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Department
Psychology
Course
PSYC 2650
Professor
Dan Meegan
Semester
Fall

Description
Language 11/7/2012 1:41:00 PM Language  Generativity: capacity to create an endless series of new combinations, all built from the same set of fundamental units o “knowing English”  knowing how to create new forms within language  In the past there were philosophers of language, psycholinguists, linguists but wasn‟t much cross talk Some questions asked by cognitive scientists:  Is language a uniquely human ability?  What are the relative roles of nature and nurture in language development? o Major topic of development, most recognize that it is split  What is the relationship between language and thought? Linguistics:  Difference between psycholinguistics and linguists is that linguists study the structure of natural language (rather than its everyday use)  Psycholinguistics: the study of language behaviour o Everyday use of language does not always correspond to linguistic theory (everyday use is unique phenomenon) o More practical side  what should people do vs. what do people do Linguistic Competence vs. Performance:  Competence: a person‟s abstract knowledge of a language  Performance: the actual application of that knowledge in speaking or listening o What psychologists are interested in Debate… (makes linguists and psycholinguists against each other)  Does competence underlie performance?  (Psychologists) No: making linguistic judgments has little to do with everyday language use o Examine your knowledge of use of language (grammar) vs. showing use of language and then inferring from that what you know about language History: Behaviouralism  Empiricism / nurture: our language abilities are learned (not innate) o Thanks to experience and education as a child  Mental: our language abilities are nothing but stimulus-response associations o Nothing mental about language, language was reinforced / corrected (using operant conditioning)  Criticisms of behaviourist account of language o Evidence for innate constraints on language (nature)  Chomsky (1959)  Against Skinner‟s view of language  Before knowing genetic basis of language  Find that if you look hard enough, all languages have something in common  Can have 2 linguistic cultures that were never exposed to each other but still have similar set of general rules that tie language together  Universality of language  Parsimony view: genetic endowment for language Cognitive: “What is the relationship between language and thought?”  not mutually exclusive “thought” = language  How did behaviorism explain the subjective experience of thought? You can stand around and think without actually speaking o Behaviourist answer: Thinking was just sub-vocal speech…  Auditory motor act of language  Thinking  not doing anything different, just keeping speech to yourself (working memory, byproduct of language)  No such thing as thought o Behaviourist uncomfortable with abstract events (observable behaviours)  Evidence for: recordings of sub-vocal speech activity while subjects are engaged in thought o EEG recordings show that when person is thinking, there is sub-threshold activity in vocal system (when threshold reached, muscles contract and speech is vocalized)  Evidence against: o People can still think when completely paralyzed  Brain is not effected, premotor processes involved in creating speech (not just at level of the muscles) o Memory for meaning rather than exactly what was said  Not literal in memory (storing meaning as opposed to the words being said)  Can choose wrong words to convey meaning  Non-human animals seem to think (cognition is not just in human domain)  Feats by animals, we would be thinking in order to complete that task, hard to deny animal cognition is in involved  Capable of rich communication system Language Determines Thought  Linguistic determinism: language determines way a person thinks for perceives the world o Can‟t conceive or picture something unless there is a word to describe it o Inuit/snow example: rich terminology causes change in perception  Different terminology to describe different types of snow  Evidence against: o People seem to think the same way about things despite linguistic differences  Example: English has many colour words, Dani (New Guinea language) does not (2 or 3), constrained linguistic culture yet no differences in colour perception (can discriminate colours, no colour discrimination restraints)  Help people remember colour but does not change how the colours are perceived Thought Determines Language  Language arose as a tool whose function was to communicate thought (evolutionarily perspective)  Language has been shaped to fit the thoughts it must communicate  Evidence: o Thinking ability appeared earlier evolutionarily than language (non-linguistic animals that seem to be capable of thought) o Thinking ability occurs sooner developmentally than language (pre-linguistic children, development of language takes time, studying cognition in pre-linguistic children) o In languages with many colour words, words correspond to colours to which visual system is maximally-sensitive  Distinctions between colours are always present Language and Thought are Independent (distinct)  Modularity: language functions independently from other cognitive functions (even if it arose to communicate thought) o Medial temporal lobe for memory o