Linguistics and Language
Language Comprehension •Language Production •Language Acquisition Psycholinguistics is a branch of cognitive science What will be covered in this class? • How do we produce and recognize speech? • How do we perceive words, letters, and sentences? • How do we learn and recall information from texts? • How can we improve texts to make them easier to understand? • How does the brain function to process language? • What are the causes and effects of reading disabilities?
Is there language in other species? Central themes in psycholinguistics 1) What knowledge of language is needed for us to use language? Tacit (implicit) knowledge vs. Explicit knowledge • tacit: knowledge of how to perform something, but not aware of full rules • explicit: knowledge of the processes of mechanisms in performing that thing 2) What cognitive processes are involved in the ordinary use of language? How do we understand a lecture, read a book, hold a conversation? Cognitive processes: perception, memory, thinking, learning Some definitions of basic components of language: Semantics: The meaning of words and sentences
Syntax: The grammatical arrangement of words in a sentence or phrase Phonology: The sound pattern of language Pragmatics: How language is used in a social context Examples from psycholinguistics Parsing garden path sentences The novice accepted the deal before he had a chance to check his finances, which put him in a state of conflict when he realized he had a straight flush. 1) The defendant examined by the lawyer turned out to be unreliable 2) The evidence examined by the lawyer turned out to be unreliable The process of parsing is the process of making decisions The effect of prior knowledge on comprehension
The procedure is actually quite simple. First you arrange things into different groups. Of course, one pile may be sufficient depending on how much there is to do. If you have to go somewhere else due to lack of facilities, that is the next step; otherwise you are pretty well set. It is important not to overdo things. That is, it is better to do too few things at once than too many. In the short run this may not seem important, but complications can easily arise. A mistake can be expensive as well. At first the whole procedure will seem complicated. Soon, however, it will become just another facet of life.
It is difficult to foresee any end to the necessity for this task in the immediate future, but then one never can tell. After the procedure is completed, one arranges the materials into different groups again. Then they can be put into their appropriate places. Eventually they will be used once more, and the whole cycle will then have to be repeated. However, that is part of life. Bransford & Johnson, 1973 Recall: No context: 2. 8 idea units out of a maximum of 18 Context afterwards: 2. 7 idea units Context before: 5. 8 idea units Child language development How many words do you know?
Hint: Dictionary has about: 450,000 entries Test high school graduates: How many words do they know? About 45,000 english words About 60,000 including names and foreign words The average six year old knows about 13,000 words. Learning about 10 words per day since age 1. (One every 90 minutes) How much do we have to teach children to learn language? Do you have to teach a child to walk? Is it the same way of learning a language? My teacher holded the baby rabbits and we patted them I eated my dinner A brief history of psycholinguistics Wilhem Wundt (early 1900s) Interest in mental processes of language production
Sentence as the primary unit of language • Speech production is the transformation of complete thought processes into sequentially organized speech segments. Behaviorism (1920s-1950s) • Rejected the focus on mental processes • Measurement based on objective behavior (primarily in lab animals) • How does experience (reward and punishment) shape behavior? B. F. Skinner: Children learn language through shaping (correction of speech errors) Associative chain theory: A sentence consists of a chain of associations between individual words in the sentence What’s wrong with the behaviorist approach?
Noam Chomsky (1950s – present) 1) Colorless green ideas sleep furiously 2) Furiously sleep ideas green colorless. 3) George picked up the baby 4) George picked the baby up. Almost every sentence uttered is a new combination of words The Poverty of stimulus argument: There is not enough information in the language samples given to children to account for the richnes and complexity of children’s language The pattern of development is not based on parental speech but on innate language knowledge Linguistic Diversity vs. Linguistic Universals Linguistic diversity There appears to be a lot of diversity among languages
Even within languages there is diversity When are two languages different? We speak the same language if we can understand each other Exceptions: Norwegian and Swedish Cantonese and Mandarin Dialects within languages: The myth of pure language How/why do languages change? Why does there seem to be a “correct” English? Members of the dominant (most powerful) sub-culture tend to speak one dialect and may punish those who do not Linguistic Chauvinism Belief that one’s own language/dialect is the best of all possible languages Black English Vernacular (BEV) Study by William Labov Interviewed African-American street youth
You know, like some people say if you’re good an’ sh*t, your spirit goin’ t’heaven . . . ‘n if you bad, your spirit goin’ to hell. Well, bullsh*t! Your spirit goin’ to hell anyway, good or bad. [Why? ] Why? I’ll tell you why. ‘Cause, you see, doesn’ nobody really know that it’s a God, y’know, ‘cause I mean I have seen black gods, white gods, all color gods, and don’t nobody know it’s really a God. An’ when they be sayin’ if you good, you goin’ t’heaven, tha’s bullsh*t, ‘cause you ain’t goin’ to no heaven, ‘cause it ain’t no heaven for you to go to. • Place holders: “There” vs. “It” in the copula
Copula: “Is”, “Was” optional • Negatives: “You ain’t goin’ to no heaven” BEV just as linguistically complex as Standard American English We don’t see/understand the complexity in other languages Moral: All languages seem to permit as wide range of expressions as others Linguistic Universals What is in common with all languages? Sentences are built from words based on the same physiological processes • All languages have words • All humans have ways of making sounds. • Languages tend to use a small set of phonemic sounds • Phoneme: The minimal unit of sound that contributes to meaning How many phonemes in a language?
English: 40 phonemes • Range: Polynesian 11 to Khoisan 141 Discreteness Messages in human language (e. g. speech sounds) are made up of units of which there is a discrete (limited) number Arbitrariness The relationship between meaningful elements in language and their denotation is independent of any physical resemblance between the two. Words do not have to look or sound like what they describe Openness • New linguistic messages are created freely and easily • Languages are not constrained in a way so that there are a limited number of messages that can be created.