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2nd Biennial Conference on Cognitive Science St Petersburg 9-13 June 2006 HOW CHILDREN ACQUIRE LANGUAGE THE MOTOR THEORY ACCOUNT КАК ДЕТИ ОВЛАДЕВАЮТ ЯЗЫКОМ.

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Presentation on theme: "2nd Biennial Conference on Cognitive Science St Petersburg 9-13 June 2006 HOW CHILDREN ACQUIRE LANGUAGE THE MOTOR THEORY ACCOUNT КАК ДЕТИ ОВЛАДЕВАЮТ ЯЗЫКОМ."— Presentation transcript:


2 2nd Biennial Conference on Cognitive Science St Petersburg 9-13 June 2006 HOW CHILDREN ACQUIRE LANGUAGE THE MOTOR THEORY ACCOUNT КАК ДЕТИ ОВЛАДЕВАЮТ ЯЗЫКОМ Robin Allott Over the last few decades research into child language acquisition has been revolutionized by the use of ingenious new techniques which allow one to investigate what in fact infants (that is children not yet able to speak) can perceive when exposed to a stream of speech sound, the discriminations they can make between different speech sounds, different speech sound sequences and different words. However on the central features of the mystery, the extraordinarily rapid acquisition of lexicon and complex syntactic structures, little solid progress has been made. The questions being researched are how infants acquire and produce the speech sounds (phonemes) of the community language; how infants find words in the stream of speech; and how they link words to perceived objects or action, that is, discover meanings. The motor theory of language function and origin makes possible a plausible account of how children acquire language so much more quickly and easily than adults seeking to acquire a second language.

3 Здравствуйте

4 NOT ARBITRARY ! Children can acquire language rapidly because the words and the syntactic structures of language are not arbitrary or conventional but directly derived from brain organisation for perception and action

5 BASIC PROPOSITIONS Основные предложения моторной теории заключаются в следующем: The basic propositions of the motor theory are

6 THE WORD «Слова – это естественный эволюционный продукт функционирования мозга. Формы отдельных слов не случайные, а производные непосредственно от значений слов и относящиеся к значению слов». "Words are the natural evolutionary product of the functioning of the brain. The forms of individual words are not arbitrary but directly derived from and related to the meaning of the words."

7 SPEECH «Речь – это результат эволюционного развития: установление у людей прямой связи между корковой моторной контрольной системой и артикуляторным аппаратом (как показали исследования)». "Speech is the result of an evolutionary exaptation: the establishment in humans of a direct connection between the cortical motor control system and the articulatory apparatus (as research has shown)"

8 ARTICULATORY GESTURE «В процессе эволюции языка увиденные формы или предметы, услышанные звуки и воспринимаемые или выполняемые действия создали нейромоторные программы, которые, при переносе на речевой аппарат, произвели слова, структурно соотносимые с воспринимаемыми формами, предметами, звуками и действиями». "In the evolution of language, shapes or objects seen, sounds heard, and actions perceived or performed, generated neural motor programs which, on transfer to the vocal apparatus, produced words structurally correlated with the perceived shapes, objects, sounds and actions."

9 «Моторная программа, генерирующая слово, артикуляторный жест, также создает эквивалентный телесный жест. Жест является посредником между структурой и значением слова. В случае различного слова в разных языках с одним и тем же значением сходный финальный жест генерируется различной промежуточной траекторией, связанной с различными элементами речи-звука, которые формируют различное слово». "The motor program generating the word, an articulatory gesture, also generates an equivalent bodily gesture. Gesture mediates between word-structure and word- meaning. In the case of a different word in a different language for the same meaning, a similar final gesture is generated by a different intermediate trajectory associated with different speech-sound elements going to form the different word." MOTOR PROGRAM

10 From WORD to GESTURE «Жест, связанный со значением любого слова, можно рассматривать как ментальный перенос звуковой структуры слова (артикуляторный жест) к мускулатуре рук». "The gesture associated with the meaning of any word can be observed by mentally transferring the sound-structure of the word (the articulatory gesture) to the musculature of the arms.

