Five properties of human language (SMRIC)

Five properties of human language (SMRIC)

L is creative

To express all of our thoughts (and probably some that we will never have), we combine a limited (20,000 to 200,000) words into sentences. The number of possible sentences is unlimited (infinite in number) so we cannot have memorized any but a few stereotypic phrases.

L is structured

rule governed behavior

Not any stream of words makes a sentence. The string of words is only meaningful to listener's sharing a set of conventional rules about the structure conveyed by that string of words. (Many strings have more than one structure, hence are ambiguous.)

L is meaningful

There are many functions of language; all require that the utterances (movements) express a meaningful idea. Learning speak includes learning the meanings associated with each of the utterances in the language.

L is referential

Reference is one of the major uses of phrases and sentences -- describing and picking out objects --real, imagined, and abstract. I can essentially "name" or refer to a particular thought I'm having--e.g. the thought that this is a very hot day to be grading 401 exams -- and you all know which thought of mine that I am referring to. While it isn't quite mind reading, it is movment reading.

L is interpersonal

principles of conversation

Obviously for the meaningful reference like the above example to work, my description has to be understood by my listeners and tailored for their consumption --after all, I already know what my thought is in this case.
Thus the audience and context must be considered in forming the appropriate movement, as well as the content of the thought itself.

the structure of language

vocal tract Fig. 9.1


combining phonemes


phrases and sentences

the linguistic hierarchy and meaning

meaning of words

meaning as reference

Frege's example of difference between morning star and evening star.

definitional theory of meaning

prototype theory of meaning

combining definitional and prototype descriptions

organizing words into meaningful sentences

phrase structure

understanding simple sentences

complex sentences and underlying structure

the meaningful relations among sentences


the sentence analyzing machinery (SAM! -- see AAARGHH!)

doer, act, done-to

function words that signal proposition boundaries

the growth of language in the child

the problem of language learning

Is language learning the acquisition of a skill?

The difference in acquiring sentences in contrast to words?

Language Development

the social origins of speech production

discovering the forms of language

rudiments of the sentence unit:"motherese"

the one word speaker

word meaning a the one word stage

propositional meaning at the one-word stage

the two word telegraphic speaker

syntax and propositional meaning in two-word speech

explaining two-word speech

Later stages of language learning: syntax (Fig. 9.22)

Further stages of language learning: word meaning

caregiver aids to word learning

perceptual and conceptual biases in child learners

the interplay of structure and meaning in word learning

word classes and word meanings

language learning in changed environments

wild children

isolated children, e.g.Genie

language without sound

language without a model

Invented sign in young deaf children

children deprived of access to some of the meanings

What about blind vs sighted children? Surprisingly little differences despite enormous differences in information.

The case of Helen Keller

language learning with changed endowments

the critical period hypothesis (neural pruning?)

second language learning

late exposure to a first language

is the critical period specific to language?

Language in Nonhumans?

the medium of transmission for chimpanzee communication


propositional thought?? Maybe limited

Probably animals can comprehend communication about relationships among objects and themselves -- actions that they engage in. Fetch! Roll over!

Syntax????? -- very doubtful

Is it language?

"If any of our children learned or used language the way Washoe or Sarah does, we would be terror-stricken and rush them to the nearest neurologist. p373"

Language and its acquisition

importance of pidgin to Creole transition

the Williams syndrome