Chapter 9 Language and
Elements of Language
Language is a system that relates sounds (or gestures) to meaning.
Language Differs from Communication
1. It has arbitrary units and is therefore symbolic
2. It is structured and meaningful
3. It shows displacement one can communicate about events distant in time and space, not just
here and now.
4. It is characterized by generativity- one can produce an infinite number of utterances from a
language vocabulary, provided that one follows the structure.
Elements of spoken language
Phonology- refers to the sounds of a language.
All different words in English are constructed from about 45 different sounds.
Morphology- refers to rules of meaning within the language.
The smallest unit of meaning is called a morpheme; a meaningful combination of phonemes
o Free morpheme: car or dog; words that can stand alone to have meaning.
o Bound morphemes: -s or ing; change the meaning of a word. Dog becomes dogs.
Semantics- the study of words and their meaning.
Ie a dictionary
Grammar- refers to rules used to describe the structure of language.
The most important element of grammar is syntax; rules that specify how words are combined
to form sentences.
Pragmatics- the study of how people use language to communicate effectively.
We use a simple vocabulary and short sentences when communicating with a 5 year old. Perceiving speech
The basic building blocks of language are Phonemes unique sounds that can be joined to create
o Includes consonant and vowel sounds
o Infants can distinguish these sounds as early as 1 month old.
Infants got bored of hearing the same sound on repeat verses another
Speech perception at 6 months can predict language abilities at 2 years
Infants can also distinguish between speech and non-speech sounds.
The language environment for infants is not solely auditory; exposure to language comes in
face-to-face interactions with adults
o This provides visual cues about sound. I.e. shapes of mouths to make certain sounds
The Impact of Language Exposure
Not all languages use the same set of phonemes.
Infants can distinguish phonemes that are not used in their native language.
o At 6 months of age an infant from both Japanese and English descent can distinguish
between the r and l consonant sound.
o At 1 year Japanese babies can no longer hear the 2 consonants (English babies still can).
Probably because only the English babies hear those sounds frequently.
The decline in phonemic recognition seems to be due to a perceptual
reorganisation to match the native language.
Any innate language acquisition ability depends on environmental support. At the same time the
environment can only have an effect if mechanisms are influenced by it.
Specializing in one language comes at a cost of making it more difficult to more difficult to
recognize sounds in other languages.
Similar idea with face perception: with greater exposure to human faces, babies develop a more
refined notion of a face, just as they recognize sounds that are important in their native
One of the greatest challenges for infants is identifying reoccurring patters of sounds- words.
When 7-8 month year olds here a word repeated often in different sentences, they pay more
attention to that word.
They can listen to sentences and identify the sound patterns that are heard repeatedly.
By 6 months of age infants pay more attention to content words (nouns and verbs) then to
function words (articles, prepositions).
They look to the right parent when they hear mommy.
How do infants distinguish between words when there are no gaps between words in speech?
Infants pay more attention to stressed syllables than unstressed syllables. This is not always fool proof for identifying words.
For example, an infant may distinguish 2 syllable words with a stressed syllable
followed by an unstressed syllable (doughnut). However, not all 2 syllable words
follow this pattern. (guitar) for examples has an unstressed syllable follows by a
They learn words more readily at the beginning and end of a sentence
Probably because there is a brief pause between sentences makes it easier to
Other ways to identify words in speech include:
Statistical methods infants recognize syllables that go together.
Infants listen to unfamiliar syllable combinations more intently than with
syllable combinations that are common in their native language.
Emerging knowledge of how sounds are used in the language.
I.e. in English s and t and s followed by d are quite common at the end of one
word and the beginning of the next
Bus takes , Kiss took, pass directly.
S and t also occur freq