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Chapter 9

PSYA02 - Chapter 9

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University of Toronto Scarborough
Steve Joordens

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 predators - 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 noise - 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 sentence—the largest unit of language—can be broken down into progressively smaller units: phrases, morphemes, and phonemes. - 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 words  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 language—losing 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 o Even deaf babies babble sounds they’ve never head, in the same order as hearing babies do  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 months 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 th - 5 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 words o “Give me the ball,” “That belongs to me” - By 4 – 6 years old, many aspects of language acquisition process are complete - As children continue to mature, their language skills become more refined, with added appreciation of subtler communicative used of language, such as humor, sarcasm or irony Language Development and Cognitive Development - Language acquisition in preschool-aged adopted children showed the same orderly progression of milestones that characterizes infants - Began with one-word utterances before moving on to simple word combinations; their vocabulary, dominated by nouns and they produced few function morphemes Theories of Language Development Behaviorist Explanations - According to B.F. Skinner’s behaviourist explanation of language learning; we learn to talk in the same way we learn any other skill: through reinforcement, shaping, extinction, and the other basic principles of operant conditioning - As infants mature, they start to vocalize; vocalizations that are not reinforced diminish, and those that are reinforced remain - Maturing children also imitate speech patterns they hear; parents/other adults shape those speech patterns by reinforcing those that are grammatical and ignoring/punishing those that are ungrammatical - Behavioural explanation is attractive because it offers a simple account of language development, but the theory cannot account for many fundamental characteristics of language development, because… o 1) Parents don’t spend much time teaching their children to speak grammatically o 2) Children generate many more grammatical sentences than they hear o 3) The errors children make when learning to speak tend to be overgeneralizations of grammatical rules Nativist Explanation - Noam Chomsky (Linguist), reply to the behaviourist approach o Language-learning capacities are built into the brain, which is specialized to rapidly acquire language through simple exposure to speech; arguing that humans have a particular ability for language that is separate from general intelligence - Nativist Theory: Language development is best explained as an innate, biological capacity - According to Chomsky, the human brain is equipped with language acquisition device (LAD): a collection of processes that facilitate language learning - Genetic Dysphasia: A syndrome characterized by an inability to learn the grammatical structure of language despite having otherwise normal intelligence o Tends to run in families, and a single dominant gene has been implicated in its transmission o Problems with grammatical rules persist even if they receive special language training - Language can only be acquired during a restricted period of development o Once puberty is reached, acquiring language becomes extremely difficult Interactionist Explanations - Although infants are born with an innate ability to acquire language, social interactions play a crucial role in language - Parents tailor their verbal interactions with children in ways that simplify the language acquisition process: they speak slowly, enunciate clearly and use simpler sentences than they do when speaking with adults Language Development and the Brain - Language processing gradually becomes more and more concentrated in two areas; Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area (language centers of the brain) - Aphasia: difficulty in producing or comprehending language - Broca’s area located in the left frontal cortex, involved in the production of the sequential patterns in vocal and sign languages - Wernicke’s area located in the left temporal cortex, involved in language comprehension (whether spoken or signed) - Patients with Wernicke’s aphasia differ from those with Broca’s aphasia in two ways o 1. They can produce grammatical speech, but it tends to be meaningless o 2. They have considerable difficultly comprehending language - In normal language processing, Werkicke’s area is highly active when we make judgments about word meaning, and damage to his area impairs comprehension to spoken and signed language, although the ability to identify nonlanguage sounds are unimpaired - Four kinds of evidence indicate that the right cerebral hemisphere also contribute to language processing—especially to language comprehension o 1. When words are presented to the right hemisphere of healthy participants using divided visual field techniques, the right hemisphere shows some capacity for processing meaning o 2. Patients with damage to the right hemisphere sometimes have subtle problems with language comprehension o 3. A number of neuroimaging studies have revealed evidence of right-hemisphere activation during language tasks o 4. Some children who have had their entire left hemispheres removed during adolescence as a treatment for epilepsy can recover many of their language abilities Can Other Species Learn Human Language? - Early attempts to teach apes to speak failed dismally because their vocal tracts cannot accommodate the sounds used in human languages - Later attempts to teach apes human language have met with more success—including teaching them to use American Sign Language and computer-monitored keyboards that display geometric symbols that represent words - Gardners were first to use ASL with apes; working with a young, female chimpanzee named Washoe o In 4 years, Washoe learned approximately 160 words and could construct simple sentences nd o When Washoe’s 2 infant died, she adopted an infant chimpanzee na
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