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Psychology 2134A/B Lecture Notes - Noam Chomsky, Infinitive, Psych

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Marc Joanisse

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Psych 2134: Psychology of Language
First Lecture, September 6
- Words need to be given in a certain order, why? In theory because we all carry
knowledge about the correct structure of a sentence (mental grammar;
distinguishes it from the kind of grammar you might get in a big)
- Mental grammar: we carry this understanding around in our head to produce
language and understand language
- Noam Chomsky “what do we know when we know language?”: that all humans
know a language. The idea of a mental grammar, everyone has a mental
grammar no matter the language, there is a lot more in common among
languages than meets the eye. All languages are processed in our minds the
same way (parts of the brain, processes of recognization)
- Mental error vs. prescriptive grammatical rules (ie, never split an infinitive, don’t
end a sentence in a proposition) prescriptive; telling people what to do, not
reflective of our actual knowledge of language. Speakers violate these rules
because they’re “rules of style”
- Descriptive grammar: not trying to say what is “right”, we want to describe what
users know
- the idea that language is a unifying construct in humans; all humans have
language and even though we all speak different languages, anywhere where
humans exist there is language. We are all born with some capacity to learn
language. Languages differ in some basic ways, but share many important
characteristics. Languages have a lot of surface differences (superficial
differences that have very little to do with the underlying processes involved in
- All languages are the same, no such thing as a primitive language. There is no
correct or high form of a language, “high” version of language (ie. The queens
English); these are all social divisions, don’t actually reflect a different in
language communications or understanding, just social distinctions. Nothing can
be expressed in one language that couldn’t be expressed in another.
** Read Ch 1
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