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Chapter 9

Chapter 9 - Language and Thinking.docx

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Psychology 1000

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Chapter 9 – Language and Thinking Humans have the remarkable ability to create mental representations of the world and to manipulate them in the forms of language, thinking, reasoning, and problem solving. Mental representations include images, ideas, concepts, and principles. Language - Language is called the “jewel crown of cognition” and the “human essence” – it is absolutely priceless and mandatory for survival - Language consists of a system of symbols and rules for combining these symbols in ways that can generate an infinite number of possible messages and meanings - Psycholinguistics is the scientific study of the psychological aspects of language, such as how people understand, produce, and acquire language Adaptive Functions of Language - The human brain probably achieved its modern form about 50,000 years ago – however, it most likely took another 35,000 before paintings appeared on cave walls and another 12,000 years before we could store knowledge inside our brain in the form of writing - Evolutionary theorists believe that language evolved as people formed larger social units o So as the social environment became more complex, the need to create social systems and communications became essential - As a result of social environmental issues, humans became highly evolved social creatures who need interaction (Language is crucial for social adaptation) Properties of Language - All languages of the world have many underlying features that are similar – These include the properties of language which sum up the definition of language: o Language is symbols, structure, meaning, generativity, and displacement Language is Symbolic and Structured o Symbols in language are arbitrary  For example – in English there is no finite reason to why a dog is a dog, it is merely something agreed upon between linguists o Language also maintains structure – and grammar is the set of rules that dictate how symbols can be combined to create meaningful units of communication o Another aspect of structure is syntax, which is the rules that govern the order of words o Finally, it is important to remember that both symbols and structure, i.e. grammar vary across languages Language Conveys Meaning o After symbols and structure of a language is learned, one can convey the words into mental representations that decipher meaning o The meaning of words and sentences/the understanding of the words i.e the context is known as semantics Language is Generative and Permits Displacement o Generativity means combining the symbols of language to form an infinite number of messages that have novel meaning o Displacement refers to the fact that in language we can speak practically about anything – the present, the past, the future, and fictional, and the non-fictional The Structure of Language - Language is described to have surface structure and deep structure. Hierarchical structure also describes the basis of language. Surface Structure and Deep Structure o Surface Structure consists of symbols that are used and their order.  For example – when we read listen, or produce a sentence, it is referred to as Surface Structure o Deep Structure – is known as the overall meaning of the symbols and words (semantics) o Sentences with double meanings consist of one Surface Structure, but two Deep Structures (The police must stop drinking after midnight.) The Hierarchical Structure of Language o Phonemes are the elementary building block of language – it is the smallest unit of speech sound in a language that can signal a difference in meaning.  The English language use approximately 40 of the known phonemes to the human tongue o Morphemes are the smallest units of meaning in a language  English’s 40 phonemes can be combined to make over 100,000 morphemes o Morphemes form words, which are later made into sentences/paragraphs which are consequently made using a comprehensive level known as discourse Understanding and Producing Language - Context plays a key role in understanding language – missing simple aspects such as morphemes can cause message to completely understood in a different manner The Role of Bottom-Up Processing o To understand language your brain must recognize and interpret patterns of stimuli o Extracting information from linguistic stimuli requires both bottom-up and top-down processing o In bottom-up processing, individual elements of a stimulus are analyzed and then combined to form a unified perception  For example – analyzing phonemes to make morphemes that combine to make words, which make sentences is an example of bottom-up processing The Role of Top-Down Processing o In top-down processing, sensory information is interpreted in light of existing concepts, ideas, and expectations  Therefore, we already know the end result and break the end result down (This is why when we read, even if words are misspelled or jumbled up, we can easily still figure out the word) o Language by its very nature involves top-down processing because the words we read, speak or hear activate and draw knowledge from our linguistic rules that are stored in our long term memory o In studies it has been seen that individuals can recognize where words start and end in a spoken sentence – This is known as speech segmentation  Irwin Pollack and J.M Pickett conducted an experiment on four female university students to see if they can identify where phonemes begin and end (the students were given recorded sentences with pieces missing) – results showed that the more context available, the easier it is to identify individual words in a spoken sentence Pragmatics: The Social Context of Language o You and other people involved in a communication know how to respond to a situation – for example, if someone asked you “do you know the time”, you would not simply respond: “yes”, you would probably say: “its 10:20” o Pragmatics is using knowledge to respond to practical aspects of language, thereby allowing communication to run smoothly where both parties can get their point across  Pragmatics involves top-down processing Language Functions, the Brain, and Sex Differences o Language functions are distributed all over the brain:  Broca’s area located in the left hemisphere’s frontal lobe is involved in word production and articulation (lower-right brain scan)  Wernicke’s area, located in the rear portion of the temporal lobe is involved in speech comprehension (upper-left scan) o Damage in one or both areas leads to aphasia which results in impairment in speech comprehension and/or production which can be permanent or temporary o Susan Rossell’s work showed that when fMRI scans were taken, men show greater activity in the left hemisphere of the brain, whereas females show activity in both the left and right hemisphere’s of the brain – this indicates that women have less lateralization of language function than males Acquiring First Language - Language is influenced by both biology (nature) and the environment (nurture) Biological Foundations o Noam Chomsky proposed that humans are born with LAD (Language acquisition Device), an innate biological mechanism that contains the general grammatical rules common to all languages  LAD (kind of a weird