CHAPTER 9: LANGUAGE
9.1 – The Structure of Language
Tree diagrams: Used by Wundt to describe the relationships between different parts of our
overall experience of a situation.
o Shows how there can be many relationships occurring simultaneously, and how these
relationships then become serially ordered.
o Example: You are listening to loud music.
The relationships that are occurring simultaneously: loud and music
Ordered relationships: “The music is loud.”
This sentence has a subject (music) followed by the predicate (loud).
The person that hears the sentence “the music is loud” reconstructs the
speaker’s experience by reversing the process used to generate the sentence.
9.2 – Transformational Grammar CHOMSKY!
Language: Open-ended verbal communication that consists of all possible sentences.
Speech: Those sentences that are actually spoken; only a small subset of language.
Chomsky is super important in language. He points out that:
o The possible sentences that can be generated in a language is infinite.
o Therefore, there is a set of rules (grammar) that everyone uses to generate sentences.
o Grammar is a finite set of rules that can generate an infinite set of sentences.
o Sentences can be grammatically correct but meaningless (colorless green ideas sleep
o Processes that make a sentence grammatical are different from the processes that make
a sentence meaningful.
Finite state grammar: A set of rules for generating strings of letters.
o Every word in a sentence is produced in a sequence starting with the first word and
ending with the last word, as the following diagram shows: o Chomsky rejects the possibility that a finite state grammar is the sort of grammar that
could generate all the grammatical sentences in a language.
Finite state grammar only operates at one level; the process only moves from
left to right.
o Chomsky proposed a top-down process that uses phrase structure rules & grammatical
Phrase structure rules: Rules describing the way in which symbols can be
rewritten as other symbols.
o Sentence (S) Noun phrase (NP) + verb phrase (VP)
o NP Article (art) + Noun (N)
o VP Verb (V) + NP
These rules allow man different sentences to be derived and this can be
represented using a tree diagram.
The final sequence of words in the tree diagram is called the terminal string:
Grammatical Transformations: Rules operating on entire strings of symbols,
converting them to new strings.
Example: The passive transformation
o Tom admired Jack = NP1 + V + NP2
o The passive transformation changes the previous sentence into:
o Jack was admired by Tom = NP2 + to be + V + by + NP1.
This is an example of an optional transformation because it isn’t
necessary in order to make a sentence grammatical.
Kernel Sentences: those produced without optional transformations.
o Seems easier to understand & remember because they require
o Problem: Passive sentences like Jack was admired by Tom have
more words and they may be harder to process simply for that
o Chomsky revised the theory of phrase structure rules & grammatical transformations. o Chomsky introduced new concepts and made distinctions between competence &
performance and between deep structure & surface structure.
9.2.1 – Competence and Performance
Competence and Performance: A person may have an internalized system of rules that
constitutes a basic linguistic competence, but this competence may not always be reflected in
the person’s actual use of the language (performance).
o Performance is not only determined by competence. It is also determined by cognitive
factors like memory and the person’s understanding of the situation.
Example: one can say long sentences that are hard to understand because they
exceed the attentional capacity of listeners (Ha! Some profs need to read this…)
Example: kids say things differently than adults.
o Therefore, performance will not always give us an accurate picture of competence.
9.2.2 – Deep and Surface Structure
Deep and Surface Structure: The sequence of words that makes up a sentence constitutes a
surface structure that is derived from an underlying deep structure.
Chomsky believes that competence has an innate structure = universal grammar.
o This allows us to transform surface structures into deep structures = extract meaning
The same surface structure can be derived from different deep structures.
o Example: Time flies like an arrow.
First derivation: time can go by fast.
Second: Insects called “time flies” (like fruit flies) like (are fond of) an arrow.
Check out Fig 9.4 (pg 262) for a drawing of a cute fruit fly :D
To understand a sentence: surface deep
To produce a sentence: deep surface.
9.3 – The Innateness Hypothesis
9.3.1 – The Poverty of the Stimulus Argument
Chomsky – Innateness hypothesis: Children innately possess a language acquisition device that
comes equipped with principles of universal grammar.
o Poverty of the Stimulus Argument: The linguistic environment a child is exposed to is
too deficient to enable the acquisition of a language on that basis alone.
o Kids learn too quickly and therefore must possess a language acquisition device.
o Language acquisition device(LAD) and universal grammar: The hypothesis that children
possess an LAD that contains general principles that apply to any natural language
It is a theory of language that kids use to discover the structure of a particular
language. Skinner – Kids learn by receiving informative feedback on their utterances.
o But a study by Brown found that mothers did not correct ungrammatical sentences
9.3.2 – Minimalism
Minimalism: The belief that linguistic competence has only those characteristics that are
o In accord with the principle of parsimony (simplest possible theory of competence).
o This is the current theory.
o Key hypothesis: the acquisition of a particular language involves parameter setting.