11 SO EASY FOR CHILDREN «Дети способны накапливать словарный запас без всяких усилий, то есть связывать слово с предметом или действием, поскольку, "Children are able to acquire words effortlessly, that is to link a word to an object or action, because,

12 когда моторная контрольная система достаточно созрела, нейромоторная программа, генерируемая восприятием определенного предмета или действия, мгновенно соотносится с эквивалентной моторной программой, создаваемой при восприятии слова на слух, которая структурно порождается в определенной языковой среде воспринимаемым предметом или действием». when the motor control system has sufficiently matured, the neural motor program generated by the perception of the particular object or action is matched instantaneously with the equivalent motor program generated on hearing the word which, in the particular language community, is structurally derived from the perceived object or action." THE PROCESS


14 JOHN WILKINS Bishop of Chester, Warden of Wadham College, Oxford Founder of the Royal Society Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language 1668 "It were exceedingly desirable that the names of things might consist of such sounds as should bear in them some analogy to their natures; and the figure and character of their names should bear some proper resemblance to those sounds that men might easily guess at the sense or meaning of any name or word, upon the first hearing or sight of it. But how this can be done in all the particular species of things I understand not".

15 CHARLES DE BROSSES The first author to propose the origin of language as a product of the physiological organization of the human being: All these observations prove that there are word-forms, word-sound features, which are linked to the existence of internal sensations, and at the same time are also linked to external objects or at least to the effect that these objects have on the central nervous system. Traité de la Formation Méchanique des Langues et des Principes Physiques de l'Etymologie 1765

16 JOHANN GOTTFRIED HERDER Essay on the Origin of Language 1772 I trust no one will blame me if I cannot understand the meaning of the word arbitrary. To invent a language out of one's brain, arbitrarily and without any basis of choice, is - at least for a human soul that wants to have a reason, some reason for everything - is no less of a torture than it is for a body to be crushed to death. An arbitrarily thought-out language is in all senses contrary to the entire analogy of man's spiritual forces.

17 WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT Uber die Kawisprache auf der insel Java 1836 Linguistic variability and intellectual development The sound is not a directly imitative sign but indicates a quality which the sign and the object have in common.... sounds which partly independently and partly in comparison with others produce an impression which to the ear is similar to that which the object makes upon the mind. This kind of sign process which is based upon the particular meaning of each individual letter and whole groups of letters has undoubtedly exercised a prevailing, perhaps even exclusive, influence on primitive word formation.

18 JEAN PIAGET The Childs Conception of the World 1929 Children of 5 or 6 can only conceive of the name as coming from the thing itself. One has only to look at a thing to 'see' its name. A star was called a 'star' because people thought that name would go best. The sun was called 'sun because people thought it was a good name and a bright one. Until the age of six or seven, children say that names come from the things themselves. They were discovered by looking at the things.

19 MAURICE MERLEAU-PONTY Phenomenology of Perception 1962 Language originates from the mixture of the world and ourselves which precedes all reflection; for the child the name is the essence of the object and the child does not name the object but recognizes it. Language is not composed of conventional signs but is a form of 'psychic gesticulation

20 ROMAN JAKOBSON The Sound Shape of Language 1987 There is a latent tendency for the sounds of given words to be congruent with their meanings.very often built on the phenomenal interconnection between the different senses - on synesthesia


22 Gestures related to the meanings of Swadeshs 100 Basic Words (in English and Russian)

23 INDIVIDUAL WORD-MEANING AND ASSOCIATED GESTURE Animations for each of the 100 words can be seen on the Internet. The display covers the corresponding words in French, German, Russian and (ancient) Greek. For 89 out of the 100 English words, the gestures generated by the sound-structures of the words are well related to the meanings of the words. For 11 words the relation of the gestures to the meanings of the words is less clear: dry - walk – lie – liver - feather – tail - grease – flesh - leaf - all - full The relations between the words and the gestures shown for English appear equally appropriate for the 89 words in the other languages except that the word for drink in Russian appears to be derived from a mouth gesture (a hand and arm gesture in English). Words for liver seem equally obscure in all five languages. For some words there are, along with the gestures, associated sounds: dog rain say burn.


