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Lecture notes from second middy onward.

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University of Guelph
PSYC 2650
Dan Meegan

Cognitive- Lecture 11 Language 14:38 - Language Some questions asked by cognitive scientists: Is language a uniquely human ability? You have a language organ in your brain, all you need is people talking to you and that language organ is going to develop- needs minimal input. What are the relative roles of nature and nurture in language development? What is the relationship between language and thought? When youre thinking, what thinking is, is just internal language. Linguistics Studies the structure of natural language rather than its everyday use Formal discipline, examines different languages to see what they all have in common Studies development of languages over time Psychologists are interested in behavior Economists very theoretical, psychologists dont make assumptions in this case (we ask what do people do) Focusing on what people DO do instead of what they SHOULD do. Productivity an infinite number of utterances are possible in any language Regularity these utterances are systematic in many ways Psycholinguists The study of language behavior Everyday use of language does not always correspond to linguistic theory. Linguistic Competence vs. Performance Competence a persons abstract knowledge of a language Your abstract knowledge of the language Isnt something you can necessarily articulate. Performance the actual application of that knowledge in speaking or listening See that you have certain knowledge Debate Does competence underlie performance? No making linguistic judgments has little to do with everyday language use You use language perfectly, doesnt rely on competence. History: Behaviorism Empiricism/Nurture our language abilities are learned (not innate) Blank slate at birth, learn everything as you age. Mental our language abilities are nothing but stimulus-response associations Criticisms of Behaviorist Account of Language Evidence for innate constraints on language (nature) Chomsky (1959) With behavioristic theory (S-R associations), it is impossible to simultaneously account for the productive and regular character of language We wrote a criticisms of Skinners book If you looked at psych departments around the world, faculty bought into the traditions in which they were raised. People from outside psychology (Chomsky) didnt have to fear for career of being critical of Skinner because he was a language psychologist He was correct in his criticism of Skinner and because he did this he made people in psychology more brave and able to talk about the mental side of human beings. Relationship Between Language and Thought a.1. Thought = language a.2. Language determines thought a.3. Thought determines language a.4. Language and thought are independent - 1. Thought= Language (they are the same thing) How did Behaviorism explain the subjective experience of thought? Thinking was just subvocal speech. Only distinction is you are below the level of vocalizing. You have to knowledge the thought exists because it is what peoples experience. Difference between two states are not meaningful; only difference is whether it is occurring or not (speaking out loud or being quiet) Evidence for: Recordings of subvocal speech activity while subjects are engaged in thought. Super threshold enough activity going through muscles so you can make utterance. Below level muscles are receiving activity above some silent baseline, activity isnt great so utterance isnt heard. Areas of brain are active to a low degree when we are only thinking. Evidence against: People can still think when completely paralyzed Just because muscles arent able to take signals, doesnt mean structure of body that allow us to speak are inoperable. If brain is completely intact and paralysis is peripheral, it isnt such a damaging piece of evidence. Memory for meaning rather than exactly what was said What happens when people asked to recall something, if you make a speech or listen to speech, let time pass, recall speech word for word you would be very bad at it (chances are). This is because the way our semantic memory system works is the most important thing we get when people speak is the meaning. Act of understanding sometimes takes details away from exactly the way you said something- many different ways our language allow us to articulate concepts. Non-human animals seem to think Studies on crows, etc. - 2. Language Determines Thought Linguistic determinism language determines way a person thinks or perceives the world. Language constrains what you are thinking about. Surprising amount of variation in terms of words that describe certain things. Inuit/snow example Rich terminology causes change in perception. Rich terminology to describe different types of snow English doesnt have a rich way of describing different snow conditions. Evidence against: People seem to think the same way about things despite linguistic differences Example: English has many color words. Dani (New Guinea) does not. Yet no differences in color perception - 3. Thought Determines Language Language arose as a tool whose function was to communicate thought Language has been shaped to fit the thoughts it must communicate Language is merely a tool for allowing us to share our thoughts. Evidence for: Thinking ability appeared earlier evolutionarily than language
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