Chapter 1 – The Study of Language
What is language?
- Simple definition:
Set of symbols and rules that allows us to communicate
Problems arise when comparing with other systems of
Does animal “language” count as language?
Due to various complications of this sort, formal definition is
- How can language be described?
Semantics: study of meaning
Syntax: study of word order
Morphology: study of words and word formation
Morphemes: smallest unit of a word
Inflectional morphology: combination of units that does NOT
change the word’s category nor its meaning.
Derivational morphology: combination of units that changes
Pragmatics: study of language use
Phonetics: study of raw sounds
Phonology: study of how sounds used in a language
- What is a word?
“smallest unit of grammar that can stand on its own as a complete
utterance, separated with spaces in written language”
A word can be analyzed at various levels
Lowest level: the letters and sounds making up the word
Sounds then combine to make syllables
Can be analyzed in terms of morphemes it contains
- The lexicon where mental representations of words stored (mental
Contains all information of a word, including sound, meaning, written
appearance, and syntactic roles it can adopt
Recognizing a word similar = accessing this lexicon
- How has language changed over time?
Around 5000 – 6000 languages, though estimates range from 2700 –
Some languages appear to be related Proto-Indo-European languages branches into…
Romance: French, Italian, Spanish
Germanic: English, German, Dutch
Indian: Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu
Observation: IE languages all have similar words for horses and
sheep, but not vinorigin language must be in area where
horses and sheep are found
Some languages lack being in a family, although most are.
Language change happen over time (within the same language)
E.g. developments of Chaucerian English to modern one.
- What is language for?
Primarily for communication, but may play a role in non-linguistic
cognitive processes (e.g. Sapir-Whorf hypothesis)?
History and Methods of Psycholinguistics
- Roots in linguistics and psychology
Early = structuralism, where the goal is to provide analysis of the
appropriate categories of description of the units of language
Later = more work done on how language intuitions arise and if
general rules can be formulated to account for them.
Behaviorism: emphasized relationship between input and output
(stimulus and response), and that conditioning + reinforcement
can strengthen correct production.
Famous from Skinner’s Verbal Behaviour, which was later
reviewed and overturned by Chomsky.
Transformational grammar: accounts for both underlying
structure and also of our knowledge of a language.
Information theory: looked at probability and redundancy in
language, where mind ‘translates’ input and cognition used to
Processing represented in flow diagrams (which can
technically be turned into a computational program)
These diagrams illustrate the levels of processing, showing
how one level of representation can be turned into another
- Cognitive science approach to language
Influence of AI (artificial intelligence) on the field ELIZA program: simulates a “conversation” by matching
sentences to previously stored templates.
SHRDLU program: is able to “understand” instruction given to it,
although this was merely an appropriate response to simple
AI eventually led to developments of CONNECTIONISM
Connectionist networks made up of simple units that are
elaborately connected with each other, and can function without
Activation is central to many connectionist models, where
varying levels of activation possible depending on the
relation of the target with the prime.
- Methods of modern psycholinguistics
Priming: creating a response to a target in relation to the stimulus
presented before it; can activate/facilitate or inhibit.
Semantic priming: this effect based on meaning relations
Language and the Brain
- Lesion Studies
Traditional neurology/neuropsychology interested in localization of
function and how these modules interact
Wernicke-Geschwind model: language processing occurs from
back to the front of left hemisphere (semantic processing in the
back @ Wernicke’s area, sound retrival/articulation in front @
Two regions are connected by arcuate fasciculus
However, cognitive psychology wants to see how lesioned brain
compares with that of normal processing
Cognitive neuropsychology different from traditional in 3 ways
Theoretical: relating neuropsychological disorders to cognitive
Methodological: emphasis on single-case studies instead of
Additionally emphasizes how models of normal processing can
be improved with data from lesion studies