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Chapter 9

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Blaine Mullins

CHAPTER 9  This chapter focuses on the cognitive aspects of language. Wundt was one of the first important contributors to  this area of psychology and used tree diagrams to analyze experiences. Perhaps the most important figure in  linguistics, Noam Chomsky, distinguished language from speech. Speech is only a subset of language and must  be constructed according to rules, known as grammar. How­ever, a grammatical utterance need not be  meaningful, thus highlighting the distinction between grammar and semantics. In addition, Chomsky rejected  the idea of finite state grammar, stating that it could not account for the intricacy of natural languages. Instead,  he put forward a top­down pro­cess that uses phrase structure rules and grammatical transformations.  Moreover, Chomsky elaborated on the differences between the notions of competence and performance, with  the for­mer being largely innate and having a structure that is referred to universal grammar. Chomsky stat­ed  that people need to make distinctions between deep and surface structures in order to under­stand phenomena  like ambiguous sentences. He argued that language was innate (innateness hy­pothesis) because the language  acquired from an adult is too incomplete and too full of errors for a child to learn from (“poverty of the  stimulus” argument). Therefore, he concluded that children have a language acquisition device that contains  principles of universal grammar that could be applied to any natural language.  Brown and Hanlon’s study supported his theory, which has now evolved to a concept called minimalism. This  concept involves parameter setting, and speculates that the existence of many languages is due to historical  society structures as well as revealing and concealing functions. The lack of evidence supporting the poverty of  the stimulus argument has led to further research on the matter, in which parental reformulations, for instance,  were observed. However, researchers have found that children’s syntactic development is perhaps influenced  more by their teachers than by their parents.  The evolution of language has been fiercely debated. Chomsky and colleagues suggest that there are three parts  to language. First, the sensory­motor system allows for both the perception and production of speech. Second,  the conceptual­intentional system enables one to grasp the meaning of speech. Lastly, there is a uniquely human  system that mediates between the two previously men­tioned. An example of a unique human capability appears  to be recursion, which, in language, refers to the ability to embed sentences within sentences, potentially to  infinity. Other accounts of the evo­lution of language link gesturing capabilities of primates, mirror neurons,  and gene mutation with speech as it is known today.  With language, comes communication. When conversing, speakers and listeners enter what is called a given– new contract. Sperber and Wilson differed between two approaches to communica­tion: the code model and  the inferential model. In order to facilitate interaction, speakers usually follow the co­operative principle, as  well as four conversational maxims: maxims of quantity, quality, relation, and manner. Despite such efforts to  make communication as fluid as possible, speakers often experience speech disfluencies, such as hesitation  pauses. A good way of studying communication can also come from observing figurative language, which  includes metaphor and irony (use of pretense), for example.  Vygotsky, on the other hand, was interested in the relation between thought and speech. For instance, he  reanalyzed Piaget’s concept of egocentric speech and argued that it does not disappear but rather evolves into  inner speech, which people continue to use in order to regulate thought and behaviour. He also developed the  idea of the zone of proximal development. Literacy is also an important factor when studying language. This  concept goes beyond reading and writing, as it in­cludes metalinguistic awareness.  A simple model of reading would involve finding a printed word in one’s lexicon (mental dic­tionary) and then  being able to utter it, although, this model is challenged by studies of people with dyslexia. Surface dyslexia  affects the ability to recognize words as units, while the ability to read letter­by­letter remains intact. Conversely,  people with phonological dyslexia cannot read letter­by­letter. These opposing types of dyslexia have lead to  the formulation of the dual route theory of reading, which posits two separate pathways for reading: one for  comparing words to a mental dic­tionary and another for converting sounds to letters.  The way people interpret words is also very important when studying language, because words, along with other  speech­related categories, can determine how individuals experience the world (Sa­pir–Whorf hypothesis).  Two people who speak different languages may, in fact, experience the world quite differently, a concept called  linguistic relativity. For instance, polysemy varies from language to language and can affect a listener’s  understanding of a sentence or statement. This idea led to research on the words used for colour in different  languages. It has been argued that there are eleven basic colour terms and that they appear in a specific order in  any given language (Berlin–Kay order). This model was derived from Hering’s opponent process theory of  colour vision. Furthermore, spatial frames of reference can be found in different languages. People can either  de­scribe an object’s position by using an intrinsic, relative, or absolute frame of reference. These frames of  reference have been found to influence thought and behaviour. ________________________________________________________________________ • Diacritical marks Symbols that indicate the correct pronunciation of letters in a particular word. (p. 265) • Articulation The production of a language’s sounds. (p. 265) • Tree diagram A description of a process that proceeds from one level at which a number of rela-tionships are simultaneously present to other levels at which these relationships are serially ordered. (p. 266) • Language Open-ended verbal communication that consists of all possible sentences. (p. 267) • Speech Those sentences that are actually spoken; only a small subset of language. (p. 267) • Phrase structure rules Rules describing the way in which symbols can be rewritten as other symbols. (p. 268) • Grammatical transformations Rules operating on entire strings of symbols, converting them to new strings. (p. 268) • Linguistic competence is the unconscious knowledge of grammar that allows a speaker to use a language. • Competence vs performance A person may have an internalized system of rules that constitutes a basic linguistic competence, but this competence may not always be reflected in the person’s actu-al use of the language (performance). (p. 269) • Competence: the basis on which the person is able to understand and to use the language. Is not always reflected in the persons actual use of the language. • Performance: is determined not only by the person’s basic linguistic competence, according to Chomsky, but also by cognitive factors such as memory and persons understanding of his or her situation. • Deep and surface structure: The sequence of words that makes up a sentence constitutes a surface structure that is derived from an underlying deep structure. (p. 269) • Innateness hypothesis: The hypothesis that children innately possess a language acquisition device that comes equipped with principles of universal grammar. (p. 270) • “Poverty of the stimulus” argument: The hypothesis that the linguistic environment to which a child is exposed is too deficient (parents are not perfect with language) to enable the child to acquire language on that basis alone. (p. 270) • Language acquisition device (LAD) and universal grammar: The hypothesis that children possess a language acquisition device, or LAD, that contains general principles that apply to any natural language (universal grammar). (p. 270) LAD is
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