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PSYCH 3UU3 (13)
Chapter 3

Chapter 3

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Karin R Humphreys

Psych 3UU3 Chapter 3: The Foundations of Language The Evolution of Language • “ding dong”, “bow wow”, “heave ho”: language evolved onomatopoeically (words are what they sound like) o this is an issue because it does not cover all words • Best theory: a beneficial adaptation shaped by natural selection that evolved for communication –grammar as a tool for effective language o Broca’s area present in brains 2 million years ago (language production brain area) o Articulating sound better has come at the cost of an easier ability to choke • Protolanguage: vocal labels attached to concepts o Thought to be the earliest form of language o Bickerton (1990, 2003) • FOXP2: evolved mutation selecting for a more defined broca’s area and involved in coordinating sensory and motor information and complex movements o Arose in a mutation within the last 100,000 years o Speech was able to become autonomous (no longer relied on gestures) • As the gesture based language evolved, vocalizations became incorporated into the gesture system, leading to the specialization and lateralization of the language and gesture systems and the right-handed preference in humans Animal Communication Systems Communication: the transmission of a signal that conveys information, often that the sender benefits from the recipient’s response • Signal: the means that conveys information o Informative: a signal without communication (i.e. cough = cold, not communicated) o Communicative: signal with design and intentionality Ants: pheromones (chemical) to communicate Honey bees: “waggle dance” Primates use visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory signals to communicate with each other. • Dolphins and whales may have a language but we don’t know Defining Language Language: human speech with an artificial system of signs and symbols, with rules for forming intelligible communications for use Hockett (1960) established a guideline for criteria of human spoken language • Not all apply to spoken and written language but it sets human communication from animal communication • Most important ones: semanticity, arbitrariness, displacement, openness, tradition, duality of patterning, prevarication, reflectiveness, creativity, and control! Syntax has 5 important properties: 1. Language is a discrete combinatorial system 2. Well-ordered sentences depend on ordering words in ways that make sense 3. Sentences are built around verbs 4. We can distinguish words that do the semantic work of language from words that assist (content vs function) 5. Recursion (sentences within themselves) able us to construct an infinite number of sentences from a finite number of words We can talk about anything! That is unique to humans. Non-human communication systems are limited by comparison to humans. Language production from animals is limited (Alex the parrot and dolphins) • Both are unable to use function words • They need to be able to comprehend the language and produce it through associating a finite number of words with particular concepts or meanings, and using a finite number of rules to combine those words into a potentially infinite number of sentences Chimpanzee cognitive ability • Similar to that of small children o Language is not essential for many basic cognitive tasks o There are some non-cognitive pre-requisites to linguistic development o Cognitive limitations in themselves might not be able to account for the failure of apes to acquire language  The vocal tracts of chimps are physiologically unsuited to producing speech and this difference alone could account for their lack of progress (teaching chimps language proved uneffective) • Washoe: taught sign language (150-200 words) —used fairly effectively—taught it to son (cultural transmission) • Sarah: used small plastic symbols to create language—fairly effective—little evidence strings were forming proper syntactic units • Nim Chimpsky: learned sign language (125 words) o Wouldn’t utter unless spoken to—mostly answering basic questions—may be due to training style Apes: • Utterances are mainly in the here-and-now • Lack of syntactic structure • Little comprehension of syntactic relationships between units • Need explicit training to use symbols • Cannot reject ill formed sentences • Rarely ask questions • No spontaneous referential use of symbols Kanzi: acquired language through observation of his mother’s learning—50 symbols with 800 combinations; no function words but the best seen yet Biological Basis of Language Aphasia: impairment in language production or comprehension as a result of brain damage Broca’s aphasia: type of aphasia that follows from damage to Broca’s region of the brain, characterized by many dysfluencies, slow, laborious speech, difficulties in articulation, and by agrammatism Wernicke’s aphasia: fluent language that makes little sense, and a great impairment in the ability to comprehend language although hearing is unaffected Recent models of language and the brain • Declarative procedural model o Declarative: mental dictionary or lexicon (mainly in left temporal lobe) o Procedural: mental grammar (frontal lobes, basal ganglia, cerebellum, and regions of the left parietal lobe • Although there are specialized areas for language—traces of its use appear throughout the brain Girls tend to be better with language and boys tend to be better in math and spatial skills. • This pattern can be seen early on (girls talk a month before boys, girls are less subject to verbal disorders and girls are able to use both right and left temporal lobes for language, boys only left) There is a critical period where language acquisition is easier—it is when you are young • The brain also matures—brain can adapt even later in life 3 accounts of how lateralization emerges: • Equipotentiality hypothesis: 2 hemispheres similar at birth • Irreversible hypothesis: left is specialized at birth and right takes over if not used • Emergentist hypothesis: 2 hemispheres at birth by innate biases not specific for language —left hemisphere is suited to being dominant whereas both play a role in acquiring language o Critical period follows equipotentiality hypothesis Hemidecortication: complete removal of the cortex of one side of the brain • If during critical period, nothing happens—normal recovery • If adults—permanent damage to language area There is evidence for a critical period for some aspects of syntactic development and phonological development.—decline seems gradual with age rather than a firm cut off Exposure to language alone is not sufficient for normal language acquisition (Jim-deaf parents example)—must be in an appropriate social, interactional context. Nativist explanation: there is a critical period because the brain is pre-programmed to acquire language early in development Maturational explanation: certain advantages are lost as a child’s cognitive and neurological system matures • They are both valid and may interact with each other The Cognitive Basis of Language: The Cognition Hypothesis Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development Age Stage Description 0-2 Sensorimotor stage Intelligence in action: child
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