Chapter 9: Language
tree diagrams (a description of a process that proceeds from one level at which a number
of relationships are simultaneously present to other levels at which these relationships are
language (open-ended verbal communication that consists of all possible sentences)
phrase structure rules (rules that describe the way that symbols can be rewritten as
grammatical transformations (rules operating on entire strings of symbols, converting
them to new strings.)
competence and performance (a person may have an internalized system of rules that
constitutes a basic linguistic competence may not always be reflected in the person’s
actual use of the language (performance)).
the innateness hypothesis (the hypothesis that children innately possess a language
acquisition device that comes equipped with the principles of universal grammar.)
minimalism ( the belief that linguistic competence has only those characteristics that are
concealing function (where language acts as a kind of code to conceal information from
Syntactic development (the development of the ability to organize words into a
given, new contract (process whereby a new information piece is linked to a piece of
information the listener already knows.)
conversational maxims (the rules that govern conversations 1)say no more than
necessary 2) be truthful 3) be relevant 4)avoid ambiguity)
egocentric speech (speech that doesn’t take the listeners perspective into account that
children often produce)
inner speech (speech for oneself that regulates thought)
The zone of proximal development (the distance between the actual developmental
level as determined by independent problem-solving and the level of potential
development as determined by problem-solving under adult guidance.)
Literacy (the ability to read and write)
Metalinguistic awareness (being able to use language to talk about language). Dyslexia (an impairment in the ability to read distinct from difficulties that result from
poor reading instruction or from non-neurological impairments)
Surface dyslexia (an acquired dyslexia characterized by a deficit in whole word reading
but not phonetic reading)
Phonological dyslexia (an impairment in phonetic reading but not in whole word
Intrinsic frame of reference (spatial relations are based solely on the relations between
the objects being described)
Relative frame of reference (spatial relations are described relative to an observers view
Absolute frame of reference (spatial relations are described in terms of an invariant set
The Structure of Language
We are able to entertain one out of several pathways of thought. We can switch between
these pathways as we choose but only focus on one at a time.
Wundt used tree diagrams (a description of a process that proceeds from one level at
which a number of relationships are simultaneously present to other levels at which these
relationships are serially ordered). For example, if you are listening to music, one
property could be that it is loud. If music is the subject, loud could be part of the
predicate (is____) because they share a relationship. We could end up with the phrase
“Music is loud”. The relationship part of the definition exists between the music and its
loudness. The serial ordering refers to the order that it is being put into a sentence
(subject, predicate). The listener can “decode” or comprehend what they heard by
reversing this process.
Noam Chomsky is well known linguist. We will discuss some of his theories.
A sentence is a grammatical utterance that native speakers will agree is grammatical.
There are a infinite number of sentences we can make with our language (open-ended
verbal communication that consists of all possible sentences). Speech (those sentences
that are actually spoken- only a small subset of language). There is a set of rules, or a
grammar, that each language uses. This grammar is able to produce all the sentences in a
language. This means that the grammar generates only a finite amount of sentences
because the sentences are constrained by rules. A grammatical sentence doesn’t have to
make sense. It just needs to follow the rules of the grammar. “colourless green ideas sleep furiously” is a well formed grammatical sentence- even though it doesn’t make sense.
This shows that grammar and semantics (the study of meaning) are two separate things.
A finite grammar is too simplistic to explain what goes on in the world’s languages. For
example, sentences can be embedded in sentences – “ The man who said that X is
arriving today.” We can replace X with another sentences like “The year is 2010.” We
get “ The man who said that the year is 2010 is arriving today”. This makes sense. We
have many possibilities for X.
In reality, we use phrase structure rules (rules that describe the way that symbols can be
rewritten as other symbols). Here are some rules:
Sentence (s) = Noun Phrase (NP) + Verb Phrase (VP)
NP = Article + Noun
VP = Verb + NP
Article = a, the
N = car, boy
V = likes, helps
This tells us how symbols like S can be written as NP + VP. These rules allow many
sentences to be derived. We do this by using a tree diagram. The final sequence of words
is called a terminal string.
We have grammatical transformations (rules operating on entire strings of symbols,
converting them to new strings.) ie the passive transformation where you begin with :
NP 1 VP + NP 2 NP 2 to be + V + by + NP 1
We get something like The boy kissed the girl The girl was kissed by the boy.
This is sort of optional because the first sentence was grammatical, and it is a choice to
do the transformations to get to the second one. A kernel sentence is one that is not
optional. This might be easier to remember because there are fewer transformations.
Chomsky introduced competence and performance (a person may have an internalized
system of rules that constitutes a basic linguistic competence may not always be reflected
in the person’s actual use of the language (performance)). Competence is more like
understanding. Performance is the actual production of speech. Production involves other
cognitive factors like memory, and understanding of situation.
The challenge is to discover the characteristics of linguistic competence.
Chomsky believes in an innate component of competence called Universal Grammar
(UG). This provides all of the possible grammars in human language, though not
necessarily only say English or French. Deep vs Surface structures (the sequence of words that makes up a sentence constitutes a surface structure that is derived from an
underlying deep structure). Meaning is at the deep structure while words are at the
surface structure. This is why ambiguous sentences are interesting… “I shot an elephant
in my pajamas”. Is the elephant wearing the pajamas or are you? The interpretation lies in
the syntactic structure (like the tree from above).