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Chapter 8

Chapter 8 - Language and Thought

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PSYC 1001
Elaine Waddington Lamont

Chapter 8 - Language and Thought ● Cognition - The mental processes involved in acquiring knowledge ● Language: Turning Thoughts into words ○ Language - Consists of symbols that convey meaning, plus rules for combining those symbols, that can be used to generate an infinite variety of messages ○ Properties of Language: ■ Symbolic: Use spoken sounds and written words to describe objects, events, etc. The symbols allow us to talk about an object in another place or an event that happened at another time. Symbols are flexible in the sense that one word can describe more than one thing ■ Semantic: Meaningful. The symbols used in a language are arbitrary (others could have been chosen), and they have shared meanings for people who speak English, French, Spanish, etc ■ Generative: Limited number of symbols can be combined in an infinite variety of ways to generate an infinite number of messages ■ Structured: Although an infinite variety of sentences can be generated, they must be structured using rules that govern the arrangement of words ○ Structure of Language ■ Basic sounds are combined into words, words are combined into phrases, which are combined into sentences ■ Phonemes - The smallest speech units in a language that can be distinguished perceptually ● Estimate humans can distinguish ~100 basic sounds ● No language uses all phonemes, different languages use 20-80 ● English language has ~40 phonemes, corresponding to the 26 letters and their variations (1 letter can represent many sounds) ● Some represent combinations of letters like ‘ch’ ■ Morphemes - The smallest units of meaning in a language ● ~50,000 in English ● Include root words and prefixes and suffixes ● Ex: Unfriendly has 3 morphemes, ‘un’, ‘friend’ and ‘ly’ ○ Each contributes to meaning of word ■ Semantics - Understanding of the meaning of words and word combinations ● Denotation - Dictionary definition ● Connotation - Word’s emotional overtones and secondary implications ■ Syntax - A system of rules that specify how words can be arranged into sentences ● Ex: In english a sentence needs a subject and a verb ● Children learn syntax on their own at a rapid rate ○ Milestones in Language Development ■ Moving Toward Producing Words ● 3 Months Old: Can distinguish phonemes from all the World’s languages including one not in their environment ○ Past 1 years old, ability declines ● 8 Months Old: Infants begin to recognize and store common word forms ● Optimal periods for the different subsystems in language acquisition ○ ex: Young infants can discriminate phonemes, but start to become tuned in their first year to to the speech properties of their native language ● First 6 Months: Vocalizations dominated by crying, cooing, and laughter. ● Soon start babbling (producing sounds corresponding to phonemes). Babbling lasts until 18 months and continues after child utters 1st word ○ Believe babbling allows infants to acquire the basics of language ■ Using Words ● 10-13 Months: Children begin to utter sounds that correspond to words. First words are similar in phonetic form and meaning, even in different languages, such as ‘dada’, ‘mama’, etc. ● 18 Months: Typically can say between 3 to 50 words, but there receptive vocabulary is bigger than their productive vocabulary (can understand more than they can say) ● Toddlers words often refer to nouns/objects or secondary social actions (nouns easier to understand because concrete objects) ● 18-24 Months: Vocabulary spurt. Vocabularies grow at dizzying pace. Go from have 10,000 words in Grade 1 to 40,000 words in Grade 5. Learn as many as 20 new words a week ○ Fast Mapping - Process by which children map a word onto an underlying concept after only one exposure ● Overextension - Occurs when a child incorrectly uses a word to describe a wider set of objects or actions that it is meant to ○ ex. Use the word ‘ball’ to describe anything round ○ Usually appear between ages 1 and 1 ½ ● Underextension - Occurs when a child incorrectly uses a word to describe a narrower set of objects or actions that it is meant to ○ ex. Use word ‘doll’ to describe one specific doll ● Overextension and underextension are errors kids make when trying to learn new words ■ Combining Words ● End of 2nd Year: Children begin combining words into sentences. Early sentences are telegraphic ○ Telegraphic Speech - Consists mainly of content words, articles, prepositions, and other less critical words are omitted ■ Ex: say ‘give doll’ instead of ‘please give me the doll’ ■ Not cross-culturally universal ● End of 3rd Year: Children can express complex ideas such as plural or past tense. Mistakes still made ○ Overregularizations - Occur when grammatical rules are incorrectly generalized to irregular cases where they do not apply ■ Ex. “The girl goed home”, “I hitted the ball” ■ Occur in all languages ■ Refining Language Skills ● Largest strides in language development occur in the first 4-5 years ○ Metalinguistic Awareness - The ability to reflect on the use of language ■ As grows, children start using puns, word play and metaphors ● Ages 6 to 8: Children start to appreciate irony and sarcasm ○ Irony - Conveying an implied meaning that is opposite of a statement literal meaning ■ ex. saying ‘That’s great’ when you fail a test ○ Sarcasm - A variation on irony in which there’s a caustic element directed at a particular person ■ ex. “my