25 Belly Drink Round Know Swim бсюхо пить круглый знать плавать White Black Head Hair Sleep Give белий чёрный голова волосы спать давать Sun Moon Star Water Rain солнце луна звезда вода дождь click

26 So: WORDS generate Actions and Shapes Actions Objects and Shapes in the development of languages generated WORDS WORDS are recognised as having a direct structural relation to the Actions Objects and Shapes to which they refer

27 THE CHILDS TASK This greatly simplifies the task of the child in picking out the words it hears as referring to, that is meaning, the objects actions or shapes etc which it sees or experiences The child is not performing a process of analysis and memory quite beyond the capabilities of adults Before it acquires the words it has already acquired the ability to recognise objects, to understand and perform actions What it has to do to match the neural patternings for the objects, actions and shapes which it has already stored against the motor representations (gestures) it observes as generated by the words it hears

28 RECOGNISING What the child is doing in hearing words is recognising objects actions shapes Just as we can instantly recognise people or things we already know or are familiar with

29 IN THE CHILDS BRAIN But what is going on in the brain of the child? Motor Programs and Motor Equivalence

30 MOTOR PROGRAMS first! To utter a word there must be a prior motor program To execute a gesture there must be a prior motor program To store the pattern of what we see, there must be a motor/visual program The articulatory gesture matches the bodily gesture The conceptual patterning matches both the word and the bodily gesture

31 These are not separate or isolated aspects of brain functioning They interact and the underlying motor programs or patterns are interchangeable, executable in different contexts with different motor effectors What is operating in the relation between word, gesture and object or action is MOTOR EQUIVALENCE


33 MOTOR EQUIVALENCE We are very familiar with ordinary examples of Motor Equivalence We can write our signature with our right hand or our left hand We can transfer the signature motor program to our foot - or as Alain Berthoz has suggested can even make the pattern of our signature walking on the beach Motor Equivalence is an expression of the brains motor multi-potentiality Research has shown the reality of Motor Equivalence:



36 ACQUIRING SYNTAX It is not possible on this occasion to set out how the basic ideas of the motor theory can be extended to explain and account for the development by children of syntax, the origin of syntax and how it is that lexicons and syntaxes differ between language but are all eventually based on the same processes of brain function without a purely conventional or cultural origin.This is discussed and justified in The Child and The World. Lashley proposed many years ago, and Richard Gregory later emphasized in relation to vision, that action and vision have their own complex syntaxes. The syntaxes of action and vision serve in the origin and functioning of language as the bases for linguistic syntax. The roles of motor control and motor programs can be seen both in eye movements (Noton and Stark) and in infant imitation (Meltzoff and Cooke).

37 NOTON AND STARK Eye Movements and Visual Perception 1971 EYE MOVEMENTS of subject viewing photograph of a bust of Queen Nefertiti [from Yarbus]

38 MELTZOFF and MOORE Imitation based on the neonate's capacity to represent visually and proprioceptively perceived information in a form common to both modalities. Observations in six newborns- one only 60 minutes old - suggest that the ability to use intermodal equivalences is innate (Meltzoff and Moore 1977: 78)

39 THE EVOLUTIONARY RUBICON EXAPTATION The human acquisition of language was the result of an exaptation of the motor control system to control the motor processes of articulation How the exaptation occurred can only be a matter of speculation. Uwe Jurgens, on the basis of his research with apes and monkeys, has proposed, in relation to language, that what distinguishes humans from apes is the establishment of a direct neural connection between the central motor control system and the motorneurons and musculature of the tongue and larynx

40 THE NEUROSCIENTIFIC BASIS In the limited time available it is not possible to set out how extensively neuroscience research supports the ideas in this presentation. The list of research papers on Motor Equivalence contained in the next slide slide gives some indication. Detailed exposition and supporting material are presented in The Child and the World. The neuroscience and other evidence underlying the Motor Theory of Language Origin, Function and Acquisition can be found in four other books and in numerous papers on the Website:

