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Chapter 10

Chapter 10.pdf

8 Pages

Course Code
Psychology 3229A/B
Scott Mac Dougall- Shackleton

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Chapter 10: The Evolution of Language Is Language Specific to Human Beings? • No animal communication system yet meets all ten of the criteria that define a language, the principal difference being that human language is much more creative and flexible than animal communication systems • Human language, however, is used to communicate information relating to every realm of human experience • Human Language and The Combinatorial Power of Grammar • The process of forming a one-to-one mapping between sound and object as used by vervet monkeys was an important step in the evolution of language • Evolution’s second trick relating to language, then, was even more impressive than that which enabled vocabulary; it gave us a means of obtaining limitless powers of expression from a comparatively small set of words; evolution gave us grammar • The communication structures of other animals do not have grammar Pinker and Bloom -An Evolutionary Theory of LanguageAcquisition • Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom argued that language has many of the characteristics of complex organs such as the human eye or hand • Language has positive fitness implications in that it enables information to be transmitted more efficiently than by non-linguistic means, but it allows different forms of information to be transmitted • Pinker and Bloom argue that natural selection is the only known mechanism that can produce the adaptive complexity that we see in language • The comprehension and production of language uses a large amount of costly neural material in dedicated brain regions such as Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area • Furthermore, the design of the vocal tract required to make complex articulation possible also has the unfortunate side effect of making dying from choking a distinct possibility • If language did not arise by natural selection, it is hard to explain how our ancestors could have borne these costs without them being offset by some very special advantages Learning The Sounds of Language • With few exceptions, languages transmit meaning through the medium of sound • First, using sound enables multitasking; your hands can get on with other work while you take • Second, you don’t have to be looking at the person with whom your communicating, which means that you can attend visually to other things while communicating and others can easily attract your attention • Third, you can communicate in the dark • Although sound is the medium of choice for all languages not all languages use the same sounds • Each language contains a particular set of minimal acoustic building blocks known as phonemes and languages differ as to how many phonemes they use • Some phonemes are not only difficult to pronounce for a non-native speaker, they are indiscriminable from other phonemes in the language Chapter 10: The Evolution of Language • Infants learn rapidly and this ability starts to decline around 6 months of age as they hone in on their native phonemes • Babies, it seems, are predisposed to attend to language like sounds from birth Learning Words • Simple case of word learning (known as ostensive communication or ostension) only appears easy because it is supported by a variety of cognitive mechanisms • In the absence of this additional information that child has provide his own by making assumptions about the word naming process Constraints on Word Learning • Ellen Markman suggests that the child makes three assumptions when learning words • First, the child makes the whole object assumption: the child assumes in the absence of any other evidence that when an object is named the person refers to the whole object, not its parts • Second, the child makes the taxonomic assumption: when an object is named the child assumes that the person is referring not to that specific object nor its very general category but at a medium level of generality known as the basic level • Finally, children make the mutual exclusivity assumption: if a child already knows that name for an object and it is referred to by another word, then the child assumes that the second word is referring to some other aspect of the object • Children’s Sensitivity to theAttention of Others In Word Learning • The behaviorist model that word learning is solely the formation of an association between two stimuli (object and sound) has been shown to be false; further, word learning by ostension requires special mechanisms • It also appears that sounds are only associated with objects under particular circumstances Chomsky, Innateness and The Universal Grammar • Chomsky argued that given the amount of information that children have to go on, language learning is impossible, an argument known as the argument from the poverty of the stimulus or the learnability argument • He reasoned that children learn language so quickly and with so few errors that they cannot be merely learning language by trial and error or by another general learning mechanism • The only way that language can be learned is if children are given support by innate knowledge which fills in the blanks left by messy human speech • According to Chomsky, children do not just perceive utterances as linear streams of words, they perceive them as hierarchically structured • Implicitly