husband, the genius” after being stupid ○ Learning More than One Language: Bilingualism ■ Bilingualism - The acquisition of two languages that use different speech sounds, vocabulary, and grammatical rules ■ Though not common in North America, ~½ of the World is bilingual ■ Does Learning 2 Languages in Childhood Slow Down Language Development? ● Bilingual children followed the normal pacing of language milestones, except it was accomplished in both languages ○ Seem to be able to differentiate between the 2 languages ● Some studies show that the vocabulary for each language is smaller than the vocabulary of a monolingual child, but the total vocabulary of the 2 languages is normal ● Bilingual children can learn a third language easier ■ Does Bilingualism Affect Cognitive Processes and Skills? ● Bilingualism conveys so cognitive advantages ● Bilinguals have disadvantage in raw language processing speed ● Bilinguals are higher than monolingual subjects on measures of cognitive flexibility, analytical reasoning, selective attention, and metalinguistic awareness ● Bilingual children should develop control over executive processes earlier than monolingual. Related to our ability to pay attention ● Bilingual adults, with enhanced executive control, should have advantages in cognitive tasks implicating executive control processing ● Bilinguals show slower decline in executive processes than monolinguals which normally lower with age ● Develop the cognitive control ability to juggle the 2 languages easily ● Advantages of bilingualism carry into adulthood, suggesting bilingualism might help reduce age related losses in certain areas of cognition ● Dementia - Severe impairment of memory and cognitive functioning ■ What Factors Influence the Acquisition of a 2nd Language? ● Most bilinguals learn native language 1st then a 2nd language later ● Age is a significant correlate of how effectively people can acquire a 2nd language, younger is better ○ Language learning is more effective prior to 7 ● Acculturation - The degree to which a person is socially and psychologically integrated into a new culture ○ Greater acculturation influences acquisition of new culture’s language ○ Highlights learning language is cognitive process ● Another factor affecting second language learning relates to motivation and attitude towards the other group whose language is being learned ○ Can Animals Develop Language? ■ Scientists have taught language based skills to dolphins, sea lions, parrots and chimpanzees ■ In 4 years Allen and Beatrice Gardner taught a chimp named Washoe 160 words in American Sign Language ● Washoe learned to combine these into simple sentences ■ bonobo pygmy chimp named Kanzi acquired hundreds of words and has used them in thousands of combinations ● To make sure he really understood the words he was given 660 requests such as “put the collar in the bowl” and was able to execute 72% of them ■ Brain imaging showed chimps have an analogous area in the left hemisphere similar to Broca’s Area, crucial to language production ○ Language in an Evolutionary Context ■ Language is a valuable means of communication that has enormous adaptive value (Can acquire information without duplicating the time consuming and dangerous trial and error process) ■ Language evolved as a device to build and maintain social coalitions in increasingly larger groups ■ Steven Pinker suggests that there are many genes for language that could account for language disorders and that language represents an adaptation for the communication of knowledge and intentions ■ Steven Pinker believes language is a result of natural selection ■ Easy to see language would aid with hunting, pointing out poison, etc ○ Theories of Language Acquisition ■ Nature vs. Nurture Debate: B.F. Skinner argued environmental factors govern language development, vs , Noam Chomsky who emphasized biological determinism governing language development ■ Behaviourist Theories ● Skinner argued children learn language through imitation, reinforcement, and other principles of conditioning ● Controlling reinforcement, parents encourage their children to learn the correct meaning and pronunciations of words ● Use principles of imitation and reinforcement to explain how children learn syntax ■ Nativist Theories ● Chomsky pointed out there are an infinite number of sentences in language and thus it’s unreasonable for children to learn language through imitation, can’t learn things they don’t hear ● Alternative theory is that humans have a “native”/inborn natural tendency to develop language ● Nativist Theory proposes humans are equipped with an Language Acquisition Device (LAD) - An innate mechanism or process that facilitates the learning of a language ○ Learn language because biologically equipped to (like birds learn to fly) ● Nativists site that the early course of language development is similar across very different cultures ■ Interactionist Theories ● Argue LAD concept is terribly vague (what mechanisms involved?) ● Interactionist theories assert that biology an experience both make important contributions to the development of language ● 3 Flavours of Interactionist Theories ○ Cognitive Theories, assert language development is simply an important aspect of more general cognitive development which depends on both maturation and experience ○ Social Communication Theories, emphasize the functional value of interpersonal communication and the social context in which language evolves ○ Emergentist Theories, argu
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