Ch 10

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Psychology and Social Behavior
Jodi Anne Quas

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 phonemes). o The sound categories that matter in a language o Not every phoneme sequence occurs in language  Ex. “Tlitos”  English words never start with tl- o Languages may have same phoneme sequence but differ in tone (pitch) or stress (accent)  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) o Content 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) o More likely to be shorter and unstressed  Intermixing of function and content morphemes in sentences gives speech its rhythmic cadence of strong and weak beats o Both 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 combinations”  The Basics of Syntactic Organization o Tree 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 o Phrase structure description- a tree diagram or labeled bracketing that shows the hierarchical structure of a sentence o Function morphemes allow listeners to organize the sequence as a phrase structure, and these structured sequences were appreciably easier to remember and repeat 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 o Definitional 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. o Ex. 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” o Problems:  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 lamp)  The Prototype Theory of Meaning o Prototype 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 o According 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 o Ex. “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 o We 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  Ex. ”A lawnmower could be made out of wood or titanium, but cannot be made of ice.” The Meanings of Sentences  Typical sentence includes a topic (subject) and some information about that topic (predicate) o Subject noun phrase- the noun phrase immediately descending from the root of the sentence tree. In simple English sentences, this noun phrase usually plays the semantic role of actor or agent of the action. o Predicate verb phrase- the verb phrase immediately descending from the root of the sentence tree. In simple English sentences, this verb phrase usually expresses the action or state of the agent or actor. o Sentence meanings are often called propositions- a predicate-argument structure. In a sentence, the verb is the predicated act or state and the noun phrases are its arguments, playing various semantic roles. o Nouns are performers, each playing a semantic role- the part that each phrase plays in the “who did what to whom” drama described by a sentence. One word takes the role of being the cause of the action, another, its effect, and so on. o Case markers- a word or affix that indicates the semantic role played by some noun phrase in a sentence  Usually occur as function morphemes  Complex Sentence Meanings o Complex sentences are constructed by reusing the same smallish set of syntax rules that formed the simple sentences, but tying them all together using function morphemes for the nails and glue  Ambiguity in Words and Sentences o Sentence can be interpreted more than one way  Usually depends on only one word having 2+ meanings How We Understand  Rhythmic structure of speech helps to disambiguate the utterance o Black bird-house and a black-bird house  Readers are sensitive to clues from background knowledge and plausibility that go beyond syntax to discern the real communicative intents of speakers  Frequency With Which Things Happen o Garden path- a premature, false syntactic analysis of a sentence as it is being heard or read, which must be mentally revised when later information within the sentence falsifies the initial interpretation, as in, e.g., Put the ball on the floor into the box.  Misleading content or structure makes reader retrace mental footsteps to find a grammatical and understandable alternative  What is happening right now? o Language we hear guides how we perceive our surroundings, and the surroundings in turn shaping how we interpret the heard speech  Conversational Inference: Filling in the Blanks o Interpreting/assuming things other than what the speaker literally says  Language comprehension o Mind makes a trade-off between rate and accuracy of comprehension How We Learn a Language The Social Origins of Language Learning  Infants prefer to look at and accept toys from strangers who are speaking the language they have been hearing in their own lives o Even detect something strange if they hear stra
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