Course: PSYC*1000 (DE)
Professor: Harvey Marmurek
Schedule: Summer, 2012
Textbook: Psychology – Tenth Edition in Modules authored by David G. Myers
Textbook ISBN: 9781464102615
Module 28: Language and Thought
Language transmits knowledge – whether spoken, written, or signed, language – the original wireless
communication – enables mind-to-mind information transfer, and with it the transmission of civilization’s
accumulated knowledge across generations. Language is so fundamental to our experience, so deeply a part of
being human, that it’s hard to imagine life without it.
What are the structural components of a language?
Phenomes – smallest distinctive sound units in language – consonant phenomes carry more info than
vowel phenomes (each letter makes a sound, so the one word may sound like one sound but the word ‘bat’ actually
has three different sounds to it
Morphemes – smallest units that carry meaning. Most morphemes combine two or more phonemes. Pre-
Grammar – system of rules that enables us to communicate
How many morphemes are in the word cats? How many phonemes?
Two morphemes – cat and ‘s’, and four phonemes – c, a, t, and s.
When Do We Learn Language?
What are the milestones in language development?
Receptive Language: By 4 months can recognize differences in speech sounds. Receptive language –
ability to understand what is said to and about them.
Productive Language: ability to produce words; babbling stage – spontaneously uttered sounds are
consonant-vowel pairs; age 10 months babbling changed so train ear can identify the house language. Around 12
months, children enter one-word stage. At 18 months two-word stage or telegraphic speech.
What is the difference between receptive and productive language, and when do children normally hit these
milestones in language development?
Infants normally start developing receptive language skills (ability to understand what is said to and about them)
around 4 months of age. Also at around 4 months, infants normally start building productive language skills (ability
to produce sounds and eventually words).
Explaining Language Development
How do we acquire language?
Noam Chomsky – universal grammar – all have nouns, verbs, and adjectives as grammatical building blocks. We
are not born with a built-in specific language. But no matter what language we learn, we start speaking it mostly in
nouns (kitty, da-da) rather than in verbs and adjectives. Biology and experience work together.
When adults listen to an unfamiliar language, the syllables all run together, but a 7-month old child would not have
this problem. Human infants display a remarkable ability to learn statistical aspects of human speech. Infants’ have
a knack for soaking up language, learning simple sentence structures (7-month-old). Can detect difference between
the two patterns supports the idea that babies come with a built-in readiness to learn grammatical rules.
Childhood seems to represent a critical (or sensitive) period for mastering certain aspects of language before the
language-learning window closes. The window on language learning closes gradually early in childhood. Later-
than-usual exposure to language (at age 2 or 3) unleashes the idle language capacity of a child’s brain, producing a
rush of language. But by about age 7, those who have not been exposed to either a spoken or a signed language
gradually lose their ability to master any language. Our ability to learn a new language diminishes with age - ten years after coming to the US, Asian immigrants took
an English grammar test. Although there is no sharply defined critical period for second language learning, those
who arrived before age 8 understood American English grammar as well as native speakers did. Those who arrived
later did not.
Deaf children do not typically experience language during their early years. Natively deaf children who learn sign
language after age 9 never learn it as well as those who lose their hearing at age 9 after learning English. Those
who learn sign as teens or adults are like immigrants who learn English after childhood: They can master basic
words and learn to order them, but they never become as fluent as native signers in producing and comprehending
subtle grammatical differences. As a flower’s growth will be stunted without nourishment, so, too, children will
typically become linguistically stunted if isolated from language during the critical period for its acquisition. Cochlear
implants enable deaf children to experience their world of sound and talk by converting sounds into electrical signals
and stimulating the auditory never by means of electrodes threaded into the child’s cochlea. In deaf cats, brain
areas normally used for hearing donate themselves to the visual system. So, too, in people who have been deaf
from birth: They exhibit advanced attention to their peripheral vision. Their auditory cortex, starved for sensory
input, remains largely intact but becomes responsive to touch and to visual input.
Living in a Silent World – 500 million people who live with hearing loss. The challenges of life without hearing may
be greatest for children. Unable to communicate in customary ways, signing playmates may struggle to coordinate
their play with speaking playmates. School achievement may also suffer, because academic subjects are rooted in
spoken languages. Adolescents may feel socially excluded, with a resulting low self-confidence. Adults challenges:
expend effort to hear words, less remaining cognitive capacity to remember and comprehend them, report feeling
sadder, less socially engaged and often experiencing others’ irritation.
What was the premise of researcher Noam Chomsky’s work in language development?
He believed that we are born with a built-in readiness to learn the grammar rules of language.
Why is it so difficult to learn a new language in adulthood?
Our brain’s critical period for language learning is in childhood, when we can absorb language structure almost
effortlessly. As we move past that stage in our brain’s development, our ability to learn a new language diminishes
The Brain and Language
What brain areas are involved in language processing and speech?
We think of speaking and reading, or writing and reading, or singing and speaking as merely different examples of
the same general ability – language. But consider this curious finding: aphasia, an impairment of language, can
result from damage to any one of the several cortical areas. Even more curious, some people with aphasia can
speak fluently but cannot read, while others can comprehend what they read but cannot speak. Still others can write
but not read, read but not write, read numbers but not letters, or sing but not speak.
Paul Broca reported that after damage to an area of the left frontal lobe (later called Broca’s area) a person
would struggle to speak words while still being able to sing familiar songs and comprehend speech.
Carl Wernicke discovered that after damage to an area of the left temporal lobe (Wernicke’s area) people
could speak only meaningless words.
Today’s neuroscience has confirmed brain activity in Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas during language
processing. We now know that Broca’s area processes language thorugh a series of neural computations.
Language functions are distributed across other brain areas as well. Functional MRI scans show that different neural
networks are activated by nouns and verbs, or objects and actions; by different vowels; and by reading stories of
visual vs. motor experiences. Different neural networks also enable one’s nat