41 MOTOR EQUIVALENCE Bullock-D Grossberg-S Guenther-F-H. A Self-Organizing Neural Model of Motor Equivalent Reaching and Tool Use by a Multijoint Arm. J of Cognitive Neurosci, vol. 5, issue 4, 1993: Graziano MSA, Taylor CSR, Moore T. Complex movements evoked by microstimulation of precentral cortex. Neuron 2002; 34 : Graziano MSA, Taylor CSR, Moore T, Cooke DF. The cortical control of movement revisited. Neuron 2002; 36 : Graziano MS, Patel KT, Taylor CS. Mapping from motor cortex to biceps and triceps altered by elbow angle. J. Neurophysiol Jul; 92(1): Graziano MS, Cooke DF, Taylor CS, Moore T. Distribution of hand location in monkeys during spontaneous behavior. Exp Brain Res (1):30-6 Haueisen Jens, Thomas R. Knosche. Involuntary motor activity in pianists evoked by music perception. J of Cognitive Neurosci 2001; 13 : Hughes OM, Abbs JH. Labial-mandibular coordination in the production of speech: implications for the operation of motor equivalence. Phonetica 1976;33(3): Ito M. Functional equivalence for response programming of actually performing versus imagining movements. Percept Mot Skills 1999;88(3 Pt 1): Kelso JAs, Fuchs A, Lancaster R, Holroyd T, Cheyne D, Weinberg H. Dynamic cortical activity in the human brain reveals motor equivalence. Nature 1998 ;392(6678): Lashley, K. S. Basic neural mechanisms in behavior. Psychol. Rev. 37, 1 24 (1930). Marteniuk RG, Bertram CP. Contributions of gait and trunk movements to prehension: perspectives from world- and body-centered coordinates. Motor Control 2001 Apr;5(2): Morsella, Ezequiel and Robert M. Krauss. Electromyography of Arm during Retrieval of Abstract and Concrete Words. Columbia University. Perkell, J.S., M. L. Matthies M. A. Svirsky M. I. Jordan. Motor equivalence in the transformation from vocal-tract configurations to the acoustic transfer function:Adaptation to a bite block. ASA 126th Meeting Denver Rijntjes M,Dettmers C, Buchei C, Kiebel S, Frackoviak J, Weiller C. A blueprint for movement: Functional and anatomical representations in the human motor system. J. Neurosci 1999 Sept 15; 19(18): Smith, Bruce L., Ann McLean-Muse. An investigation of motor equivalence in the speech of children and adults J. Acoust. Soc. Am., Vol. 82, No. 3, September Wing, AM. Motor control: Mechanisms of motor equivalence in handwriting. Curr Biol 2000 Mar 23;10(6): Aug;33(2):340-1.

42 1973 THE PHYSICAL FOUNDATION OF LANGUAGE Exploration of a Hypothesis 1989 THE MOTOR THEORY OF LANGUAGE ORIGIN AND FUNCTION 2001 THE GREAT MOSAIC EYE 1981/2005 THE NATURAL ORIGIN OF LANGUAGE: The Structural Inter-relation of Language, Visual Perception and Action 2005 THE CHILD AND THE WORLD: How the Child acquires language How language mirrors the world [all available on Amazon] and see also:

43 We allow our language to be degraded, to be simplified, to be constricted, to be under-used. This is a developing tragedy with dangerous effects for human society.. Language, the prime instrument for social cohesion and social communication, is being allowed to waste away into crudeness and inarticulacy. A great task for the future is to recover language as the instrument for moulding society, to revive it from the debased state in which it exists in many sections of the community. Мы позволяем нашему языку деградировать, упрощаем его, ограничиваем, не используем в достаточной мере. Это развивающаяся трагедия с опасными последствиями для человеческого общества. Мы позволяем растрачивать язык, основной инструмент социальной сплоченности и социального общения, допуская некультурную и нечленораздельную речь. Большая задача для будущего – восстановить язык как средство сплочения общества, вернуть его из того засоренного состояния, в котором он используется многими социальными группами. A FINAL THOUGHT ON THE PRESENT STATE OF LANGUAGE


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