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Chapter 8: Language and Thought

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1 Chapter 8: Language and Thought

2 Language: Turning Thoughts into Words
Properties of Language Symbolic Semantic Generative Structured Language is defined as consisting of symbols that convey meaning, plus rules for combining those symbols, that can be used to generate an infinite variety of messages. Language is symbolic, that is, people use spoken sounds and written words to represent objects, actions, events, and ideas. It is semantic, or meaningful. It is generative, that is, a limited number of symbols can be combined in an infinite number of ways to generate novel messages. It is structured; there are rules that govern arrangement of words into phrases and sentences.

3 The Hierarchical Structure of Language
Phonemes = smallest speech units 100 possible, English – about 40 Morphemes = smallest unit of meaning 50,000 in English, root words, prefixes, suffixes Oat = 1 morpheme Boat = 1 morpheme Boats = 2 morphemes Antidisestablishmentarianism = ?????? Basic sounds are combined into units with meaning, which are combined into words, which are combined into phrases, which are combined into sentences. Phonemes are the smallest units of speech. Research indicates that there are about 100 possible phonemes, but most languages use between 20-80, English about 40. Morphemes are the smallest units of meaning in a language, consisting of root words, prefixes, and suffixes. S has meaning beyond being a letter (pluralization). Semantics refer to the meaning of words and word combinations. Learning semantics involves learning the variety of objects and actions to which words refer. Syntax is a system of rules for arranging words into sentences. Different languages have different rules. (Verb or subject first in a sentence?)

4 The Hierarchical Structure of Language
Semantics = meaning of words and word combinations Objects and actions to which words refer “visiting relatives can be a pain” Syntax = a system of rules for arranging words into sentences Different rules for different languages

5 Language Development: Milestones
Initial vocalizations similar across languages Crying, cooing, babbling (consonant & vowel combinations) 6 months – babbling sounds begin to resemble surrounding language 1 year – first word similar cross-culturally – words for parents receptive vs. expressive language Infant vocalizations are initially similar across languages, involving all phonemes. Infants cry, coo, and make repetitive babbling vocalizations of all phonemes. By the age of 6 months, the babbling sounds being to resemble those of the infants’ surrounding language. By the time an infant is 12 months of age, the first word is typically spoken, usually dada, mama, papa, etc. This is similar across cultures. While few words are spoken (expressive language) at this stage, research indicates that very young children may actually understand (receptive language) more language than they can produce.

6 Table 8.2 Overview of Typical Language Development

7 Language Development: Milestones Continued
18-24 months – vocabulary spurt fast mapping: map a word to an underlying concept after only one exposure Overextension: using a word to describe a wider set of actions or objects than what is appropriate Underextension: using a word to describe a narrower set of actions or objects At about the age of months, the previously very slow acquisition of new words suddenly spurts. This proceeds at a dizzying pace, by the first grade the average child has a vocabulary of approx. 10,000 words, by the 5th grade, 40,000. Some 2-year-olds learn as many as 20 new words a week. Fast mapping is the process by which children map a word onto an underlying concept after only one exposure. Toddlers often make errors in using new words. Overextensions occur when a child incorrectly uses a word to describe a wider set of objects or actions than it is meant to…using the word ball for anything round. Underextensions occur when a child incorrectly uses a word to describe a narrower set of objects or actions than it is meant to…using the word doll only to refer to a favorite doll. By the end of the second year, children begin combining words to produce meaningful sentences. These sentences are characterized as telegraphic, because they resemble telegrams, consisting mainly of content words, with articles, prepositions, and other less critical words omitted…ex., “Give doll," Researchers study the language of young children by calculating the MLU (mean length of utterance), the average length of their spoken statements (measured in morphemes). By the end of the third year, children can express complex ideas; however, they continue to make mistakes such as overregularizing…generalizing grammatical rules incorrectly to irregular cases where they do not apply…”he goed home,” for example.

8 Language Development: Milestones Continued
End of second year – combine words Telegraphic speech: mainly content words Mean Length of Utterance (MLU) End of third year – complex ideas, plural, past tense Overregularization: grammatical rules used incorrectly

9 Bilingualism: Learning More Than One Language
Research findings: Smaller vocabularies in one language, combined vocabularies average Higher scores for middle-class bilingual subjects on cognitive flexibility, analytical reasoning, selective attention, and metalinguistic awareness Slight disadvantage in terms of language processing speed 2nd languages more easily acquired early in life Greater acculturation facilitates acquisition Does learning two languages simultaneously cause problems? There is little empirical evidence that learning two languages has a negative effect on language development. Research findings are summarized on this slide. Acculturation is the degree to which a person is socially and psychologically integrated into a new culture.

10 Figure 8.4 Age and second language learning

11 Can Animals Develop Language?
Dolphins, sea lions, parrots, chimpanzees Vocal apparatus issue American Sign Language Allen and Beatrice Gardner (1969) Chimpanzee - Washoe 160 word vocabulary Sue Savage-Rumbaugh Bonobo chimpanzee - Kanzi Symbols Receptive language – 72% of 660 requests Researchers have attempted to teach language to a variety of animals, but the most success has been shown with chimpanzees. One of the biggest problems in teaching human language to non-human animals is that the vocal apparatus is not the same. Researchers, therefore, began to use ASL with chimpanzees. The Gardners were successful at teaching a chimpanzee, Washoe, to use ASL. In fact, Washoe developed a vocabulary of about 160 words, combining them into simple sentences, but showing little evidence of mastering the rules of language. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and colleagues have reported striking advances with the bonobo pygmy chimpanzees. These bonobos have been trained to use geometric symbols that represent words on a computer-monitored keyboard. Kanzi, the star pupil, has taught his younger sister much that he has learned about this system. Kanzi has acquired hundreds of words and has used them in thousands of combinations, many apparently spontaneous and rule governed. In addition, his receptive language appears much more developed, as he was able to carry out 72% of 660 spoken requests such as “Pour the Coke in the lemonade." Still, chimps by no means approach the language facility of a human toddler, suggesting an evolutionary basis for human language development.

12 Theories of Language Acquisition
Behaviorist Skinner learning of specific verbal responses Nativist Chomsky learning the rules of language Language Acquisition Device (LAD) Interactionist Cognitive, social communication, and emergentist theories According to Skinner and the behaviorists, children acquire language through conditioning and imitation. Nativist theorists, led by Noam Chomsky, assert that humans have an innate capacity to learn the rules of language, an LAD, which facilitates language development. Interactionist theories hold that biology and experience both make important contributions. Two prominent interactionist theories are the cognitive and social communication theories. Cognitive theory asserts that language development is an important aspect of more general cognitive development, depending, like all development, on both maturation and experience. Social communication theory holds that interpersonal communication has functional value and emphasizes the social context in which language evolves. Emergentist theories hold that neural circuits supporting language are not prewired, but rather emerge gradually in response to learning experiences via incremental changes in connectionist networks.

13 Figure 8.5 Interactionist theories of language acquisition

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