712-12 exam 1 study guide

essays (tentative until 3/2 at 2pm—I will also link an old exam on the notes.)

These will be graded, 10 points each, on the basis of completeness and details. A superficial answer will get a superficial grade.  They will be written on lined 8x11 paper provided.  Two pages for each of two essays; two pages for four short answers.

You can use lists and sketches but they must be embedded in an essay discussion. They would not count against your page limits.  You can also refer to other answers you wrote to avoid repeating the same information.


I will pick one of these three and you pick the other for a total of two essays.

1.  “Language Instinct?”

Outline and briefly discuss Pinker's arguments and evidence that there is a 'Language instinct.' Follow this outline—abc-- in your answer.

a) First say what it means that something like language is an instinct.

b) What are Pinker's four arguments for 'instinct?' Be complete here and cite examples of relevant evidence supporting EACH of those arguments.

c) What do you think of this idea -- an instinct for language --so far? Is there additional evidence, pro or con, that you think he should be aware of? (Briefly characterize that evidence or say why you think the case is closed.) 


2.  the language of thought, mental representation, and natural language (dialects like English, Chinese, Hopi..)

a-Explain the idea of a “language of thought” (Mentalese) and the kinds of mental representations that might be used in memory and thinking.  Use examples from readings and class discussion and videos to make your points clear. 

b-Explain how ambiguity of language plays a role in Pinker’s belief that it is “absurd” that we think “in” English or any natural language dialect.

c-What do developmental studies of young children suggest about these relationships between language, memory, and thought?

d-What –in a few sentences—is your opinion of these issues at the moment?

3.  How does “human language work?”

a- Pinker says there are two “tricks” or principles that underlie “the language instinct—not to be confused with Chomsky’s “two facts” (p. 75).  State these “tricks”, and elaborate on them with several examples each.


b- Your discussion should include the concepts of “a discrete combinatorial system”, “lexicon”, “grammar”, “no longest sentence”,  “recursive phrase structure rules” and combinatorial (compositional) semantics.

topics for short answers

  These topics will be formulated into about 7 or 8 questions with more specific wording. See a similar exam in the notes. You will answer four of these.  I may choose one that everyone answers.

  These may be components of essays as well; your answers must be relevant to class materials and discussions for full credit.

 L&T is short for Language and Thought. No question will deal with topics we haven’t mentioned in class.



parameters of sound and their measurement

range of human hearing, human speech

mechanoelectrical transduction (via hair cells)

fundamental difference between way humans and animals predicted the tsunami and other events

cerebral asymmetry and language

development of asymmetry

functions of right and left hemispheres

effects of stroke on language

the “interpreter” (Gazzaniga video)

differences between pidgin and creole language

significance of these observations

signed languages (Pinker, NSL, James, Goldin-Meadow)

implications for relation between L & T

implications for language acquisition

Independence of language and cognition?


Confabulation and related phenomena


Childhood amnesia

Do kids really have no memory before age 3?  Evidence?

Mental representations (MR)

What are they, Kinds, Use, development? (sensorimotor, image, logical, mentalese)

Implications of deaf cases, Grandin, Einstein,for MR

Simcock & Hayne (2002)

Ganea et al (2007)

Language genes

FOXP2- implications for behavior

Other genes?

Lexicalization and grammaticalization


Impact on L&T issues

Universal grammar (UG)


Relation to language acquisition?

Evidence for/against

                        Gestures as evidence?

the Piraha and Mokan languages?

 Who, where, why, of interest to psychologists and linguists?

Timeless languages?

English has many specific words for time- day, hour, second, femtosecond…..  Some, like Whorf have noted that other languages, Hopi in his case, have no such words and have concluded those cultures have no concept of time. A similar view was expressed about  the Mokans.   What’s the evidence? What do you think? (see Mokan and lexicalization notes, Malotki video/Pinker).

A few famous old guys- what language ideas did they push?

John Locke (1632-1704)

Rene Descartes (1596-1650)

W. Humboldt  (1767-1835)

de Saussure (1857-1913)

Whorf  (1897-1941)

Chomsky’s two fundamental facts about language

Language function topics

Self-guidance (also known as “directive function”)


Functional fixedness

Contrast with examples the distinction between intended (explicit) and unintended (implicit) social communication.

Performative verbs and speech acts

functions of language

In class we have discussed these functions from three perspectives—individual, social, and cultural..

Evaluation of language skills

Iowa lady’s comprehension of basic grammatical  relationships was lost via stroke

“who did what to whom?” interpreted by language; vs interpretation by cognition

Ambiguity in language

Why are some language expressions ambiguous?  (What is language ambiguity anyway?)

Words and the mental dictionary (MD)


Information “contained” in our MD about each morpheme

Relationships with MRs (“clothes”)

Syntax and the basic plan of languages

Lexicon or mental dictionary

Phrase (hierarchical, “tree”, “labeled bracketing”) structure

Verb, noun, and adjective phrases (VP,NP,adjP)

Sentences- a kind of phrase built of other phrases (S->NP+VP)

Simple and complex sentences

Recursive rules enable complex sentences (NP->det+N+(S)), e.g NP->“the dog that I had ()”

Sentences inside of sentence phrases

Relative clause
Complement clause

Referring phrases

Pronouns, anaphora, co-reference

Parsing and comprehension