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Blah Blah Blah: A Discussion of Language. Josh Hall Caitlin O’Brien Sam Pierre. Bilingualism. Caitlin O’Brien. Innate Propensity for Language . Language Predisposition Language Acquisition Device Recognition and Production of all phonemes. Bilingual Experiences.

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Blah blah blah a discussion of language

Blah Blah Blah: A Discussion of Language

Josh Hall

Caitlin O’Brien

Sam Pierre



Caitlin O’Brien

Innate propensity for language
Innate Propensity for Language

  • Language Predisposition

  • Language Acquisition Device

  • Recognition and Production of all phonemes

Bilingual experiences
Bilingual Experiences

1. Compound Bilingualism- Acquisition

  • Characteristics:

    • Languages gained concurrently

    • Stronger use of LAD

    • Localized in Brain

    • Usually occurs when young

    • Subconscious process

    • Not aware of rules of language

    • Concepts have verbal labels from both languages

    • Languages are interdependent

  • Stages:

    • Stage 1: Initial Single Language System

    • Stage 2: Different Languages

Bilingual experiences1
Bilingual Experiences

2. Coordinate Bilingualism- Learning

  • Characteristics

    • Languages learned in separate environments, gained sequentially

    • Spread out over brain, more right hemisphere

    • Can occur after a critical period

    • Conscious of learning new language

    • Aware of knowledge and rules of language

  • Role of Native Language

    • Avoidance

    • Differential Learning Rates

    • Different Paths

    • Over Production

    • Predictability/ Selectivity

      3. Different representations of languages with different characteristics

Evolutionary importance
Evolutionary Importance

  • Relevance with early human ancestors

    • Early cooperation and exchange between groups

    • Warfare or little interaction

      • Decline of LAD

    • Greater Reproductive Success

Benefits of multilingualism
Benefits of Multilingualism

  • Greater general cognitive development

    • Greater mental flexibility at an earlier age

    • Earlier awareness of how language works

    • More skilled at discovering and applying rules to tasks

    • Increased focus

    • Outperform monolinguals on tests and scholastically

  • Delays memory loss in old age

    • Decreases impact of Alzheimer's and Dementia

In the beginning
In the beginning… Evolutionary Design

  • Slow acceptance of sign language

  • Seen as inferior to spoken language

  • Eventually recognized as helpful for learning disabilities

  • Opened the door to sign language use outside the deaf community

Two theories
Two Theories Evolutionary Design

Acredolo and Goodwyn’s “Baby Signs” Program

-Invent and adapt signs

Garcia’s “Sign with Your Baby” Program

-ASL and BSL Based

Signal categories
Signal Categories Evolutionary Design

  • Common nouns:

    • foods, toys, everyday objects

  • Description words:

    • More, done, etc.

  • Feelings and emotions:

    • Afraid, sad, etc.

  • Baby Signing Example

Benefits Evolutionary Design

  • Increased performance on verbal tasks

  • Improved communication between child and parents

    • Nurturance benefits

  • Decreased frustration in parents and child

  • Higher IQ

But i want my child to speak
“But I want my child to Evolutionary Designspeak!”

Most common concern:

  • Slowed verbal acquisition

    • No evidence in support

    • Actually the opposite

Evolutionary need for language
Evolutionary Need for Language Evolutionary Design

  • Humans crave communication

  • Communication had strong benefits:

    • Alerts to danger

    • Foraging and hunting

    • Collaboration feeding development

  • Main purpose: survival of the species

Baby signing s role in evolution
Baby Signing’s Role in Evolution Evolutionary Design

  • Human desire for communication still exists in infants

  • Verbal motor skills develop slowly

  • Rudimentary hand gestures are easier

  • Baby signing fills that need for communication

The sapir whorf hypothesis

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis Evolutionary Design

Or, Linguistic Relativism

The premise
The Premise Evolutionary Design

  • A theory of the relation between language, perception, and cognition

  • Simple version:

    • Language is fundamental to the way we think and understand the world

    • Therefore, the particular language of an individual will influence his or her thought

    • Different languages will create different patterns of thought


Edward Sapir (1884-1939) Evolutionary Design

First hypothesized that languages are complete formal systems which are mutually influential with thought

Benjamin Whorf (1897-1941)

Took Sapir’s work a step further, claimed that language mediates all thought and action

Whorfian Hypothesis


Whorfian examples
Whorfian Examples Evolutionary Design

  • English metaphors equating time and money – spend time, waste time, etc.

  • Hopi language describes time as process, not objective quantity

  • Perception of sound – Chinese consonants, etc.

  • Orwellian “Newspeak”

  • Inuit words for snow – whoops

Two formulations
Two Formulations Evolutionary Design

  • Strong Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

    • Complete linguistic determinism

    • No concepts outside of cultural language

    • Some concepts should be impossible to grasp

  • Weak Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

    • Language does not determine, only influence

    • Alien concepts should be more difficult, but not impossible to understand

The opposition
The Opposition Evolutionary Design

  • Linguistic Universalism

    • Claims that all concepts are universal, or more fundamental than language

    • Language and culture, then, have no real effect on cognition

    • No such thing as “alien” concepts

Empirical testing
Empirical Testing Evolutionary Design

  • Color Triads

  • Other experiments

    • Chinese “classifiers”, etc.

Results Evolutionary Design

  • Most studies show that subjects can distinguish colors for which they have no linguistic definition

  • Small, consistent errors appear in most cases, though

Implications Evolutionary Design

  • No definite answers yet

  • Experiments seem to support weak Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

    • Concepts are understandable for all subjects

    • Small relativist influence still present

  • Ultimately, points to need for further study

    • Implications for multilingualism and sign languages?

With evolutionary psychology
With Evolutionary Psychology… Evolutionary Design

  • From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, this would seem to support a modular theory of the mind

    • Fundamental concepts built upon by subjective/relative influence

    • Language becomes a basic heuristic of sorts

    • Would give an evolutionary advantage by allowing for faster, more efficient learning and cognition

Conclusion Evolutionary Design

  • Language deserves plenty of attention as an evolutionary mechanism

  • Bilingualism and sign language fill human need for communication

  • Theories such as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis point to the fundamental nature of language

Questions? Evolutionary Design