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NATS 1860 Note 20.docx

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York University
Natural Science
NATS 1860
Keith Schneider

NATS 1860 Note 20 Language - What is language? o There are several different definitions for this – generally, language is a system of signals, such as voice sounds, gestures or written symbols, that encode or decode information o Human languages are referred to as natural languages, and the science of studying them is linguistics o Other animal communication systems are not as complex or expressive as human language  It’s unrelated to other forms of animal communication  It’s a very special thing that didn’t “pop” into our brains, and isn’t a continuum to the normal - Are we special among other species? - What are other species capable of? - Is the difference between an animal communication matter to the degree? - Are language-learning capabilities related to other cognitive abilities? Animal Communications - They do this form many reasons such as food, enemies, territorial display, find mates, locations, and emotions/ feelings/ and thoughts - The way we communicate is tied into animals - When animals communicate they transfer a signal between the two o There is a sender and a receiver - Honey bees have a complicated communication system where they do some waggling to such a degree where other bees can find honey based on the waggles and the location of the sun o It is done through a dancing communications talking about the quality and quantity of the bees - Birdsong: they communicate with each other through various ways of things that they want to tell each other o Regional variations based on specific types of birds o Each of them have fixed meaning - Vervet monkeys have three distinct predator alarm calls, even if the predator is not visible. o Learning is involved in narrowing down the referent o Calls are not involuntary o There is never a new creation of calls or any combination of old ones o Referent is immediate of the call o They never lie in their calls. - Primates have more complex bodies and brains than mollusks o Better learning and problem solving skills o They have more complex structures and flexible behaviours - Can other species learn languages? o Alex the parrot was a bird who was trained to speak and understand speech  This parrot knew the names of 100+ objects  He produces speech sounds, but actually mimics and associates the sounds with objects  It could answer simple questions about objects o These animals require immense amounts of training - Great Apes can’t talk because their larynx isn’t proper in the naval cavity o There have been some attempts for gorillas to do sign languages o Kanzi is bonobo money that learned a language called “Yerkish” and used a keyboard to communicate.  It currently understands over 200 symbols. - In general, animal languages have a fixed, limited range of messages – whereas human language is infinitely creative - There is not just a difference of degree- human language is fundamentally different o Creativity of human language results from its ombinatorial properties - Communication is conveying information between a message-sender and a message-receiver - Language, on the other hand, is one form of communication system used by human beings, and the only one we are aware of any species that takes a finite number of pieces and combines them with a finite set of combinatorial rules to yield an infinite number of messages about any topic. - Animals have instincts which is a special property of individual species, not related to general intelligence develop automatically o However, can instinct be another human language? Language - It is species specific o Just like bats can echolocate - Human spontaneously create languages - Independence from other mental abilities and there is a sensitive period for language learning. - All humans master a human language except under specific circumstances o All human languages are similar in their basic properties o All human languages are able to express an infinite number of new sentences o All are able to express ideas of a similar level of complexity - Poverty of the Stimulus: Every child has to go beyond the data heard in the environment o Children acquire many linguistic generalizations that experience could not have been made available. o Children cannot hear every possible sentence of their native language  Children never hear impossible sentences o Children can learn language despite not being directly taught languages - Spontaneous language creation is also present when the input is totally absent, (home sign systems of deaf children) o Input is inconsistent o Children learn to communicate with each other through specific hand- sign systems - Simon, a child whose parents were late learners of ASL, had a new formation of his own language through the regularization of input so that his own language was developed properly to the daily use of sign language - Creole and Pidgin: o Creole languages develop “out of nothing” o Speakers of pidgin use many mother tongues, mixing up words and syntax, usually without articles or prepositions  Their children develop the Creole language, keeping the words, adding preposition and articles o The creole vocabulary is reduced, word-order is variable, with little grammatical structure, meaning is context dependent. - Why is language special? o We have a huge vocabulary (10-100,000 words) o We can change others’ minds by informing, persuading, deceiving, etc. o We can communicate about future, past, and present o Recursive compositionality: making bigger messages by combining smaller ones, more complex meanings by combining smaller ones Language Structure - Contains Phonemes, Morphemes, phonological rules, grammar, morphological rules, s
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