EXAM 3 GUIDE (tentative 11/21 - final version 11/25)

(only 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 will be classroom possibilities)

1. summary and review of Pinker's final chapter "Mind Design"

Pinker says, p. 427, "So the language instinct suggests a mind of adapted computational modules rather than the blank slate, lump of wax, or general-purpose computer of the Standard Social Science Model." Briefly sketch out these two models of mind and then discuss how your experiences in social science courses fits either of these models. As always, be very specific about ideas and courses. Finally, outline your own synthesis of these issues. (It might be useful to review the Weirzbicka reading here!)

*2. basic plan of language and the Language Instinct

a-Sketch out, using examples, at all levels, the basic plan or structure of human languages.

b-Comment briefly on the acquisition of each of these levels in evaluating to what extent "Language instinct" seems to play a role. Give evidence from readings or other sources with references (informally).

*3. Language in child and chimp?

Read carefully the child and chimp comparisons in Vygotsky (1934), Goodall (1985), and especially, Limber (1977). Now, (1) taking into account Savage-Rumbaugh (1990; 1994 video), and Pinker (e.g. ch. 11), how would you recommend to Limber that he revise his 1977 paper? Be specific as to what and why! (2) Rewrite the abstract of that 1977 paper to comply with your ideas!

*4. evolution of language

1. Summarize what Pinker and Limber (1982, notes, and class) have to say about the evolution of language.

2. What do you think? Be specific in both criticisms and support. Cite evidence when available.

*5. meaning fragments

Discuss some of the ways that meanings of an utterance is generated or "developed" by the specific "content" morphemes and their linguistic environments. Use examples to illustrate the role of sense, reference, inference, linguistic environment (distribution) , presupposition, assertion, and association.

*6. language as biology or cultural artifact?

Outline the evidence (e.g. Pinker, Bellugi, Stromswold, Caplan, class) that human language is a biological process. Is there reason to think that it is also a learned, cultural phenomenon? Can these alternatives be reconciled? (Limber, 1982) How so?

7. experimental research on language acquisition

We have read several papers and seen demonstrations of acquisition research. Describe two of these studies, outlining purposes, results, and implications. What, if any, limitations do you see on these conclusion? How does it, if at all, impact on Pinker's arguments for the language instinct?

short answers

1. factors in the history of the English language & language change

Outline the major factors that influenced the development of English over the past 2000 years. Use examples to illustrate the major changes from early English to today.

2. implications of human- animal communication

Several interesting animals have been taught a human-like language. What might this tell us about the evolution of human language. Give at least one good example of your point.

3. implications of the Williams syndrome

What are the major implications of the Williams syndrome for both theories of language acquisition and language evolution?

4. male-female conversation is cross-cultural conversation

What does Tannen (1990, video) mean by this? How does it come about, according to her? What do you think?

5. the "allocation" problem in language acquistion and evolution

What is this problem? (class discussion). Discuss examples from both topics.

6. development of reading and writing

One common assumption about the relationship between reading and writing is that they are both expression of a common knowledge base and a common set of skills. How might this be different for young children as described in the Read paper?

7. distinctions between communication and language

Why is it important not to confuse the concept of communication with that of human language? (Limber, 1977, videos)

8. role of parental input in language acquisition

How necessary is "motherese" -- simplified, slowed, child-directed speech -- in the normal acquisition of language? (Oshima-Takane et al, 1996)

9. factors in word acquisition

Discuss several of the ideas discussed in class, readings, and videos as to how children acquire word meanings.

(e.g. Akhtar et al, 1996; Quine's "gavagai" problem, class)

10. reading processes

Briefly indicate how visual and auditory perceptual processes are interwoven with grammatical, lexical, and general knowledge in the activity of reading.

11. the acquisition of complex sentences

Sketch out the approximate ages and ordering of acquisition of the basic types of complex clauses.

12 semantic priming

Explain how the time course of the comprehension process might be examined experimentally using semantic priming. (class discussion).

concepts and terms


sense (of a referring expression)

reference (or referent of a referring expression, e.g a NP)

co-reference among NPs

redundancy and/or information (at all linguistic "levels")

"meaning from use" (linguistic distribution and environment of a morpheme)

linguistic distribution of an element (e.g. a morpheme)

linguistic contrast ( implications of a change in element)

CLOZE procedure (related to information and redundancy)

semantic differential and affective meaning

associative meaning

methods of studying meaning

semantic priming: associative and inferential (class handout)

kinds (natural kinds) of things (vs artifacts)

the "false belief" paradigm (Lewis & Osborne, 1990)

ostensive definition


syntactic bootstrapping

the "gavagai" problem

anaphora, anaphoric reference

combinatorial semantics

"maxims of relevant conversation"

semantic fields (e.g. color terms, cognitive verbs)

methods of studying meaning

presupposition of meaning, assertion of meaning

semantic primes (Weirzbicka, 1992, p.10)

associative meaning

semantic differential technique and affective meaning (Osgood)

universals of meaning (semantic primitives, Weirzbicka, 1992, p.10)

Katz' breaking semantics into a set of smaller problems: contradiction, antonyms, redundancy, ambiguity, presupposition, uperordination, truth by virtue of meaning, entailment by virtue of meaning, incompatibility

communication and language

what is communication?

cross-cultural communication

speech acts

"maxims of relevant conversation"

human-nonhuman communication ("mammalese")

mammalian communication [p.82 Limber notes]

sex differences

implications of types of NPs for acquisition (pronouns, names, "empty nouns" etc.)

language evolution

language universals (SP, Limber notes, videos)

the Baldwin effect

language family

overproduction of neurons & synapses; neural pruning

the "one origin theory" of human language; alternatives?

Williams syndrome, SLI, aphasia, cerebral asymmetry;

acquisition and instinct

overgeneralization, rules

the false belief paradigm and meaning (Lewis & Osborne)

syntactic bootstrapping, principle of contrast, mutual exclusivity, discourse novelty (all deal with word learning)

pidgins and Creole languages

mentalese (relevance to acquisition; review Weirzbica, p.10 [p.358 in packet] on semantic primitives or primes)



different writing systems: alphabetic, logographic, hieroglyphs

reading processes


famous old guys (relevance to language)

James Mark Baldwin

Morris Swadesh

Charles Darwin

Alex the Parrot