Language and Thinking
Mental representation: includes images, ideas, concepts, and principles.
Language: consists of a system of symbols and rules for combining these symbols in
ways that can generate an infinite number of possible messages and meanings.
Psycholinguistics: is the scientific study of the psychological aspects of language, such
as how people understand, produce, and acquire language.
Adaptive Functions of Language
• Human thought and behaviour depend on more than the physical structure of the
• The use of language evolved as people gathered to form larger social units.
• The development of language made it easier for humans to adapt to these
• The human brain has an inborn capacity to acquire any language.
• Through language, we are able to share thoughts, feelings, goals, intentions,
desires, needs and memories.
• Language is a learning mechanism.
Properties of Language
4 properties of language:
Language is Symbolic and Structured
• Symbols are used to represent objects
• Symbols in language are arbitrary (“agreed-on” meaning)
Grammar: set of rules that dictate how symbols can be combined to create meaningful
units of communication.
Syntax: the rules that govern the order of words.
Language Conveys Meaning
Semantics: the meaning of words and sentences.
Language is Generative and Permits Displacement
Generativity: the symbols of language can be combined to generate an infinite number
of messages that have novel meaning. Displacement: the fact that language allows us to communicate about events and objects
that are not physically present.
The Structure of Language
• Surface structure: the symbols that are used and their order in a sentence.
• Deep structure: the underlying meaning of the combined symbols, which brings
us back to the issue of semantics.
The Hierarchical Structure of Language
• Phoneme: the smallest unit of speech sound in a language that can signal a
difference in meaning.
• Morphemes: the smallest units of meaning in a language.
• Discourse: sentences are combined into paragraphs, articles, books,
conversations, and so forth.
Understanding and Producing Language
The Role of Bottom-Up Processing
Bottom-up processing: individual elements of a stimulus are analyzed and then
combined to form a unified perception (phonemes morphemes words)
The Role of Top-Down Processing
Top-down processing: sensory information is interpreted in light of existing knowledge,
concepts, ideas, and expectations.
Speech segmentation: perceiving where each word within a spoken sentence begins and
Pragmatics: The Social Context of Language
Pragmatics: knowledge of practical aspects of using language (helps you understand
what people are really saying).
• How top-down processing influences language
Language Functions, the Brain, and Sex Differences
Language functions in the brain:
• Broca’s area (left hemisphere frontal lobe): word production and articulation
• Wernicke’s area (rear portion of the temporal lobe): speech comprehension
• Visual are of the cortex is involved in recognizing written words.
Aphasia: impairment in speech comprehension and/or production that can be permanent
• In females, more of their language function is shared with the right hemisphere
• Men exhibit greater left-hemisphere activation, whereas women’s brain activation
occurred in both. Acquiring a First Language (nature vs. nurture)
• Language acquisition represents the unfolding of a biologically primed process
within a social learning environment.
• 1-6 months: infants can perceive the entire range of phonemes found in the
• 6-12 months: children begin to discriminate only the sounds that are specific to
their native tongue (e.g. Japanese children lose the ability to distinguish between r
and l because their language does not make this phonetic distinction)
Language acquisition device (LAD): an innate biological mechanism that contains the
general grammatical rules (universal grammar) common to all languages.
• Universal grammar becomes calibrated to the grammar and syntax of one’s native
Social Learning Processes
• B.F. Skinner: children’s language development is strongly governed by adults’
positive reinforcement of appropriate language and nonreinforcement or
correction of inappropriate verbalizations.
Language acquisition support system (LASS): represent factors in the social
environment that facilitate the learning of a language.
Developmental Timetable and Sensitive Periods
Age Speech characteristics
• Distinguish speech from nonspeech
• Prefers speech sounds (phonemes)
• Crying gives way to cooing when happy
4-6 months • Babbling sounds occur
• Child vocalizes in response to verbalizations of others
7-11 months • Perception of phonemes narrows to only those heard
• Moves tongue with vocalizations
• Discriminates between some words without unerstanding their
• Imitates words sounds
12 months • First recognizable word
12-18 months • Uses single words to express phrases (nouns)
18-24 months • Vocabulary 50-100 words
• 1 sentences (2 words)
2-4 years • vocabulary expands rapidly (several hundred word every 6
• Longer sentences (exhibit language syntax)
• Telegraphic speech: at first consist of a noun and a verb, with nonessential words left out as in a telegraph message. Soon
additional words may be added.
4-5 years • Basic grammar rules
• Meaningful sentences
Bilingualism: Learning a Second Language
• Best learned and spoken more fluently when it is learned during sensitive period
• After age 7, it becomes more difficult.
• Children begin to differentiate their two languages by 2 years of age
• Bilingual students outperform monolingual students in reading
• Bilingual students outperform monolingual students on perceptual tasks that
require them to inhibit attention to an irrelevant feature of an object and pay
attention to another feature.
• Greater flexibility in thinking
Learning a Second Language: Is Earlier Better?
• There is a sensitive (rather than critical) period for learning a second language
that extends through mid-adolescence.
Linguistic Influences On Thinking
• Language can influence how we think, categorize information, and attend to our
• Language can also colour our perceptions, the decisions we make, and the
conclusions we draw.
• Language can help to create stereotypes.
Linguistic relativity hypothesis: language not only influences but also determines what
we are capable of thinking.
• E.g. people whose culture have only few words for colours should have greater
difficulty in perceiving the spectrum of colours than do people who languages
have many colour words.
Thought, Brain, and Mind
Propositional thought: verbal sentences that we say or hear in our mind that expresses a
proposition, or a statement.
Imaginal thought: images that we can see, hear, or feel in our mind.
Motoric thought: mental representations of motor movements.
Concepts and Propositions
Propositions: statements that express ideas. Concepts: basic units of semantic memory (mental categories into which we place
objects, activities, abstractions, and events that have essential features in common).
Prototypes: the most typical and familiar members of a category or class.
Deductive reasoning: we reason from the top down, that is, from general principles to a
conclusion about a specific case with the use of premises (propositions assumed to be
• Most valid form of reasoning because the conclusion cannot be fals