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“the jewel of the crown of cognition” - Steven Pinker

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1 “the jewel of the crown of cognition” - Steven Pinker
Language: “the jewel of the crown of cognition” - Steven Pinker

2 What is language? A form of communication that is based on a system of symbols It is perhaps what separates humans from other species.

3 Language Structure Phonemes Morphemes Words Phrases Sentences

4 Grammar: The rules of language
Semantics - deriving meaning from morphemes, words, and sentences Syntax - rules of how words are ordered Note that there is productivity in language as well as regularity

5 Can Animals Understand Language?
Washoe- chimpanzee who was taught sign language Acquired 181 signs Kanzi- bonobo taught some English displays understanding of limited vocabulary

6 How does language develop?
6 months = cooing, vowels, babbling “citizens of the world” 12 months = spoken language sounds only, first words 18-24 months = telegraphic (two-word) speech By age 6 = understands most grammar rules of language (implicitly!)

7 Can the “citizens of the world” window be lengthened?
Using audiotapes of other languages? Videos of other languages?

8 A related tangent: Theory of Mind
The understanding of symbolic representations occurs around 48 months of age This is also the age when theory of mind develops = understanding of others’ mental states

9 Zimmerman, Christakis, and Meltzoff (2007)
Compared language development in children who had been exposed to ‘Baby Einstein’ and ‘Brainy Baby’ DVDs Found a large negative correlation between watching and language abilities Avg of 6-8 words lost per hour of watching

10 Critical Period for Language
During this period, we are especially sensitive to environmental influences Evidence: Children in isolation do not learn rules of grammar Recovery after brain damage much more likely earlier rather than later

11 Bilingualism Simultaneous bilinguals: learned 2 languages simultaneously Sequential bilinguals: learned one language, then another

12 Age of learning a 2nd language
Phonology: the earlier, the better Vocabulary: age of acquisition does not matter Grammar: age does not matter Brain activation (Hirsch, 1997) Early bilinguals- same area activated Later bilinguals- adjacent area activated

13 Biological Influences: Chomsky’s Language Universals
An innate ability to learn language is prewired Children worldwide develop in similar way around the world Language ability cannot be solely due to imitation

14 Environmental Influences
Behaviorist view- operant conditioning Issues Exposure to language improves and quickens language development

15 Strategies Be an active conversationalist.
Talk as if you’re understood. Use a style with which you feel comfortable. Remember, infants shape us, too!

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