Christopher had a talent for languages, even when he was very young BUT his intelligence is very low.
Language andCommunication: From Rules to Meaning
System of communication to allow transmission of messages: waggle dance by bees to direct others to flowers,
warning calls of vervet monkeys.
Language - a system for communicating with others using signals that are combined according to rules of
grammar and convey meaning.
I Grammar - a set of rules that specify how the units of language can be combined to produce meaningful
Humans are different from other species:
1. We have a complex human language with ideas and concepts, with infinite ways of expressing this.
2. Humans use words to refer to intangible things. Eg. democracy, unicorn.
3. We use language to name, categorize, and describe things to ourselves when we think, which influences how
knowledge is organized in our brains conscious thought.
A. TheComplex Structure of Human Language
1. Basic Characteristics
a. Phoneme – the smallest unit of sound that is recognizable as speech
differ in how they are produced Eg. ba, vocal cords start to vibrate as soon as you begin the sound.
pa, 60-millisecond lag between the time you start the p sound and the time your vocal cords start to
vibrate. B and p are separate phonemes
b. Phonological rules – how phonemes can be combined to produce speech
Eg. initial sound ts is acceptable in German but not in English.
If rules are violated accented speech sounds
c. Morpheme – the smallest meaningful unit of language
Eg. pe speech sound in pat no meaning BUT morpheme pat meaning.
d. Grammar – a set of rules for language
i. Morphological Rules – how morphemes can be combined to form words
1. Content morphemes - refer to things and events (e.g., cat, dog, take).
2. Function morphemes - serve grammatical functions, such as tying sentences together (and,
or, but) or indicating time (when). complex enough to express abstract ideas rather than
verbally point to real objects in the here and now
Content morphemes and function morphemes can stand alone as words.
ii. Syntactical Rules – how words can be combined to form phrases and sentences
Eg. every sentence must contain one or more nouns and verbs, which may be combined with adjectives or articles to create noun and verb phrases
2. Meaning: Deep Structurevs. Surface Structure
Misunderstandings result from differences between the deep and surface structure
Eg. “The dog chased the cat” and “The cat was chased by the dog” mean the same thing (deep
structure) BUT on the surface their structures are different.
To generate a sentence, you begin with a deep structure and create a surface structure to convey that
meaning. When you comprehend a sentence = reverse.
Studies show deep structure is remembered BUT surface structure is forgotten. “He struck John on the
a. Deep Structure – the meaning of a sentence
b. Surface Structure – how a sentence is worded
Threecharacteristics of languagedevelopment:
1. Children learn language at a rapid rate.
2. Children make few errors while learning to speak by overgeneralizing grammatical rules.
3. Children’s passive mastery of language develops faster than active mastery understands language
better than they speak.
1. Distinguishing Speech Sounds
a. At birth, infants can distinguish all contrasting sounds in all human languages
i. This ability is lost within the first 6 months of life and can only distinguish among the
contrasting sounds in the language they hear
Eg. Two distinct sounds in English are the l sound and the r sound BUT are not distinguished in
Japanese excluding infants.
Researchers constructed a tape of a voice saying “la-la-la” or “ra-ra-ra” repeatedly when the
baby sucked on the pacifier. The baby lost interest in the boring la sound and the new, til the
interesting ra sound played can distinguish different sounds.
b. Vocal production takes longer to develop, startingwithbabbling andprogressing to speechsounds
Babbling starts at 4-6 months BUT deaf children start at 11 months. The d & t occurs before m & n
in both cases babbling is natural part of language development.
For vocal babbling to continue, babies must be able to hear themselves discontinuity = hearing
problems/speech impairments American Sign Language (ASL) babbling syllables with their
hands at 4-6 months also.
a. Fast mapping - children map a word onto an underlying concept after only a single exposure
learn at a rapid pace contrasts with effort for other concepts and skills AverageAge LanguageMilestones
0-4 months Can tell the difference between speech sounds (phonemes). Cooing,
especially in response to speech
4-6 months Babbles consonants.
6-10 months Understands some words and simple requests.
10-12 months Begins to use single words. nouns (names first, then concrete objects)
12-18 months Vocabulary of 30-50 words (simple nouns, adjectives, and action verbs).
can understand many more words.
18-24 months Two word phrases ordered according to syntactic rules. Vocabulary of 50-
200 words. Understands rules. 24 = two-word sentences known as
telegraphic speech - they are devoid of function morphemes and consist
mostly of content words BUT are grammatical (syntactical)
Eg. “throw ball” not “ball throw”
24-36 months Vocabulary of about 1000 words. Production of phrases and incomplete
36-60 months Vocabulary grows to more than 10,000 words; productions of full sentences;
mastery of grammatical morphemes (such as –ed for past tense) and
function words (such as the, and, but). Can form questions and negations.
5 grade 40,000 words
College 200,000 words
3. TheEmergence of Grammatical Rules
a. Children aged 2-3 years use correct forms of speech, but children aged 4-5 years make grammatical
i. These mistakes are actually the over-generalization of grammatical rules
Eg. The rule that past tense is indicated by -ed, then run becomes runned or even ranned
instead of ran.
Language acquisition is NOT imitating adult speech BUT acquiring grammatical rules by
listening to the speech and using the rules to create verbal forms never heard WITHOUT
explicit awareness of what they learned.
