Thinking – or cognition; the processes that underlie the mental manipulation of
knowledge, images and ideas, often in an attempt to reach a goal, such as solving a
Not possible to measure thinking directly.
Thinking increases your ability to survive because you can act on your knowledge in
precise, systematic and purposeful ways.
Single greatest tool for thinking: language
Language importantly influences the way we think about and view our world.
Does Language Determine Thought?
Linguistic relativity hypothesis – proposes that language determines thought. Words and
structures of a culture’s language determine the perceptions and thoughts of members of
that culture. Example - Hopi tribe language has no past tense verbs, therefore they may
have difficulty thinking about the past.
Cultural Evidence – Eleanor Rosch – Dani tribe. Contains only two basic colour terms: mola for
bright warm hues, and mili for darker colder hues.
Rosch interpreted her results as evidence that English speakers and speakers of Dani
perceive colour in very similar ways. Colour perception appears to be universal, depending
more on the physiology of the visual system than on the vocabulary of the perceiver.
Linguistic differences across cultures do not cause dramatic differences in the operation of
basic perceptual processes, such as colour perception. Evidence is less clear when it comes
to the operation of higher level perceptual and cognitive processes.
Different cultures place value on different sorts of things, and each culture develops
vocabularies to communicate subtle distinctions in those things perceived as important.
Perception and memory depend on prior knowledge and people often use words to
summarize and represent prior knowledge.
Language –in the form of inner voice –also plays important roles in more abstract thinking.
Language is a tool of human thought. In some cases language can interfere with non-
linguistic processes. Jonathen Schooler – when people verbally describe hard to describe
things, their performance on subsequent judgment tasks involving those things is
Gendered connotations – secretaries are seen as women, when The secretary hates HIS
boss, is used it causes confusion.
The Structure of Language Grammar - the rules or procedures of language that allow the communicator to combine
arbitrary symbols in an infinite number of ways to convey meaning; includes the rules of
phonology, syntax and semantics.
(1) phonology- the rules for combining sounds to make words
(2) syntax - the rules for combining words to make sentences
(3) semantics – the rules regarding the meanings of words and combinations of words.
We use our knowledge about semantics to pick the appropriate words to express
thoughts and to infer connections between words and other information in memory.
Phonemes and Morphemes – language has hierarchical structure: A fairly small set of simple
sounds can be combined in various ways to make thousands of words, and words can be
combined to make sentences.
Phonemes - the smallest significant, difference-making sound units in speech. For
example the letter e maps onto one phoneme in the word head and a different phoneme
in the word heat.
English speakers use about 40
Keep and cool – these two different sounds are perceived as a single phoneme. In
English if they sound the same they are part of one phoneme.
The challenge in learning a new language is mastering the phonology of that language. It
is hard to learn to pronounce differences that you cannot hear.
Morphemes - the smallest units of language that carry meaning (words, prefixes, suffixes).
Cool has one morpheme, uncool has two. The root word cool, and the prefix un. The
grammar of a language dictates the acceptable order of morphemes within a word.
The average speaker of English knows and uses somewhere between 50 000 and 80
Words to Sentences – the higher levels of the language hierarchy are words, phrases and
sentences. Words combine to form phrases, phrases combine to form sentences. The meaning of
a sentence depends on how the words are organized.
Surface and Deep Structure
Noam Chomsky is the most important linguist of recent times. He distinguished
between the surface structure of a sentence and its more deep structure.
Surface structure - the literal ordering of words in a sentence.
Deep structure - the underlying representation of meaning in a sentence.
A single surface structure can have two different deep structures.
According to Chomsky, language production requires the transformation of deep
structure into an acceptable surface structure.
Steven Pinker “hundreds of millions of trillions of thinkable thoughts” exist. Language Comprehension
Sounds are presented quickly, there are no well defined pauses between words, word
sounds have different meanings, language contains many metaphors.
Language is full of ambiguity, but we resolve this ambiguity without awareness.
Example: They’re shooting stars – one context means you can see shooting stars in the
sky, or they are physically shooting movie actors.
Pragmatic Rules – pragmatics is used to describe how practical knowledge is used to comprehend
the intentions of speakers and to produce appropriate responses.
Example – “Could you close the window?” – literal interpretation: the person is asking your
ability to physically close the window. However, the speaker is asking a request, not your
ability. If you answer explaining that you do have the physical ability you are being
Pragmatic guidelines: Good speakers follow these to facilitate effective communication – Be
informative, Tell the truth, be relevant, be clear.
If you choose to answer a question literally, you are violating the rule of being relevant.
Most language researchers are convinced that babies are genetically prepared to learn
language, just like they are prepared to learn to walk.
It would be impossible to learn any language from scratch without specific linguistic
mechanisms that constrain and guide language development.
