Chapter 8: Language and Thought
Cognition refers to the mental processes involved in acquiring knowledge.
Language:Turning Thoughts into Words
1. What is Language?
A language consists of symbols that convey meaning plus rules for combining those symbols,that can be used
to generate an inﬁnite variety of messages.
Language is... Description
Symbolic - language symbols are ﬂexible in that a variety of
somewhat diﬀerent objects may be called by the same
Semantic - language is meaningful
Generative - a limited number of symbols can be combined in an
inﬁnite variety of ways to generate an endless array of
Structured - rules govern the arrangement of words into phrases
2. The Structure of Language:
Phonemes are the smallest speech units in a language that can be distinguished perceptually.
• english is composed of about 40 phonemes
• a letter in the alphabet can represent more than one phoneme if it has more than one pronunciation.
• working with these sounds, people can understand and generate all of the words in the english language-and
invent new ones.
b) Morphemes and Semantics:
Morphemes are the smallest units of meaning in a language.
• there are 50000 english morphemes,which include root words as well as preﬁxes and suﬃxes.
Semantics is the area of language concerned with understanding the meaning of words and word
• a word’s meaning may consist of both its denotation,which is its dictionary deﬁnition, and it connotation,
which includes its emotional overtones and secondary implications.
c) Syntax: Syntax is a system of rules that specify how words can be arranged into sentences.
• ex. a sentence must have both a subject and a verb.
3. Milestones in Language Development:
Age General Characteristics
1-5 months - Reﬂexive communication: vocalizes randomly,coos,laughs,cries,engages in vocal play,discriminates
language from nonlanguage sounds.
6-18 months - Babbling: verbalizes in response to the speech of others;responses increasingly approximate human speech
10-13 months - First words: uses words,typically to refer to objects.
12-18 months - One-word sentence stage: vocabulary grows slowly; uses nouns primarily;
18-24 months - Vocabulary spurt: fast mapping facilitates rapid acquisition of new words.
2 years - Two-word sentence stage: uses telegraphic speech;uses more pronouns and verbs.
2.5 years -Three-word sentence stage: modiﬁes speech to take listener into account; over-regularizations begin;
3 years -Uses complete simple active sentence structure; uses sentences to tell stories that are understood by
3.5 years -Expanded grammatical forms: expresses concepts with words; uses 4-word sentences.
4 years -Uses 5-word sentences.
5 years -Well-developed and complex syntax: uses more complex syntax; uses more complex forms to tell stories.
6 years -Displays metalinguistic awareness.
Fast mapping is the process by which children map a word onto an underlying concept after only one
An overextention occurs when a child incorrectly uses a word to describe a wider set of objects or actions
than is meant to(ex. a child might use the word ball for anything round).
An underextention occurs when a child incorrectly uses a word to describe a narrower set of objects or
actions than is meant to(ex. a child might use the word doll to refer only to a single,favourable doll).
Telegraphic speech consists mainly of content words;articles,prepositions, and other less critical words are
omitted(ex. “Give doll” rather than “Please give me the doll”).
Mean length of utterance(MLU) - the average length of youngsters’ spoken statements(measured in
Overregularizations occur when grammatical rules are incorrectly generalized to irregular cases where they
do not apply(ex. The girl goed home).
4. Learning More Than One Language: Bilingualism: Bilingualism is the acquasition of 2 languages that use diﬀerent speech sounds,vocabulary, and grammatical
a) Does learning 2 languages in childhood slow down language development?
bilingual children have smaller vocabularies in each of their languages than monolingual children have in their
• there is no evidence of language disadvantage-bilingual children follow normal pacing of language milestones.
b) Does bilingualism aﬀect cognitive processes and skills?
when bilingual subjects who are ﬂuent in both languages are studied,they tend to scores somewhat higher
than monolingual subjects on measures of cognitive ﬂexibility,analytical reasoning,selective attention,and
• bilingualism is associated with higher levels of controlled processing on tasks that require control of attention.
• bilingual children learn to “juggle” both languages.
bilingual individuals show an increase in the density of grey matter in the left parietal cortex.
c) What factors inﬂuence the acquisition of a 2 language?
• age is a signiﬁcant correlate of how eﬀectively people can acquire a 2nd language-and younger is better.
• a second factor that inﬂuences the acquisition of a 2nd language is acculturation.
Acculturation is the degree to which a person is socially and psychologically integrated into a new culture.
• also learner’s motivation and attitude toward the other group that uses the language to be learned.
5. Can Animals Develop Language?
researchers have tried training chimps to use a non-oral human language-American Sign Language(ASL)
• Kanzi, a chimpanzee, has learned to communicate with his caretakers in surprisingly sophisticated ways via
computer-controlled symbol boards.
6. Language is an Evolutionary Context:
• humans’ special talent for language is a species-speciﬁc trait that is the product of natural selection.
• eﬀective communication among our ancient ancestors could have aided hunting,gathering,ﬁghting,mating
and the avoidance of poisons,predators, and other dangers.
7. Theories of Language Acquisition:
a) Behaviourist theories:
• ﬁrst outlined by Skinner who argued that children learn language the same way they learn everything else:
through imitation,reinforcement, and other established principles of conditioning.
behaviourists assert that by controlling reinforcement, parents encourage their children to learn the correct
meaning and pronunciation of words. • according to their view, children learn how to construct sentences by imitating the sentences of adults and
b) Nativist theories:
Chomsky pointed out that there are an inﬁnite number of sentences in a language and it’s therefore
unreasonable to expect that children learn language by imitation.
• he argues that children learn the rules of language,not speciﬁc verbal responses.
• nativists also argue that parents may not engage in much of the language shaping.
• Nativist theory proposes that humans are equipped with a language acquisition device(LAD)-an innate
mechanism or process that facilitates the learning of language.
c) Interactionist theories:
• they believe that parents do provide their children with subtle corrective feedback about grammar.
• these theories assert that biology and experience both make important contributions to the development of
• there are 3 types of interactionist theories:
1) Cognitive theories - assert that language development is simply an important aspect of more general
cognitive development-which depends on both maturation and experience.
2)Social communication theories - emphasize the functional value of interpersonal communication and
the social context in which language evolves.
3)Emergentist theories - argue that the neural circuits supporting language are not prewired but emerge
gradually in response to language learning experiences.
8. Culture,Language,and Thought:
Linguistic relativity - the hypothesis that one’s language determines the nature of one’s thought.
• Whorf speculated that diﬀerent languages lead people to view the world diﬀerently.
Problem Solving: In Search of Solutions
1. Types of Problems:
Problem solving refers to active eﬀorts to discover what must be done to achieve a goal that is not readily
problems can be categorized into 3 basic classes:
1) Problems of inducing structure - require people to discover the relatioship among numbers,words,
2)Problems of arrangement - require people to arrange the parts of a problem in a way that satisﬁes
3)Problems of transformation - require people to carry out a sequence of transformations in order to
reach a speciﬁc goal. 2. Barriers to Eﬀective Problem Solving:
• psychologists have identiﬁed a number of barriers that frequently impede subject’s eﬀorts