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PSYC 100

Week One: Language Can you come up with an operational definition of language? Defining Language  Language is a method for communicating information, including ideas, thoughts, and emotions  Not all forms of communication are considered language however Semanticity refers to the extent to which a form of communication can meaningfully represent events and objects symbolically  Low Level: a bee returning to the hive has two “dances” to communicate whether the source of nectar it found is within 40m or not – it uses symbols to transmit meaningful messages, but it has a limited selection of symbols and only conveys distance and direction information without being able to indicate more varied or complex messages  Moderate Level: vervet monkeys give calls to warn of specific dangers or predators – the alarm calls are basic semantic/symbolic signals because each alarm call seems to mean something to them (low to moderate semanticity)  High Level: to congratulate her sister for graduating with honours, Sarah builds a flower arrangement of yellow roses, calla lilies, oak leaves, and ivy – because Sarah’s sister comprehends the specific language of flower arrangement, she will understand that she is being praised with roses for achievement, lilies for elegance, oak for strength, and ivy for ambition; these are multiple complex symbols and a high level of semanticity Having a larger vocabulary makes it possible to hold and express more complicated and powerful ideas; however, we don’t need a word for everything – Generativity is the ability of a language to combine a limited number of words and a few rules to convey many ideas Displacement, or the ability to convey messages that are not tied to an immediate time and place, is needed for a form of communication to be considered language Language can be defined as a socially agreed-upon, rule-governed system of arbitrary symbols that can be combined in different ways to communicate ideas and feelings about both the present time and place, and other times and places, real or imagined. Linguistics Phoneme: perceptually distinct units of sound that serve to distinguish one word from another (e.g. ‘p’ in pit, ‘tʃ’ in cheap, ‘ʒ’ in measure) Morpheme: the smallest meaningful units in a language – made up of phonemes (e.g. in ‘unbreakable’ there are three morphemes: ‘un’, ‘break’, and ‘able’) Semantics: the relationship between words and their meanings – this can sometimes change, for example ‘gay’ used to mean ‘joyous’ but now means ‘homosexual’ Syntax: way in which words are combined to form a sentence – can greatly affect the meaning (e.g. “the man sits on the chair” vs. “the chair sits on the man”) Pragmatics: knowledge of the world affects your comprehension of a phrase (e.g. “I learned a lot about the bars in town last night. Do you have an aspirin?” To make sense, this sentence requires the knowledge that bars involve drinking, which involve hangovers, which require aspirin) Written and Spoken Why are humans better than computers at interpreting both spoken and written language? Oral Language  Articulators are the mouth structures that make speech sounds through complicated movements – they include the jaw, tongue, lips, and soft palate  Speech involves more than creating or assembling a simple sequence of phonemes, they overlap  This requires very rapid movements of the articulators, so that they are getting ready to produce the next sound before the last one is finished, resulting in coarticulation  Coarticulation means that different instances of a particular phoneme are acoustically different, depending on the sounds preceding and following them  Young infants are able to distinguish between all the phonemes used in the world’s languages, however by about one year, they lose this ability, recognizing only the phonemes belonging to their native language. This happens because the brain learns to discard unneeded information.  Categorical perception means that depending on each person’s knowledge and experience, categorical perception allows us to perceive sounds as one phoneme of another, when in reality the sound may be ambiguous o We general
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