Language I: Structure Defining language: symbolic, rule-based system of communication shared by a community Linguistics: study of language Psycholinguistics: study of how language is learned as used by people Language Universals: Arbitrariness: fundamental units are meaningless Flexibility: because they are meaningless they acquire meaning as needed Productivity: new meanings are creative, novel, nearly limitless Semanticity: meaning drives all language use, robust to rule violations Cultural transmission: specific language passed from older to younger generation. Displacement: language conveys meaning beyond “here and now”
Linguistic Relativity Hypo • Also known as Sapir-Whorf hypo, strong form: language determines and limits thought, weaker form: language shapes or frames thought Most studies tend to reject the strong form. Color and object perception is not strongly influenced by language differences for objects or colors. But more subtle difference can be found: language can influence memory for agents who commit accidental vs. intentional actions. In Spanish an utterance describing an accident excludes the agent who committed the accident. When tested later Spanish speakers more likely to forget the agent involved in the accidental event than English speakers.
Elements of Language 1. Phonemes or Phonology: basic units of sound or gesture. In spoken language, phonemes are combo of: manner of articulation (how air is stopped or manipulated), place of articulation (where in vocal system manipulation occurs), and voicing (do vocal cords vibrate or not).
Categorical Perception of Phonemes Phonemes are perceived as discrete units with sharp, not gradual boundaries Voicing varies between /p/ and /b/ sounds, onset is later in /p/, but as voice onset time (VOT) increases change from perception of /b/ to /p/ is discrete
Invariance Problem Phonemic sounds do not have consistent physical signal. So how are they identified? Sound spectrogram can show physical signal (frequencies, intensities) that compose the speech sound Note how /d/ sound has different signal when paired with different vowel. Coarticulation: more than one sound created simulanteously
Overcoming invariance problem Context disambiguates signal Pollack and Pickett (1964): words within normal conversation better recognized than words alone. Also: Phonemic restoration effect:
Overcoming invariance problem Motor theory of speech perception: we interpret what we hear, based on what we would say. Producing language aids in perceiving language Mirror neurons: respond to both actions and witnessing actions.
Elements of language 2. Morphemes: smallest units of meaning. All words are at least one morpheme. Many words are more than one Ex: dog=1 dogs=2 dog + s (plurality), root word, suffixes, prefixes, compound words. Bound and free morphemes. Free can stand alone (words), Bound must be added to free (inflections, suffixes, prefixes).
Elements of language 3. Syntax: rules for combining words into lawful phrases and sentences Problems with phrase structure: meaningless sentences have lawful structure (below). Ambiguous sentences have same phrase structure: “The shooting of the hunters was terrible” Breaking sentences down into phrases and functions. Deep vs. surface structure. Different surface structures can have same deep (Ed hit the ball; the ball was hit by Ed), Same surface structures can lead to different deep (Visiting relatives can be tedious)
Noam Chomsky: transformational grammar Attempt to deal with limitations of phrase structure grammar. Rules for transforming deep into surface structure.
Case grammar approach • Focusses on the semantic cases or case roles played by words in sentence (agent, action, patient)
WM and syntax The more complex a sentence, the more difficult to comprehend. Why? Greater load on working memory to make meaningful connections among words/phrases. Syntactic adjustments: modifications to sentence structure to relieve wm load on listeners. Most common: move complex NP to end (eliminates passive voice)
Activating word meanings Mental Lexicon: stored word meanings Polysemy: words with multiple meanings, ambiguous words Role of context in resolving polysemy. Polysemy and priming. “Threesome” priming studies: Coconut…palm (tree or wrist?) Hand…palm (tree or wrist?) When first member of threesome is presented consciously, only tree or wrist is primed. When presented unconsciously, either is primed Lesson: ambiguous words automatically activate all meanings. Context (consciously constructed) narrows meaning.
Brain activity and meaning N400 wave emerges for anomalous sentences. Brain reacts to incoherent sentence ending
Neuroscience of language • Broca’s area/Wernike’s area • Left anterior frontal (adjacent to Broca’s): semantic associative • Angular gyrus: important in phonological storage; written words – internal speech
Aphasia Broca’s aphasia: production deficit, damage to Broca’s area Wernicke’s aphasia: reception deficit, damage to Wernicke’s area Conduction aphasia: damage to pathway connecting Broca’s and Wernicke’s area, stammering, repetitious speech.