PSYCH – Week 13 Online Readings
Week 13: Language
Focus Question: Why are humans better than computers at interpreting both spoken and
Language is a method for communicating information, including ideas, thoughts,
Semantivity: The extent to which a language can use symbols to transmit meaningful
Generativity and Displacement
Language combines a limited number of words and a few rules to convey many
ideas, called generativity. To be considered ‘language’ in the strictest sense, a form of
communication must have the property of generativity and displacement, the ability to
convey a message that is not tied to the current time and place. So language must be able
to communicate information about events in the past or future or at some other location.
An Operational Definition of Language
“Language can be defined as a socially agreedupon, rulegoverned system of
arbitrary symbols that can be combined in different ways to communicate ideas and
feelings about both the present time and lace and other times and places, real or
Linguists study the ‘rules’ of language, whereas psycholinguists study verbal
behaviour and cognition. Psycholinguistics: A branch of cognitive psychology devoted to
the study of the acquisition, comprehension, and production of language.
Phonology: The rules that govern the patterns of sounds that are used in a language
which sounds are used, and how they're combined
Phonemes: The basic distinctive speech sounds in a language that distinguish one word
(e.g., rice) from another (lice). Different languages use different phonemes.
Phonemes are combined to form morphemes, the smallest meaningful units in a
There are two types of morphemes. Free morphemes are meaningful on their own
and can stand alone as words. Bound morphemes are meaningful only when combined
with other morphemes to form words. For instance, the word "engagement" contains the
free morpheme "engage" as well as the bound morpheme "ment". You can think of
morphemes as the "Lego bricks" we use to build words. In English, the "s" ending on
plurals is a bound morpheme, as is the "ed" ending on a pasttense verb. These can be
combined with free morphemes to make the words we need.
Semantics, Syntax, and Pragmatics Semantics: The relationship between words and their meanings. Crucial for
Syntax or syntactical rules: Grammatical rules of a particular language for combining
words to form phrases, clauses, and sentences.
Pragmatics: The social rules of language that allow people to use language appropriately
for different purposes and in different situations. Pragmatics helps you to interpret what
others say to you.
There are different levels of language processing:
1. Recognize the sounds (phonemes) in the utterance.
2. Identify the words in the message and associate them with their meanings. To
complete this step, the listener must access his or her morphological and semantic
3. Analyse the syntax of the message. This is a complex process that can involve the
use of many different cues, including word order, word class, function and content
words, affixes (a type of bound morpheme), semantics, and prosody (see pp. 299
300 in your text).
4. Interpret the utterance in its context. This requires the ability to integrate
knowledge about the world (pragmatics) with the syntax and semantics of the
Articulators: Mouth structures that make speech sounds (jaw,
tongue, lips, and soft palate).
Coarticulation: Speech sounds for words are not produced in a
discrete sequence. Instead, the articulators are effectively shaping
multiple sounds at any moment in time, so that different
instances of a particular phoneme (e.g., "b") are acoustically
different, depending on the sounds preceding and following
Speech Perception and Infants
Studies of speech perception in infants in different cultures have shown that when
infants are very young, they can tell the difference between all of the phonemes used in
the world's languages. However, by about one year of age, they have lost the ability to tell
the difference between sounds that aren‘t phonemic in the language they are being raised
in. Sixmonthold Japanese children can tell the difference between the ‘r’ and ‘l’ used in
North American English, although their parents cannot. By 12 months, Japanese children
can no longer do this. This is because the brain has discarded this ‘unneeded’
Categorization and Grouping Categorical perception: The tendency of perceivers to disregard physical differences
between stimuli and perceive them as the same, such th