concept) pretty much has syntax switches which can be turned on or off – for example in English, the syntax switch of put verb in front of noun is turned on, where as in Spanish, the syntax switch is turned off Social Learning Process o Child directed speech – a method used by parents to teach their children language – for example pointing out colours, shapes, and objects o Exposure to language is key and childhood is an important and sensitive period for such exposure o Behaviourist B.F Skinner stated that a child’s language development is based on a parent’s positive reinforcement of appropriate language and correction of inappropriate verbalizations –however, psycholinguists believe that there needs to be more to this, operant learning principles alone cannot account for language development o Parent mainly correct based on the “truth value” – making sure their children have the facts right o Social play with regards to biological and environmental learning is key to language development o In 1983, Jerome Bruner proposed the term Language Acquisition Support System (LASS) which represent factors of the social environment which are affiliated with language development o When LAD and LASS interact mutually, normal language development occurs Development Timetable and Sensitive Periods o By 2 years of age, children are uttering sentences called “telegraphic speech” that first consist of a noun and a verb (“Want Cookie”) o The time in which the brain is most responsive to language input from the environment is known as the sensitive period  This “sensitive period” lasts between infancy and puberty  Tests showed that children found in the wild at a young age (example 6 years) were able to receive language training and develop normal language abilities (Brown), however, children past puberty were not able to do so (Clarke & Clarke) Bilingualism: Learning Second Languages - Bilingualism is a skill that many individuals possess to the extent where people can even recite the Lord’s Prayer in 215 different languages - Another know fact is that 18% of Canadians speak both English and French - A second language is best learned during the sensitive period of childhood – this is because mastery of syntax or grammar is easiest before the age of 7, afterwards it becomes more difficult - The first French immersion class in Canada opened in September 1965 - Bilingual children show more superior cognitive processing in comparison to their monolingual peers - In a study, French Bilingual individuals were able to ignore irrelevant information (the study involved pressing a key in correspondence to shape and colour – however after a certain point the variables were switched to the opposite keys, therefore in order to complete the task, irrelevant information had to be ignored) Learning Second Languages: Is Earlier Better? o The critical period for learning a second language ends in childhood or early teens o Individuals of early arrivals (by age of 16) perform and learn the language better in comparison to their peers who arrive in a country late (late arrivals – or from 17 onwards)  Therefore, knowing this, one can predict that in tests completed, individuals who had arrived in time to learn the language during their critical periods did better on performance tests o Another fact to consider is that individuals who arrive immigrate earlier to a country also go through more schooling and therefore are exposed more to their second language than individuals who arrive later in their lives o Overall, it can be concluded that the sensitive period to learning a second language extends through mid-adolescence Linguistic Influences on Thinking - Does that Language we speak shape the way we think? o Benjamin Lee Whorf answered that with his linguistic relativity hypothesis which stated that language not only influences, but also determines what we are capable of thinking o A few tests were performed to see whether the theory is correct or not:  Eleanor Rosch studied the people of Dani of New Guinea and sought to find whether they can distinguish a spectrum of colours – theory of LRH states that cultures with a few words will find it difficult to perceive the spectrum in comparison to those who uses many words to describe colour – the theory was proven wrong for the people of New Guinea were able to distinguish the colours  Although this test proved Whorf’s theory wrong, some other theories proved that this was the fact – However many psycholinguists believe that Whorf is wrong – language can influence on how we think, but it does not determine our mental capabilities o Language can create and maintain stereotypes – for example a choice of words can make a situation seem like it is referring mainly to the mail sex o Language also affects the skills one develops – for example English develops skills in using numbers whereas Asian languages facilitate the development of mathematical skills Case Study: The Bilingual Brain o Studies on English speaking Italians show:  That when people acquire a second language earlier in life or learn it to a high proficiency later in life, both languages use a common neural network • fMRI imaging shows that although the same area of brain region is used in first and second language processing, there are noticeable differences • There are differences in the left inferior frontal gyrus, but no difference in the superior temporal gyrus  In contrast, individuals who learn a second language later in life, show patterns of neural activation in multiple and different brain areas Case Study: Can Animals Acquire Human Language? o Some animals share interesting parallels with humans in regards to learning language – for example, some song birds have a sensitive period to learning songs and are only able to learn songs if they listen to their parents (kind of like child directed speech) o Washoe, a chimp by the age of 5 was able to communicate using a 160 signs (sign language) o Other researchers had success – but realized that a lot of animals for example the chimp (Nim Chimpsky) only communicated when it wanted to something o However, apes like Kanzi, the chimp, communicated normally  Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, who studied Kanzi was able to conclude that Kanzi was able to comprehend speech at the level of a human toddler o In short, it was concluded that animals like apes are able to display the properties of language which included: conveys meaning and permits displacement Thinking - Thinking plays a huge role in thought process – how our brain mind and concepts of ideas that are limited to our experiences help us perceive or reason situations Thought, Brain, and Mind - A patient with epilepsy named Lundemo had participated in a brain-computer study o In this study, 72 electrodes were attached to his scalp, thereby recording his brain’s electrical activity o The compute analyzed his signals, and converted it as movements for a cursor in a video game (When Lundemo signaled up, the cursor moved up) o This technology hopes to improve the lives of people who have lost limbs or are paralyzed - This study has shown: o That thought exists as patterns of neural activity and that different modes or types of thoughts exist o Propositional thought: a thought that takes the form of verbal sentences we hear in our minds (expresses a proposition, i.e. “I
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