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Chapter 9

PSYA02H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 9: Prefrontal Cortex, Karl Duncker, Language Development

Course Code
Steve Joordens

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PSYA02 Chapter 9 Language and Thought
Language and Communication: From Rules to Meaning
- Most social species have systems of communication that allow them to transmit messages to
each other
o Honeybees communicate the location of food sources by a “waggle dance” – indicating
direction and distance
o Vervet monkeys have three different warning calls that uniquely signal the presence of
- Language: a system for communicating with others using signals that are combined according to
rules of grammar and convey meaning
o Allows individuals to exchange information about the world, coordinate group action,
and form strong social bonds
- Grammar: a set of rules that specify how the units of language can be combined to produce
meaningful messages
- Three striking differences distinguish human language from the rest
o 1. Complex structure of human language distinguishes it from simpler signaling systems
Humans can express a wider range of ideas & concepts than are found in the
communications of other species
Humans can generate an essentially infinite number of novel sentences
o 2. Humans use words to refer to intangible things—“unicorn” or “democracy”
o 3. We use language to name, categorize, and describe things to ourselves when we
think, which influences how knowledge is organized in our brains
The Complex Structure of Human Language
- Spoken system emerged no more than 1 to 3 million years ago, written system as little as 6 000
years ago; Approximately 4 000 human languages, grouped into 50 language families
Basic Characteristics
- Phonemes: The smallest unit of sound that are recognizable as speech rather than as random
- Phonological rules: Indicates how phonemes can be combined to produce speech sounds
o People learn these phonological rules without instruction, if the rules are violated,
resulting speech sounds are so odd that we describe it as speaking with an accent
- Morphemes: The smallest meaningful units of language
o Combined phonemes
- A sentencethe largest unit of languagecan be broken down into progressively smaller units:
phrases, morphemes, and phonemes.

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- All languages have grammar rules that generally fall into two categories
o Rules of morphology
o Rules of syntax
- Morphological Rules: Indicate how morphemes can be combined to form words
o Some morphemes content morphemes and function morphemes can stand alone as
Content Morphemes refer to things or events (“cat,” “dog,” “take”)
Function Morphemes serve as grammatical functions, such as tying sentences
together (“and,” “or,” “but”) or indicating time (“when”)
- Syntactical Rules: Indicate how words can be combined to form phrases and sentences
o Simple syntactical rule Every sentences must contain one or more nouns, which may
be combined with adjectives or articles to create noun phrases
Meaning: Deep Structure vs. Surface Structure
- Deep Structure: The meaning of a sentence
- Surface Structure: How a sentence is worded
- To generate a sentence, you begin with a deep structure and create a surface structure to
convey that meaning
- When you comprehend a sentence, you do the opposite processing the surface structure in
order to extract the deep structure
o After the deep structure is extracted, the surface structure is usually forgotten
Language Development
- Three characteristics of language development
o 1. Children learn language at an astonishingly rapid rate
Average 1 year old has a vocabulary of 10 words; expanding to over 10 000
words in the next 4 years
o 2. Children make few errors while learning to speak, the errors they do make usually
result from applying grammatical rules they’ve learned
o 3. Children’s passive mastery of language develops faster than their active mastery
Distinguishing Speech Sounds
- At birth, infants can distinguish among all of the contrasting sounds that occur in human
languagelosing this ability 6 months afterwards
- Infants can distinguish among speech sounds, but they cannot produce them reliably, relying on
cooing, cries laughs and other vocalizations to communicate
- Between 4 6 months of age, babies begin to babble speech sounds regardless of language all
infants go through the same babbling sequence

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o Even deaf babies babble sounds they’ve never head, in the same order as hearing babies
Evidence babies aren’t simply imitating the sound they hear and suggests that
babbling is natural part of language development
Deaf babies don’t babble as much and their babbling is delayed relative
to hearing babies (11 months rather than 6)
- Babbling problems can lead to speech impairments, but they do not necessarily prevent
language acquisition
- Deaf infants who parents communicate using American Sign Language (ASL) begin to babble
with their hands at the same age that hearing children being to babble vocally between 4 6
o Babbling consists of language syllables that are fundamental components of ASL
Language Milestones
- 10 to 12 months, babies begin to utter (or sign) their first words
- 18 months, they can say about 50 words and can understand several times more than that
- Toddlers learn nouns before verbs, and nouns learned first are names for everyday, concrete
objects (chair, milk, table)
- The time the average child begins school, a vocabulary of 10 000 words is not unusual
- 5th grade, the average child knows the meanings of 40 000 words
- By college, the average student’s vocabulary is about 200 000 words
- Fast Mapping: Children map a word onto an underlying concept after only a single exposure
o Enables them to learn at a rapid pace
- Around 24 months, children form two-word sentences
- Telegraphic Speech: Devoid of functions morphemes and consist mostly of content words
o Ex. “More milk,” “Throw ball”
These sentences tend to be grammatical; words are ordered in a manner
consistent with the syntactical rules of the language children learn to speak
The Emergence of Grammatical Rules
- Children memorize the particular sounds that express what they want to communicate, but as
they acquire the grammatical rules of their language, they tend to over generalize
- Children acquire grammatical rules by listening to the speech around the and using the rules to
create verbal forms they’ve never heard
- Few children or adults can articulate the grammatical rules of their native language, yet the
speech they produce obeys these rules
- 3 years of age, children begin to generate complete simple sentences that include function
o “Give me the ball,” “That belongs to me”
- By 4 6 years old, many aspects of language acquisition process are complete
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