PSYC 1010 Chapter Notes - Chapter 8: African Grey Parrot, Language Acquisition Device, Steven Pinker
Language and Thought
Symbols that convey meaning
Rules for combining those symbols to generate infinite variety of messages
o Language is symbolic
Ex. Spoken word, words that have different meanings
Symbols allow for people to refer to objects in another place
and events that happened another time
o Language is sematic
The symbols used in language are arbitrary in that no built-in
relationship exists between the look and sound of the word to
Ex. Pen – in English, stylo- in French and Pluma in
o Language is generative
We are capable of generating meanings by placing words in
different orders and such.
There is an infinite possibility of generating novel messages
o Language is structured
Even though there is an infinite possibility of combining words
to create new messages, there are rules which must be
Ex. “the swimmer jumped into the pool” not “pool the
into the jumped swimmer”
The structure of Language
o The smallest speech units in a language that can be distinguished
o In other words: they are the pronunciations of letters in different
Ex. A is differently pronounced in “father” “had” “call” and
Morphemes and Semantics
o Morphemes are the smallest units in a language
o The use of multiple words in one to create different meaning
Ex. Un, friend, ly – each one is a morpheme
o Semantics is the areas of language concerned with understanding the
meaning of words and word combinations.
o A system of rules specifying how words can be arranged into
Ex. There must be a subject and a verb or “the” before the
subject and not after (the swimmer, not swimmer the).
Milestones in Language Development
Moving towards producing words
o In the first year infants make progress towards learning sound
structures in their native language
o In the first 6 months babies are cooing, crying etc. as a form of
o Later they begin to babble and produce phonemes and eventually
repeat constants and vowel combinations, “ex. Lalalala”
o Later babbling becomes more complex and developed and the baby
moves on to the next stage
o Around 10 to 13 months children being to utter sounds corresponded
o Dada, papa, mama are easy sounds to produce, so they are often first
o Toddler receptive vocabulary is greater than their productive
o Fast mapping – process kinds use to map words onto an underlying
concept after only one exposure
o An overextension- occurs when a child uses a word incorrectly to
describe a wider set of objects or actions than it is meant to
o Under extension- occurs when a child uses a word incorrectly to
describe a narrower set of objects or actions than it is meant to
o Begins occurring after age 2
o Telegraphic speech- are early sentences containing articles.
Prepositions and less critical words are omitted.
Ex. “Give doll” – instead of “please give me the doll”
o Mean length utterance (MLU) – the length of average statements
spoken by youngsters
o Over regularizations- occur when grammatical rules are incorrectly
generalized to irregular cases when they do not apply
Refining Language Skills
o Their language stills become more complex and accurate
o Metalinguistic awareness- the ability to reflect on the use of language
Learning more than one language-Bilingualism
Bilingualism – acquisition of two languages that use different speech sounds,
vocabulary and grammatical rules
Does learning two languages slow down the development?
o Research shows that children learning two languages have smaller
vocabularies in each language but then the vocabulary is added
together is similar or slightly superior to other children
o The children develop much the same but in two languages and are
able to distinguish between the two before they begin to talk.
Does Bilingualism affect Cognitive Processes and Skills?
o The research is mixed
o There are both advantages and disadvantages to being bilingual
What factors influence the Acquisition of a second Language?
o Age- the younger the easier
o Acculturation-the degree by which a person is socially and
psychologically integrated into a new culture.
o Motivation and attitude
Can Animals Develop Language?
There have been a few species that have been taught language skills,
dolphins, sea lions, chimps and African gray parrot.
o Chimpanzees were tested to see if they could learn to use sign
language- one did but it was clear it was just imitation and not
o Another chimp was taught by a computer program – he was able to
generate a simple and basic understanding
o Although this was miraculous, toddlers could easily surpass even the
most well trained chimps, so what is so special about humans?
Language in an Evolutionary Context
o Steven Pinker-
We have a species-specific trait which is a produce of natural
Enormous adaptive value
There are many genes that account for language and more will
be discovered that account for language disorders
Argues, language evolved as a device to build and maintain
social coalitions in increasingly large groups
Theories of Language Acquisition
o Behaviourist Theory
Skinner, argued in book Verbal Behavior (1957), children learn
languages the same way they learn everything else: imitation,
reinforcement, and other conditioning.
Parents encourage their children to learn the correct words
o Nativist Theories
Noam Chomsky- pointed out that there are infinite number of
sentences in a language. Children learn the rules o language
not the imitations