Language might have evolved to serve thought but developed independently  Language acquisition: language is acquired according to unique learning principles o Unique development time course o Own critical period compared to other critical periods for cognition  Evidence: o No direct instruction required for language acquisition  Aspects of cognition require reasoning training o Language is acquired even under impoverished learning conditions o Critical period for language learning (clear evidence in people nd who are trying to learn 2 language as adult vs. young person, young person is always more successful, independent of how long you have studied it)  Deprivation of language during first years of life (Genie) Innateness of Language:  Language universals: principles applicable to every human language o Limit the possible characteristics of natural languages o Despite what seems like radical changes to you  Children possess innate knowledge of universals (not yet verbal themselves) o Must find how those universals are realized within the language community  Language learning depends on child picking up information from their environment  By age 3 realize they don‟t have to memorize past tense for all verbs, just add “ed” (manipulate the morpheme)  Can lead to over-regularization errors in past tense, pluralizing  Adults rarely correct child‟s grammar (language not explicitly taught, more respond to semantics of sentence vs. syntax) o Evidence: there are examples of uniformities among the world‟s languages  Children learn language even if their communication with adults is entirely nonlinguistic o Shown in studies of children born deaf but with no opportunity to learn sign language o Invent their own gesture language and it shows many parallels to spoken language  Specific Language Impairment (SLI): have normal intelligence and no problems with the muscle movements needed to produce language o Slow to learn language and throughout lives have difficulty understanding and making sentences Language Comprehension:  Referent: what a word refers to, NOT the same as a word‟s meaning o If you know the referent you know what the phrase means o Some words do not have referents (X ray vision, unicorn) but they are not meaningless  D-structure: reflects speaker‟s intentions in uttering or writing a sentence o Whether it is a comment or question, what the emphasis will be etc.  Place meaning on input  Taking language in in other forms, „translate‟ or „transform‟ into a spoken input  Parsing - take individual words and put together in way that conveys the meaning of the speaker Parsing  Words transformed into a mental representation of their combined meaning  Taking words in particular order and extract meaning Some Definitions  Prescriptive rules: rules describing how language is supposed to be o Used to mark differences between social classes  Descriptive rules: rules characterizing the language as it is ordinarily used by fluent speakers and listeners o “what English is”  Grammar: set of rules that can generate the acceptable utterances of a language and reject all the unacceptable sentences in the language o Syntax: rules governing the sequences and combinations of words in the formation of phrases and sentences  Allows us to specify relationships and how one topic is related to another  Syntactic violations: The girls hits the boys. (wrong form of verb used if girl is plural, conjugation) Did hit the girl the boys? (when person is taking action, noun goes before the verb) o Semantics: rules governing the meaning of sentences  Semantic violations (famous from Chomsky): Colourless green ideas sleep furiously (syntactically perfect sentence but makes no sense)  Syntax: phrase structure o The hierarchical division of the sentence into units called phrases o 3 phrases in sentence below  Always consists of noun phrase and verb phrase  Syntactic ambiguity o Parsing – understanding what others are saying to you o A sentence with more than one possible phrase structure  Makes it difficult to parse o Example: he wants to discuss sex with Dick Cavett  Male guest on Dick Cavett show and they are going to discuss sex (knowing that Dick Cavett is talk show host)  Both individuals have had sex with Dick Cavett and want to discuss how good he is in bed  Parsing and phase structure o When comprehending sentences, we interpret individual phrases and then combine these interpretations o Evidence…  Presented sentences one line at a time, in one of two forms: Form A During World War II, even fantastic schemes received consideration if they gave promise of shortening the conflict. Form B During World War II, even fantastic schemes received consideration if they gave promise of shortening the conflict.  Better comprehension in A and B  Form A has natural breaks, form B violates this (between adjective and noun it describes “received consideration”)  Read sentences word-by-word, press button to view next word  Measured amount of time subjects looked at a word before pressing  More time, important word or important part of sentence that you need more time to parse  With the completion of each major phrase, subjects need time to process the phrase  See peaks and valleys  Peaks are at phrase boundaries  If you pause after phrase boundary, sounds best (can put comas there as well)  Recency effect for non-semantic details o Subjects heard passages
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