Language: “the jewel of the crown of cognition” - Steven Pinker What is language? • A form of communication that is based on a system of symbols • It is perhaps what separates humans from other species. Language Structure • Phonemes • Morphemes • • • • Words Phrases Sentences Discourse Grammar: The rules of language • Semantics - deriving meaning from morphemes, words, and sentences • Syntax - rules of how words are ordered • Note that there is productivity in language as well as regularity Can Animals Understand Language? • Washoe- chimpanzee who was taught sign language – Acquired 181 signs • Kanzi- bonobo taught some English – displays understanding of limited vocabulary How does language develop? • 6 months = cooing, vowels, babbling – “citizens of the world” • 12 months = spoken language sounds only, first words • 18-24 months = telegraphic (two-word) speech • By age 6 = understands most grammar rules of language (implicitly!) Can the “citizens of the world” window be lengthened? • Using audiotapes of other languages? • Videos of other languages? A related tangent: Theory of Mind • The understanding of symbolic representations occurs around 48 months of age • This is also the age when theory of mind develops = understanding of others’ mental states Zimmerman, Christakis, and Meltzoff (2007) • Compared language development in children who had been exposed to ‘Baby Einstein’ and ‘Brainy Baby’ DVDs • Found a large negative correlation between watching and language abilities • Avg of 6-8 words lost per hour of watching Critical Period for Language • During this period, we are especially sensitive to environmental influences • Evidence: – Children in isolation do not learn rules of grammar – Recovery after brain damage much more likely earlier rather than later Bilingualism • Simultaneous bilinguals: learned 2 languages simultaneously • Sequential bilinguals: learned one language, then another Age of learning a 2nd language • Phonology: the earlier, the better • Vocabulary: age of acquisition does not matter • Grammar: age does not matter • Brain activation (Hirsch, 1997) – Early bilinguals- same area activated – Later bilinguals- adjacent area activated Biological Influences: Chomsky’s Language Universals • An innate ability to learn language is prewired • Children worldwide develop in similar way around the world • Language ability cannot be solely due to imitation Environmental Influences • Behaviorist view- operant conditioning – Issues • Exposure to language improves and quickens language development Strategies • Be an active conversationalist. • Talk as if you’re understood. • Use a style with which you feel comfortable. • Remember, infants shape us, too!