children parse utterances into high-level units such as noun phrases and verb phrases • Learnability argument: the information needed to turn statements into questions is not something that is given to children in the linguistic environment, nor do parents explicitly teach children about verb and noun phrases • This information must come from somewhere and Chomsky argues that it is innate Chapter 10: The Evolution of Language • Even before infants are able to string words together, they are able to understand the different roles of subject, verb and object • The Universal Grammar • Chomsky argues that language learning is supported by a language organ which contains knowledge of the Universal Grammar (UG) which is the abstract specification that underlies all human languages • Languages differ syntactically in many ways • Although languages vary significantly in their syntax there are certain abstract properties that all languages share • All languages use these syntactic components; all languages have structure which perform the function of nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositions; all languages have other features such as a topic and a head • Chomsky proposes that the child has a group of mental switches - called parameters - that are ‘flicked’as a result of linguistic experience and ti is this parameter-setting that makes language learning so fast • Chomsky argue that even when children make grammatical errors many of these are not simply random • The Universal Grammar enables the child, based on impoverished input, to induce the correct rules of the particular language that he or she is hearing and thereby become a member of the linguistic community • It appears that children are quite flexible in this regard and are able to acquire new languages with great ease up until around seven, after which this ability gradually declines • Chomsky and Evolution • He suggested that the language organ evolved for some other purpose and was co-opted, or exapted for its current purpose • Recursion is what we use when we produce (or comprehend) embedded clauses • This is one of the important combinatorial features of grammar • Recursion could have been developed for spatial navigation and was co-opted for language use • Whether co-opted or not, many now accept language involves a complex design of interacting parts that surely could not have evolved by accident • The Search For Language Genes • Recent research on language disorder known as specific language impairment (SLI) has been widely touted as evidence for the genetic basis of the language organ • Specific language impairment disorder that targets certain aspects of language production - particularly certain aspects of grammar - with no obvious profound sensory or neurological impairment • SLI sufferers seem to have particular problems with inflectional morphology • Inflectional morphology is the process whereby words are modified to indicate grammatical features such as number, tense, agreement and aspect • Gopnik tested sufferers on a test known as the ‘Wug’test • Gopnik’s research demonstrated that even adult sufferers of SLI find the Wug test demanding Chapter 10: The Evolution of Language • Certain forms of SLI appear to be genetic in that they run in families • The pattern of inheritance suggests that it is the result o a single dominant gene on an autosomal chromosome • FOXP2 functions as a transcription factor - this is a protein that binds to other genes potentially affecting their expression • So a mutation in FOXP2 such as that suffered would have a variety of effects, particularly on the brain where it seems to have its most profound effects • It does seem to play a role in language, but it is unlikely that it or any other gene is going to be isolated as the gene for language • Specific Language Impairment as a Problem with Inflectional Morphology • Notwithstanding this, some researchers have tentatively argued that the damaged gene found in SLI sufferers may be one of many genes that are responsible for, among other things, building the language organ • Gopnik argues that sufferers might have an impairment in their ability to learn the rules that enable words to be inflected properly • Some research suggests that irregular and regular words are learned in different ways • Because irregular verbs and nouns are unpredictable, they have to be learned by rote • This means that there is a separate entry for each form in the mental lexicon, despite them having the same meaning • Regular nouns and verbs, on the other hand, have a single entry and a rule is invoked to change the entry in order to inflect it appropriately • Gopnik’s argument is that the process responsible for learning the appropriate rule is faulty in SLI sufferers, and they therefore have to approach all words as if they were irregular • Derivational morphology enables new words to be made form old • One form of derivational morphology is a process called compounding in which two or more distinct words are combined to describe or name a new concept • Like aspects of inflectional morphology, the compounding process develops early in life • Now according to the theory of regular and irregular nouns are verbs mentioned above, regular nouns and verbs have only one entry whereas for irregular nouns and verbs all of the different forms are stored • This means for regular verbs and nouns only the uninflected form can oc
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