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Language as an innate phenomenon; language and psychology; behaviourism. Language and the Mind Prof. R. Hickey SS 2006. Table of contents. An instinct to acquire an art Chatterboxes Mentalese Baby Born Talking- Describing heaven
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Language and the Mind
Prof. R. Hickey
You don‘t need to be middle class, you don‘t need to do well in school, your parents need‘t to bathe you in language, indeed, you can posess all these advantages and still not be a competent language user, if you lack just the right genes or just the right bits of brain
Is thought dependent on words or
Are our thoughts couched in some silent medium of the brain and clothed in words whenever we want to express them?
Pinker says that…
Pinker points out that…
Example: adj. “tame”
→ a tame animal, which is not afraid of human beings
→ a tame topic (tame = boring)
→ two different subjects = two different meanings of the same word
≫Thereforewords and thoughts can't be the same thing.
≠ you think more thoughts or more finely discriminating thoughts
→ if you know a lot about sth., you invent new words to express them (= slang/ jargon)
→Conclusion: if you are an expert in something you are going to have more jargon words for it
We think in visual images:
→Conclusion: language is a very rich part of the mind, but only one part
≫The mind has a language of its own, independent of the language that the mouth uses, which is called Mentalese.
But: when speaking or writing, people often have the sense that they did not express themselves properly
→there are some researches of the subtle shades of meaning within different word orders
Example: "I sprayed paint on the wall“
"I sprayed the wall with paint."
There are two ways of understanding:
1.) the wall is completely covered with paint
2.) there could just be a little dab in one corner
→ even tiny differences in the order of words can convey very subtle differences in meaning
- Mentalese = a way of thinking that is quite independent of language
□people who were born deaf and never learned language = able to express thoughts using sign language (fully expressive, grammatical, complex language)
→are cut off from a lot of our culture (we convey our culture through words)
→ it is clear that they have minds, which are capable of some abstract understanding
Is our Mentalese shaped by language nonetheless (like when you are listening to someone else's speech) ?
evolution of language +the evolution of language in thought
Chain: think more complex thoughts →puts pressure on you → able to share them → people supplying you with complex language→puts pressure on you → able to have those thoughts
≫a kind of feedback loop, where each one helped the other
→ dealing with other people who are also dealing with those aspects
→ going to invent the words to be able to communicate them
- most children do not speak until they are one year old- first start combining words with about 18 months- start speaking in fluent grammatical sentences until they are 2-3
Nevertheless Infants already have linguistic skills when they are born.
Psychologists Jacques Mehler and Peter Jusczyk:
During the first year:
Why is babbling so important?
During the 2nd year:
All dry. All messy. All wet.
I sit. I shut. No bed.
Our cat. Papa away. Dry pants.
During the 3rd year:
All Hell Breaks Loose:
e.g.: before: Give doggie paper and Big doggie
now: Give big doggie paper
No matter what grammatical rule is chosen, three-year-olds obey it most of the time!!!!
e.g.: irregular verbs holded, heared, …
plural -s tooths, mouses, mens
Babies aren’t born talking!!!
Pinker, Steven 1994. The language instinct the new science of language and mind. Lane, Penguin Pr.
ChimpanzeesGua - cross fosteringViki - cross fosteringWashoe - American Sign Language - about 130 signsLana - about 130 symbols Sarah - PremackeseNim Chimpsky - American Sign Language
Bonobo (Pygmy Chimpanzee)Kanzi - Yerkish, best 'language learner' so far - learnt about 400 symbols.
The claims that an ape is capable of acquiring ASL(American Sign Language)
Patterson (Koko‘s trainer)
„If the basic principles of language cannot be learned or derived, there are only two possible explanations for their existence: either Universal Grammar was endowed to us directly by the Creator, or else our species has undergone a mutation of unprecedented magnituide, a cognitive equivalent of the Big Bang …“
(wings of a bird and the wings of a bee)
„Homologous“ traits are those that were inherited after the same ancestor and hence have some common structure that bespeaks their being „the same organ“ (the wing of a bat, the hand of a human)Analogy and Homology:
Words, Words, Words
- modifying a word to fit into a sentence (e.g. times)
- create a new word out of an old one (e.g. add a suffix)
- „glue“ two words together (e.g. noun + noun = new
A noun can consist of a noun stem followed by a noun inflection.
A noun stem can consist of a noun stem followed by another noun stem.
An adjective stem can consist of a stem joined to a suffix.
- verb + -er = noun
- adjective + -ness = noun
A noun stem can be composed of a noun root and a suffix.
messy patterns in irregular plurals
- mouse-mice, man-men
messy patterns in irregular past-tense forms
- drink-drank, seek-sought
- irregular verb forms often come in families
- irregular forms must be learned
P V N N
over shoot work man
Language and Culture
Prof. R. Hickey
3.1 Types of Mavens
3.2 History of the Mavens
Wordwatchers train their binoculars on the especially capricious, eccentric, and poorly documented words and idioms that get sighed from time to time
2. The Jeremiah
Jeremiahs express their bitter laments and righteous prophecies of doom
3. The Entertainer
The entertainer shows off his collection of palindromes, puns, anagrams, rebuses, malapropisms, Goldwysms, eponyms, sesquipedalian, howlers, and bloopers.
4. The Sage
The sages are known for taking a moderate, common-sense approach to matters of usage, and they tease their victims with wit rather than savaging them with invective
accordingly curiously oddly admittedly generally honestly
The whole presentation is based on Steven Pinker‘s book "The Language instinct.“ In his chapter about the language Mavens it becomes obvious that not all rules the Mavens prescribe make sense, nor are they useful.
- heredity factors cannot be ignored
innate – acquired, ...
following model is much better
provides input to
Heredity innate psychological mechanisms, skills,
including learning mechanisms values,
learning is not an alternative to innateness
underlying machinery of the Universal
- least important: pedagogy
- most learning takes places through
- generalization according to SIMILARITY
computed by the Universal
John likes fish. similar to Mary eats apples.
John might fish. not similar to John might apples.
gives people‘s intuitive concepts a logical structure
- know about objects and their possible
motions and their number
- know distinction between living and
- generalization follows the similarity defined by
- is innate
- suggests a mind of adapted computational
- people all have the same minds
existence of a single universal mental