Language

  • Theories of Language and Cognition
    • Behaviorists– empiricist, believe language is just conditioned behavior.
    • Nativists – rationalist, language must be innate.
    • Materialist – look at what happens in the brain when people think/speak/write.
    • Interactionist – emphasizes interplay between environmental cues and innate biology
  • Some languages only have 2 words for color. But does that mean we think about color differently? Great language debate.
    • Universalism – thought determines language completely.
    • Piaget – he believed once children were able to think a certain way, and then developed language to describe those thoughts.
    • Vygotsky (middle) – language and thought are both independent, but converge through development.
      • Eventually learn to use them at same time.
  • Linguistic Determinism/Relativity – weak and strong hypothesis
    • Weak: language influences thought (reading right to left vs. left to right influences what direction you imagine girl pushing boy)
    • Strong (aka Sapir-Whorfian hypothesis): idea that speakers of different languages utilize different cognitive processes that influence how they think; people understand their world through language, and language in turn shapes how we experience the world.
      • tribe called Hopi without grammatical sense – they couldn’t think about time in same way.
  • Theories of Language Development: Nativist, Learning, Interactionist
  • Nativist perspective (Noam Chomsky) – emphasizes innate biological mechanisms and that children are born with ability to learn language.
    • All people have a language acquisition device (LAD, later renamed universal grammar) that allowed them to learn language (syntax and grammar).
    • Idea that this ability exists – all languages shared same basic elements like nouns, verb, etc.
      • This allows child to pick up on that. Goes along with idea there’s a “critical period”, thought to be from birth to age 9, the period of time a child is most able to learn a language.
    • Learning theory (Skinner) – language is a form of behavior and is learned through operant conditioning
      • Children aren’t born with anything, only acquire language through reinforcement.
        • Child learns to say “mama” because every time they say that, mom reinforces child. But doesn’t explain how they can produce words they’ve never heard before.
      • Interactionist approach (Vygotsky) – believe biological and social factors have to interact in order for children to learn language. Childrens’ desire to communicate with adults makes them learn language.
        • Social role that language plays and human brain develops to be receptive to new language, and children are motivated to practice and expand vocabulary
      • Behaviorist – (also skinner?) BF Skinner’s behaviourist model says infants are trained in language by operant conditioning.
        • The linguistic relativity hypothesis asserts that cognition and perception are determined by language one speaks.
  • Language and the Brain: Aphasia and Split-Brain Patients
    • 90% of people, language is in left hemisphere.
  • Whatever is dominant, 2 main areas are:
    • Broca’s area (speech production) located in the frontal lobe
      • When broca’s is damaged, people have trouble producing speech but understanding is unaffected. (Broca’s/expressive aphasia)
    • Wernicke’s area (understand language) located in the temporal lobe
      • Wernicke’s aphasia – words they make don’t make any sense and cannot understand what others say, but they can hear words and repeat them back
    • When both damaged, global aphasia.
    • 2 areas are connected by bundle of nerves arcuate fasciculus, also found in deaf people who know sign language. Not specific to spoken language, but brain adapts to whatever modality is needed for communication.
      • When this is damaged, conduction aphasia – ability to conduct between listening and speaking is disrupted.
    • Agraphia (inability to write), anomia (inability to name things).

Language is example of big tasks broken into small tasks, spread into other parts of brain. Good thing because if you have localized brain damage, won’t completely lose everything.

  • When functions are divided, easier for brain to adapt
    • When stroke affects left hemisphere, and can’t speak, over time with therapy some can retrain other speech-related parts of brain by creating new connections – neural plasticity. Can speak again with some fluency.
  • If you sever the corpus callosum, also disrupts communication. Creates a split-brain patient. This surgery creates side effects with language – right side of brain can’t communicate with language side.
    • Left side needed for language, right side needed for action/perception/attention.
    • If you see object on left, won’t be able to name it. Can pick it up with left hand (since right side controls left), but has to be in right visual field before brain can name it.
      • showing colors on left side of visual field, information is sent to right hemisphere, which is responsible for perception/attention, but can’t speak it, because left brain is needed for language.
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