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Chapter 4

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McMaster University
Christopher Teeter

Chapter 4: Language Introduction Section 1: What sets Language Apart from other Forms of Communication? • The 4 Criteria: 1. Language is symbolic – user must understand that various language stimuli represent different meanings (ex. stimuli can be sound of words – different languages have different words (stimuli) for the same meaning (ex. friend))  In all languages, the relevant stimuli (words), not concrete examples, represent concept as a whole • Ex. asking for a cookie: 1. Point to it (object must be present – communication involves concrete item)/ 2. Say ‘cookie’ (object doesn’t need to be present – word is a symbol that represents the object) • Allows us to discuss objects never seen (black hole), communicate memories of past events, hopes of the future 2. Language involves arbitrary associations – ex. naming shapes – name of irregular shape not constrained by any characteristics – name chosen arbitrary (one on left has no real name so could be called anything (bliggo, dingo-bingo, cripton, etc.)  Other forms of communication (ex. dog snarls and shows teeth = aggression and warning to stay away)  Allow languages to use different sounds to label same item  Some words associated with meaning – onomatopoeia (ex. splash, hiccup) 3. Language is productive – designed to use small number of components to understand and produce a wide range of symbols  Limited set of rules to uses limited set if symbols in infinite ways  Phonemes: smallest unit of language – English only uses 40 – use limited set of rules of how they can be combines to produce over 500,000 words in the Oxford dictionary – words can be combined into a functionally infinite number of sentences  Allows users to combine series of representative symbols to express novel meaning in groups of words not usually presented together • Ex. “I furiously dyed my bold hair purple on the flipside” – you can make out the general meaning of this sentence if you understand what each of the parts mean 4. Language is rule-governed – each combination must follow a set of rules to make sense  Ex. “helmet count pick the red.” – doesn’t follow proper sentence structure so doesn’t make any sense  Different language shave different rules about how symbols can be combined • Ex. English: phoneme /l/ can follow /b/ (blubber, blue, etc.) • Czech: phoneme /d/ can follow /k/ (‘kdo’ = who, ‘kdy’ = when, etc.) or word for fourth is ‘ctvrty’ –these combinations not in English • (Experiment 1) in order to understand non-spatial phenomena, spatial metaphors are often used (ex. she is of high social status) • Time: English and Indonesian conceptualize time in a spatiotemporal sense/measures of distance (ex. she ran for a long time; he was gone for a short while)/ Spanish and Greek conceptualize it as a quantity (ex. he was gone for much time; she had a big day at work) Section 2: The Structure of Language • Linguists: scientists who study language • Morphemes: smallest unit of sound that contain info (smallest unit of signs in sign language) • Ex. ‘ladybug’ – 2 morphemes (lady and bug)/ ‘bugs’ - morphemes (bug and s – object and that it is plural) • Analysing morphemes tells you about origins of word (ex. laptop computer – 4 morphemes (lap, top, compute, r) – a machine that does computing and sits on your lap) • can be broken down into constituent sounds (phonemes) – most languages have 30-50, but some have over 100 (limit that humans can distinguish between) – include letter sounds and clicks  not all letters are phonemes and some are multiple phonemes (ex. ‘c’ can make an ‘s’ or a ‘k’ sound)  some phonemes contain multiple letters (ex. ‘th’) • Transparent orthographies: a given letter will always make the same sound (like with Italian) • Syntax (grammar): rules that govern how we put words together to form sentences • Different languages have different rules (ex. French assigns gender to objects (articles ‘le’ and ‘la’ both mean ‘the’ / ‘un’ and ‘une’ both mean ‘a’). English just uses grammatical gender when referring to the sex of an individual (‘he’/‘she’) • Languages differ in the order word occur in a sentence – English: subject-verb- object (ex. “I bought cookies”)/Japanese: subject-object-verb (ex. direct translation “I cookies bought”) • Semantics: meaning contained in the word/ability to understand different meanings of words in different contexts – as vocab inc., semantic knowledge inc. Section 3: Language Development • Language milestones seen over first 5 yrs of life: • 0-5 mths: turn head towards sound source/make noise when spoken to • 6-11 mths: at babbles, understands ‘no’; tries to imitate sounds • 12-17 months: answers simple questions nonverbally; points to objects and people; follows simple directions paired with gestures • 18-23 months: follows simple verbal directions; asks for familiar items by name; starts combining words (‘more juice’); imitates • 24 months: understands approximately 50 words; uses approximately 40 words • 2-3 years: speaks in 2-3 word phrases; answers simple questions; begins to use plurals and past tense • 4-5 years: uses approximately 200-300 words; answers ‘why’ questions • 5 years: understands more than 2000 words; uses longer sentences (at least 8 words in length), can engage in conversation • Universal phonemic sensitivity: the ability to discriminate between virtually all phonemes even before the language is learned – infants have this ability but it is lost in adulthood • Perceptual narrowing: losing the ability to distinguish between contrasts in sounds not used in native language • Universal phonemic sensitivity lost after first year of life • Infant-directed speech: changing the way you speak when you talk to an infant (higher pitch and exaggerated changes in pitch and use of rhythm) • Damage to Broca’s area (small area, left frontal lobe) – difficulty in production of speech – understand words said to them but have trouble finding the words to respond • Damage to Werni
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