentencesstories) o governing rules o & universality.  Modern research in the psych of language blossomed in the 1950’s and 1960’s, with the advent of the cognitive revolution. One of the central events here was Chomsky’s critique of Skinner’s behavioristic analysis of language. o Skinner = Nurture, language learned via reinforcement o Chomsky = Nature, language is genetic and universal  Children say sentences they have never heard before, as well as ones which have never been reinforced.  “I hate you mommy”  = development of psycholinguistics  Process by which we learn language o Comprehension o Speech production o Acquisition 2. Perceiving and understanding words  All the words a person knows are his or her lexicon.  Phonemes (sounds) + morphemes (meanings) are two basic units of words. o Phonemes = shortest segment of speech that if changed, changes the meaning of a word.  E.g. Bit and Pit o Morphemes = smallest units of language that have definable meaning or grammatical function  “truck” = 1, “bedroom” = 2, “trucks” = 2  The effect of meaning on the perception of phonemes is illustrated by the phonemic restoration effect. o “The state governors met with their respective legi*COUGH* convening in the capital city”  Participants “filled in” the missing phoneme based on the context produced by the sentence + portion of the word presented.  PRE can be influenced by morphemes (meaning of words) which follow the missing phoneme too.  = Top-down processing affects out perception of speech  Meaning + experience with other aspects of language, are important for achieving speech segmentation. o Speech signal is continuous, but words are perceived as separate based on their meaning. o No perception of speech segmentation in foreign languages.  The ability to understand words is influenced by word frequency (how often a word is used in ones language) and the context provided by the sentence. o Word frequency effect = faster RT to high frequency words like home > bike. (shown through the lexical decision task = RT to words vs. non-words) o Longer eye movement fixations on low frequency words like “demure” instead of high frequency words easier recognized like “pretty”.  Lexical ambiguity refers to the fact that a word can have more than one meaning and that the word’s meaning in a sentence may not be clear. o Bug = spy tool vs. insect vs. annoy o “my mom is bugging me” = annoying = context clears up ambiguity  Lexical priming experiments show that all meanings of a word are activated immediately after the word is presented, but then context determines the eventual meaning of the word. 3. Understanding sentences  The meaning of a sentence is determined by both semantics (meaning of words) + syntax (rules for combining words in sentences). o Both are associated differently with physiological response ERPs. o N400 response = semantic violations = WEIRD SENTANCES  ERP N400 response increases when a word does not fit into the sentence spoken to participant.  E.g. “The cats won’t bake”.  N stands for negative, and 400ms stands for the time at which the response peaks.  N400 is influenced by whether a word fits the meaning of a sentence. = Semantic violations o P600 = syntax violations = BAD GRAMMAR  Large wave when syntax is incorrect,  e.g. “the cats wont eating” is wrong thus larger than “the cats wont eat”. o Semantics & syntax associated with dif waves of the ERP supports the idea that they are associated with dif mechanisms. o Parsing is the process by which words in a sentence are grouped into phrases.  “A spy saw the man with the binoculars” vs. “A spy saw the man with the binoculars” o Grouping into phrases is a major determinant of the meaning of a sentence. This process has been studied by using syntactically ambiguous sentences.  Where words are the same, but there cane be more than one structure thus multiples meanings.  The Parser determines which sentence meaning we will take on by…  Syntax  semantics?  Or both working simultaneously?  Two mechanisms proposed to explain parsing are o 1. The syntax-first approach  emphasizes how syntactic principles such as late closure determine how a sentence is parsed.  We can use syntax to decipher meaning from a sentence using nonsense words.  Late-closure = when a person encounters a new word, the parser assumes that this word is part of the current phrase.  “Because he always jogs a mile seems like a short distance to him” = late closure  Garden-path sentences model = Misleading sentences, to show we build sentence structure one word at a time . First way of reading this sentence seems wrong, until you read it again in a new way.  “the student knew the answer to the question was wrong”  like Gestalt heuristics = mental shortcuts to imagine a whole faster, even if not always accurate.
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