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Chapter 9

PS102 Chapter Notes - Chapter 9: Adaptation, Cyan, Frontal Lobe

Course Code
Joanne Lee

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Chapter 9 Language
Language and thought are characteristics that distinguish humans from other creatures
- Language enables us to communicate in a precise & creative way
- Language is a critical component of human behaviour because it greatly facilitates
progressive social interactions
What is Language
-Language whether spoken, signed or written is a set of symbols used to communicate.
We use these to convey our thoughts & desires to others who share an understanding of
the symbols
- Language can be divided into 2 main components:
oLanguage Production
oLanguage Comprehension
Language Production
Occurs when we generate thought through words
oSpeech involves the expression of language through sounds
oHuman language production is generative or creative; we make new sentences
whenever we speak
oThe ability to produce new sentences spontaneously and creatively is an important
feature of human communication
oVocalizations uttered by most species are inborn and do not change e.g. a lion
does not need to learn how to roar
oHumans are the only primates that learn language naturally although apes &
monkeys have species specific vocalizations and baboons recognize words
oDespite years of training, no ape has been able to speak because they lack the
vocal apparatus that humans evolved over years
oGorillas are able to use a range of signs to communicate e.g. KOKO the ape
Language Comprehension
The process of understanding spoken, written or signed language
oWe can understand people who shave accents, lisps/stutters as well as immature
speech of toddlers
oOur ability to understand speech that is incomplete or unclear is related to the fact
that much of language comprehension is automatic
Language Structure
- The study of speech can be divided into 4 general areas:
1. Phonology
2. Semantics
3. Syntax
4. Pragmatics
The smallest units of sound in any language are called phonemes and the study of how
sounds are put together to form words is called phonology
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Chapter 9 Language
E.g. the word tip has three phonemes – t, i, p
The # of phonemes differ from language to language; English language  40 phonemes
The language Piraha only has 10 phonemes
The smallest units of language that convey meaning or function
E.g. the word jumped has 2 morphemes  jump and ed (the ed morpheme changes the
meaning of the word indicating that the jump has already taken place)
The study of the meaning of words is referred to as semantics e.g. if we say it’s raining
cats & dogs; it is not literally raining animals, it’s just raining heavily
The dictionary meaning of a word is referred to as its lexical meaning
oLexical meaning changes over time
The system for using words (semantics) and word order to convey meaning (grammar)
A word’s meaning is often communicated through the position of the word in a sentence
E.g. blue can mean the color or a depressed emotional feeling
o“she wore a beautiful blue dress” vs “he’s feeling blue today”
oMeaning depends on the context of the sentence
The way in which words are constructed into sentences are syntax
Communication also requires adhering to social norms such as speed of speech,
responding at appropriate intervals, eye contact, acceptable body language. These aspects
of communication are pragmatics
One aspect of pragmatics is our use of body language or non-verbal communication
oThe way we move our hand, bodies, & faces can change the connotation of our
oE.g. when you teacher asks to meet with you  with raised eyebrows, a sneer and
arms folded; you know you’re in trouble
Non-verbal communication seems to be acquired automatically often by observing others
oRelated to but not identical to gesturing (communicative movement of limbs)
oGesturing facilitates speech production
oGesturing is often difficult to inhibit; blind people gesture while talking to blind
How Language Develops
- Within a few years, almost every human baby goes from being incapable of speaking to
having an extensive vocabulary
Prevocal Learning (between 2-4 months of age)
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Chapter 9 Language
Babies are capable of perceiving the phonemes of every language, including those that
aren’t needed for the language
During this time, babies have a remarkable ability to distinguish sound
Researchers investigated babies’ ability to distinguish amongst different phonemes by
training babies to turn their heads towards an interesting visual reward when they hear a
change in speech sounds
oResults of this type of training (form of operant or instrumental conditioning)
suggest that young babies can discern a wider range of phonemes that older
With practice in only the phonemes of our language, we lose the ability to distinguish
sounds heard in other languages. This pruning of phoneme processing happens w/
specific training
Cooing (by 2 months of age)
Babies begin to make a non-crying vocalization that consists largely of vowel like sounds
(e.g. o – u – u – u – u)
Infants may also produce brief consonant like sounds that sound somewhat like k or g
Largely appear when infant is interacting with someone else
Babbling (by 6 months of age)
Babies start to babble. Babbling refers to the production of meaningless speech sounds
either repeatedly (da-da-da) or in a more mixed manner (da-bo-ca)
These vocalizations do not work as communication but they enable the infant to
experiment with vocalization in a way that gradually approaches their native language
All babies babble, including the deaf ones
First Words (by 1 year)
Speaking begins in the form of simple words such as mama, dada or hi
At this stage, the baby’s ability to comprehend is much greater than the ability to speak
At 1 year, the average baby can understand approximately 50 words but cannot speak
these words until 6 months later
Children at this stage can follow commands
Telegraphic Speech (by age 2)
Toddlers in most languages speak very short sentences  almost telegraphic like
E.g. instead of saying “I want cookies” they say “want cookie”
These dropped words are called grammatical morphemes and they are only dropped when
they are not necessary to determine the meaning of the spoken phrase in their language
Pragmatics (by age 3)
Average toddler has naturally acquired some practical information about language use
including the need to pause between statement
Average English speaking toddler (3-year-old) knows about 1000 words
Grammar (by age 4)
Children have automatically absorbed many of the rules of grammar despite having no
formal education of the languages
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