Parameter setting: The hypothesis that language acquisition involves a universal grammar that
contains a variety of switches, which can be set to one of a number of possible values, or
parameters. A parameter is a universal aspect of language that can take on one of a small set of
o Example: the position of the verb is a parameter set for a specific language.
English: verb comes before the object (take the cheese)
German: verb follows the object (the cheese take).
o The switches get set to the specific values that characterize the language that kids get
Why are there different languages?
o Maybe for purely historical reasons (people move apart and slowly modify their original
o To communicate with some people, while hiding the meaning from others that are also
listening. This is the concealing function.
Concealing function: the hypothesis that language is a kind of code. The
parameters that are set for one language conceal its meanings from the
speakers of another language.
Thus, maybe linguistic parameters evolved precisely to keep open the possibility
of learning different languages.
9.3.3 – Is the Stimulus for Language Really Impoverished?
A study found that kids get exposure to many constructions that were assumed to be absent.
It is impossible to disprove the poverty of the stimulus argument because you can’t give a
complete account of all the data available to a kid.
Enough evidence has been accumulated to support the data-driven learning of a language.
o Kids do receive and make constructions.
o The complexity of speech to which the child is exposed is significantly related to the
complexity of the speech that the child produces.
9.3.4 – Adult Reformulations of Child Errors Parental Reformulations: Parents provide negative evidence because their reformulations
inform kids when their utterances are incorrect. At the same time, they also provide positive
instances of correct speech.
o 2 years old: reformulations occurred 50-70% of the time.
50% of these reformulations were taken up.
o Reformulations decreases as kids grow up and speech improves.
9.3.5 – The Impact of Teachers’ Speech
Syntactic development: The development of the ability to organize words into grammatical
o Much of this comes from teachers.
o This development occurs much less during the summer
Study about the exposure to speech in school as an important factor in syntactic development:
o Focused on multi-clause sentences (The lamp broke because it fell off the table).
o The proportion of multi-clause sentences in each teacher’s speech ranged from 11-32%.
o Results: the more complex the teacher’s speech (more multi-clause sentences used), the
greater the syntactic development.
9.3.5 – Evaluation of Chomskian Theories
Generated a crazy amount of research
Innate processes are now thought to play a lesser role in language acquisition.
The linguistic environment of a child is much richer than had been believed.
Language acquisition is increasingly acknowledged to be dependent on learning.
9.4 – Communication & Comprehension
The context in which information is received is very important in determining the interpretation
Given, new contract: A process whereby the speaker agrees to connect new info to what the
listener already knows.
o Comprehension would be super hard/impossible if the speaker simply introduced new
info without connecting it to things already known by the listener.
Two approaches to communication: code model & inferential model.
Code model: Speaker’s thoughts are first encoded into words. These words are then decoded by
o Assumes that both speaker and listener share a lot of mutual knowledge.
o Problem: it is hard to spell out the ways in which people could come to have enough
mutual knowledge to guarantee successful communication.
Inferential model – Grice: A speaker intends to inform a listener, and a listener infers what the
speaker intends. o The meaning of the utterance depends critically on the inferences you make concerning
the meaning that the speaker intends.
o Co-operative principle: The assumption that the speaker intends to say something
concise, truthful, relevant, and unambiguous.
o Conversational maxims (relevance theory): Speakers attempt to say no more than is
necessary (maxim of quantity); they try to be truthful (maxim of quality); they attempt
to be relevant (maxim of relation); they strive to avoid ambiguity (maxim of manner).
On the basis of these maxims, we make inferences, or implicatures.
Communication sometimes follows the coding model and sometimes follows the inferential
Under all conditions, the goal of communication is RELEVANCE.
o An utterance is relevant to the extent that it is both true and easy to understand.
o Example: What time is it?
Watch says 2:18
People say 2:20 97% of the time because it is easier to process.
Inferences can be unconscious, or intuitive.
9.4.1 – Figurative Language
Figurative language: Various figures of speech like metaphor and irony.
Irony and sarcasm are ways in which satire can be accomplished.
A satirical remark holds something up to ridicule.
Sarcasm: a sharp, bitter remark.
Irony: You say something but actually mean the opposite.
o Involves the use of pretense (speaker only pretends to mean what they say).
o Usually involves a particular tone of voice.
o Standard theory of irony: listeners first take the ironic utterance literally but then realize
that the speaker cannot mean it li