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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…
  • 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

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
  • Common nouns:
    • foods, toys, everyday objects
  • Description words:
    • More, done, etc.
  • Feelings and emotions:
    • Afraid, sad, etc.
  • Baby Signing Example
  • 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 speak!”

Most common concern:

  • Slowed verbal acquisition
    • No evidence in support
    • Actually the opposite
evolutionary need for language
Evolutionary Need for Language
  • 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
  • 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

Or, Linguistic Relativism

the premise
The Premise
  • 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)

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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Color Triads
  • Other experiments
    • Chinese “classifiers”, etc.
  • Most studies show that subjects can distinguish colors for which they have no linguistic definition
  • Small, consistent errors appear in most cases, though
  • 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…
  • 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
  • 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