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PSY BEH 9 Chapter Notes -6 Years, Soup Spoon, Aphasia

Psychology and Social Behavior
Course Code
Jodi Anne Quas

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Ch. 10: Language
The Building Blocks of Language
The Sound Units
Phoneme- the smallest significant unit of sound in a language. Alphabetic characters
roughly correspond to phonemes (e.g. apt, tap, and pat are all made up of the same
oThe sound categories that matter in a language
oNot every phoneme sequence occurs in language
Ex. “Tlitos”  English words never start with tl-
oLanguages may have same phoneme sequence but differ in tone (pitch) or stress
Also differ in how phonemes can occur together within syllables
Ex. Japanese words (consonant+vowel): origami & Toyota
Morphemes and Words
Morphemes- the smallest significant unit of meaning (e.g., the word boys has two
morphemes, boy and –s)
oContent morphemes- a morpheme that carries the main semantic and referential
content of a sentence. In English content morphemes are usually nouns, verbs,
adjectives, or adverbs
Ex. Bake and man carry the main burden of meaning
Function morphemes- A morpheme that, while adding such content as time, mode,
individuation, and evidentiality, also carries a grammatical purpose (e.g., the suffixes –s
and –er, or the connecting words and or if)
oMore likely to be shorter and unstressed
Intermixing of function and content morphemes in sentences gives speech its rhythmic
cadence of strong and weak beats
oBoth are processed in different ways during normal language activities
Phrases and Sentences
Rules of syntax (or grammar)- the regular principles governing how words can be
assembled into sentences
Noam Chomsky: “we put our words together in ever new sentences with new meanings
but we have to do so systematically or our listeners won’t be able to decipher the new
The Basics of Syntactic Organization
oTree diagram- a geometric representation of the structure of a sentence. Its
nodes are labeled with phrase- (e.g., noun phrase) and word class (e.g.,
adjective) category names, and the descending branches indicate relationships
among these categories
oPhrase structure description- a tree diagram or labeled bracketing that shows the
hierarchical structure of a sentence
oFunction morphemes allow listeners to organize the sequence as a phrase
structure, and these structured sequences were appreciably easier to remember
and repeat

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How Language Conveys Meaning
The Meanings of Words
Words naming things (usually nouns) are retrieved from different neural systems than
words naming actions (usually verbs), probably as a result of the different function
morphemes that occur with these two word types
The Definitional Theory of Word Meaning
oDefinitional theory of word meaning- the theory that mental representations of
word meanings consist of a necessary and sufficient set of semantic features.
The representation of apple, for example, might be [round], [edible], [sweet],
[red], [juicy].
Each word can be understood as a bundle of meaning atoms, or
semantic features- a basic semantic category or concept that cannot be
decomposed into smaller or less inclusive categories. According to
several strict theories, the basic features are all sensory-perceptual.
oEx. Bachelor is composed of the set of semantic features [single]], [human],
[adult], [male]
If a creature is missing any one of these, it could not correctly be called
“a bachelor”
Hard to come up with definitions that cover all the uses of words
Ex. Different types of birds  not all feathered, or small, etc.
Some category members are “better” than others
Ex. Typical differences in naming furniture (armchair > reading
The Prototype Theory of Meaning
oPrototype theory- a theory in which concepts or word meanings are formed
around average or typical values
Concept is held together in a family resemblance structure- an
overlapping set of semantic features of a category, such that no members
of the category need to have all of the features but all members have at
least one of them
oAccording to prototype theory, we carry in memory such mental prototypes- the
typical or most familiar example of category
Ex. A robin is a prototypical bird for many Americans
Sparrow resembles a crow = “good” bird
Penguin resembles very little a robin = “marginal” bird
Combining Definitional and Prototype Theories
oEx. “grandmother”
Definitional theory = a female parent of a parent
Prototype theory = a woman who is old and gray, has a kindly twinkle in
her eye, and bakes delicious cookies “a grandmotherly person”
Word Meanings in “Folk Theories” of the World
oWe have well-developed ideas of why objects or properties are the way they are,
and therefore how they could and could not change without becoming something
altogether different
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