4. LanguageDevelopment and Cognitive Development
a. Language development occurs in orderly progression which could result from general cognitive
development that is unrelated to experience with a specific language
Eg. Babies start with one word short-term memories limited before full development
b. Orderly progression depends on experience with a specific language Studies of development of English in internationally adopted children who didn’t know English
prior to adoption. Language acquisition in preschool-aged adopted children showed the same
orderly progression of milestones that characterizes infants depends on experience NOT
cognitive development BUT they added new words to their vocabulariesmore quickly than infants
did general cognitive development.
C. Theories of LanguageDevelopment
1. Behaviorist Explanations
a. Language is learnedthroughreinforcement, shaping, extinction, andother operant conditioning
Vocalizations that are reinforced remain in the developing child’s repertoire, “DA-DA.”
i. Compelling evidence suggests this is not possible:
1. Parents don’t spend much time teaching their children to speak grammatically focus more
on truth content.
2. Children generate many more grammatical sentences than they ever hear multiple
3. Errors children make when learning to speak tend to be overgeneralizations of grammatical
2. Nativist Explanations
a. Nativist Theory – language development is best explained as an innate, biological capacity
language capacity is in the brain and develops with simple exposure to speech. Separate from
i. Language acquisition device (LAD) – a collection of processes that facilitates language learning
naturally emerge if adequate input to maintain it.
ii. Genetic dysphasia – a syndrome characterized by the inability to learn the grammatical
structure of language despite having otherwise normal intelligence inability to generalize
All normal children biological predisposition shown in distinguishing phonemes, generalizing
grammatical rules and babbling unheard words.
iii. Social isolation. After puberty, acquisition of language is extremely difficult Eg. Genie.
Immigrants’ language proficiency correlated with the age they arrive in the new country, those
between 1-5 years learn with ease than those 9+ years
3. Interactionist Explanations
a. The interaction of innatecapacities and social environment best explains language development
Eg. Parents simplify language learning by using simple verbal interactions with their children.
Eg. A group of deaf children in Nicaragua created their own sign language, complete with grammatical rules, without receiving formal instruction. The language has evolved and matured
over the past 25 years nativism (predisposition to uselanguage) andexperience(growing up in
an insulated deaf culture).
D. LanguageDevelopment and theBrain
Language development in concentrated in language centers: Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area.
Increasingly specific for language as brain matures.
Aphasia – difficulty in producing or comprehending language due to damage to Broca’s and Wernicke’s
1. Broca’s area – located in the left frontal cortex; involved in speech production (vocal & sign)
Broca’s aphasia - understand language well, although they have increasing comprehension difficulty, as
grammatical structures get more complex. Struggle with speech production: speak in short phrases
that consist mostly of content morphemes.
2. Wernicke’s area – located in the left temporal cortex is involved in language comprehension (spoken or
Wernicke’s aphasia - differ from those with Broca’s aphasia in two ways: They can produce
grammatical speech, but it tends to be meaningless, and they have considerable difficulty
comprehending language excludes Japanese pictographs
3. Right cerebral hemisphere contributes tolanguageprocessing (languagecomprehension):
1. Words presented to the right hemisphere have capacity for processing meaning.
2. Damage to the right hemisphere subtle problems with language comprehension.
3. Studies show right-hemisphere activation during language tasks.
4. Some children without left hemispheres (treatment for epilepsy) recover language abilities.
E. Can Other Species Learn Human Language?
1. Maybe, but not with highdegrees of sophistication
Human vocal tract and nimble human hand allow us to use language
Apes cant speak because their vocal tracts cannot sound like human language
Allen andBeatrix Gardner taught chimps American Sign Language and computer-monitored keyboards
that display geometric symbols that represent words. worked with Washoe as though she were a
deaf child (signing, rewarding and assisting by molding – manipulating her hands) allowing her to
learn 160 words in 4 years with creative uses. Interaction between chimps and a language-learning
Kanzi, learned the keyboard system and Louis learned ASL by watching researchers try to teach others
when they were young a critical period for acquiring communicative systems and passive mastery
of language exceed ability to produce language.
1. size of the vocabularies
2. type of words they can master (concrete objects and simple actions) no meanings. 3. complexity of grammar that apes can use and comprehend.
F. Language andThought: HowAreThey Related?
1. Linguistic relativity hypothesis - language shapes the nature of thought
Inuit use many different terms for snow Benjamin Whorf to propose that they think about snow
differently than English speakers do.
Critic: Eleanor Rosch studied the Dani, an isolated agricultural tribe living in New Guinea. They have
only two terms for colors that refer to “dark” and “light.” expect the Dani to have problems
perceiving and learning different shades of color BUT Dani learned shades of color just as well as
people who have many more color terms in their first language.
Languagemay influencecolor processing.
Research comparing English and African children show that initially English children can identify more
colours BUT when the children grew up, Himba a child who knew both English and African language
could identify more colours than the English.
Similar in adults. 20 blue rectangles change gradually from lightest blue to darkest blue. in Russian,
words for light blue (“goluboy”) and dark blue (“siniy”) 1–8 as “light blue” and 9–20 as “dark blue.”
Participants were shown 3 blue squares, and asked to pick which of the 2 bottom squares matched the
colors of the top square. Russian speakers responded more quickly when one of the bottom squares
was “goluboy” and “siniy” than when both were “goluboy”/“siniy,” whereas English took the same
amount of time.
Thewaypeople think about time. In English, we use spatial terms “forward / back” to describe
horizontal spatial relations. In Mandarin we describe time using terms that refer to a vertical spatial
dimension “up,” / “down.” Researchers showed a horizontal or vertical display of objects and then
asked them to make a judgment involving time. English speakers were faster to make the time
judgments after seeing a horizontal display and vertical display after learning Mandarin terms.