Age 3-5 weeks Cooing or the repetition of vowel sounds ( ooh and aah). Vocalization
4 – 6 months Babbling or the repetition of vowel consonant combinations (kaka and baba).
Leads to complex speech like vocalization known as expressive jargon.
6 – 18 months Language specific sounds, phonemes of the language they hear everyday,
language specific accents acquired by around 8 months. First word spoken by the end of the first
24 months most babies have developed a vocab of about 200 words.
Infants develop the ability to understand language faster than they learn to produce it.
Child Speak – children develop different ways to communicate meaningfully, even though their
language skills are limited. Parents will know what a child wants when they say “ookie”
At the end of 2 years old a phase of telegraphic speech begins. It involves combining two
words into simple sentences, such as “Daddy bad”. As in a telegram, the child omits articles (the, a) and prepositions (at, in). However, words are almost always spoken in the
For the rest of the preschool years up to age 5, sentences become more complex.
Rule learned in preschool is add ed to the ends of verbs to make them past tense. Children
tend to over generalize this rule – and say things such as goed and falled. Kids are
naturally tuned to use the rule, even when it leads to incorrect words. This naturally
tendency is refined by experience.
Children think differently as they mature, and their increasingly sophisticated cognitive
abilities are reflected in the conversations they generate.
Children pick up their language skills implicitly, not through explicit instruction. Children
do not simply repeat every word they hear, they usually repeat names for things that
move and that they find interesting.
Some of the same brain areas are involved in spoken and sign language.
All human languages can be described as dialects or variants of an innate universal grammar.
Language in nonhuman species
Nonhuman animals can communicate, but whether or not is considered language is
questionable. In order to be classified as language, it must contain grammar.
Chimp named Gua raised with a child, the child developed linguistic skills but the chimp
Signs and Symbol communication
Chimps’ vocal apparatus cannot produce most of the sounds needed for human speech. It
is like teaching a human to fly without wings, even though being raised in a nest.
Allen and Beatrice Gardner tried to teach a simplified form of sign language to a chimp
named Washoe. At 4 years old, Washoe was capable of producing about 160 appropriate
signs. She was also able to produce various word combinations such as “more fruit” or
Koko, gorilla, trained by Francine Patterson, used sign language. Sarah the chimp trained
by David Premack, was able to manipulate shapes that symbolized words. Kanzi
recognized words and pressed the appropriate keys when the word is spoken.
Is it Really language?
Some psychologists believe that the chimps’ behaviour reflects reinforced learning – rather
than true language. However, Washoe and Kanzi challenged this. Using novel words, like
seeing a duck for the first time Washoe signed water bird.
Seidenberg and Petitto argued that Kanzi’s behaviours were like the non-linguistic gestural
communication of very young children, not comparable with the generative grammar of
To date there is no compelling evidence for truly human like language in nonhumans.
The Evolution of Language Darwinian evolution works through random genetic errors; mutations that turn out
to be advantageous tend to be preserved because animals with advantageous
mutations are more likely to survive and propagate and their progeny are likely to
share the mutation.
It is important to keep in mind that chimpanzees did not evolve to understand or
produce human language. Chimps evolved to solve their own problems, problems
that arise form their own unique environments. The human mind has evolved to
solve human problems, and those problems may or may not overlap with the
challenges faced by other members of the animal kingdom.
An essential cognitive skill. Without categorization, every new object and event would be
a one of a kind mystery, and you would have to explore each one to discover its
Category – a collection of objects (people, places, or things) or events that people in a
given culture agree belong together. Categories allow people to infer invisible properties
of objects. Once you have successfully categorized something you can also make
predictions about the future.
Defining Category Membership
People classify a sparrow as a bird because it has features that all members of the bird category
Defining features – a set of features that define membership in a category, such that all
members of that category (and no non-members of that category) have all those features;
for example, the defining features of the category triangle might be (1) a two-dimensional
figure that is (2) composed of three straight lines with (3) each end of each line joined to
an end of one of the other lines.
If the object in question has all the defining features of a category, it must be a
member of that category, if the object lacks one or more of these characteristics, it
must be something else.
Most natural categories have fuzzy boundaries. Experiment by Labov – as the ratio of
width to depth increased ( as the object got wider), subjects were increasingly likely to
reject the cup label and categorize it as a bowl. Those that began at cup continued to label
them all cups, those that began at a bowl, labelled them all bowls.
Family Resemblance – the idea that categories are defined by a set of characteristics features,
which category members share in varying degrees; each member of the category will have some
but not necessarily all of these features. (Ludgwig Wittgenstein).
The degree of family resemblance is determined by how many of the characteristic
features of the category an object possesses. If a given object has most of the family features, it will be seen as a good member
of the category; if an object only has a few, it will be seen as a poor member of the
Through the notion of family resemblance, we can begin