10. PSY270 Language 12/6/2012 11:25:00 AM
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,
Human language can be distinguished from animal communication
o hierarchical structure (components combined = larger units =
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 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
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
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
o Both are associated differently with physiological response
o N400 response = semantic violations = WEIRD
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
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…
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
like Gestalt heuristics = mental shortcuts to
imagine a whole faster, even if not always