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Bio Basis Of Language
 

Bio Basis Of Language

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    Bio Basis Of Language Bio Basis Of Language Presentation Transcript

    • The Biological Basis of Language (Acquisition) LIGN 171 Wednesday, January 17, 2001 Andy Hickl
    • Where we’re headed…
      • Today :
        • Why humans (think we) are so special…
      • Friday :
        • Why we can’t talk to (or with) the animals…
      • Monday :
        • The neurocognitive basis of language, or “BRAINS, master, MORE BRAINS”!
      • Wednesday :
        • Summary of Section 2
    • What do you believe?
      • Language Acquisition
      • Linguistic
      • Domain-Specificity
      • Structure
      • Genes/Instinct
      • Modularity
      • Specific Capacity
      • Child Language
      • Psychological
      • Domain-Generality
      • Function
      • Learning
      • Experience
      • Generalized Intelligence
    • There’s still something about Human Language
      • All humans seem to acquire language following the roughly the same developmental path .
      • At birth, infants seem to have an infinite capacity to learn any language .
      • Humans can create new languages to communicate with other humans.
      • Language learning seems to be subject to specific critical period effects .
    • Pidgins and Creoles
      • Pidgin : a structurally-simple language that arises when people who share no common language come into contact.
      • Vocabulary is old, but (limited) grammar is new.
      • Often limited to specific situations, communicative functions, etc.
      • Examples :
      • Hawaiian Fish Market Pidgin
      • Chinese-English Pidgin
      • Russenorsk
    • Pidgins and Creoles
      • Creole: a language that develops when children acquire a pidgin as their native language. (e.g. Swahili, Tok Pisin, Nicaraguan Sign Language…)
      • Big boost in grammatical complexity as time goes by, more speakers acquire it…
        • Grammatical properties of the creole don’t have to look like either of the “parent” languages.
    • Language Creation
      • All creoles share some universal grammatical properties, regardless of how/when/where they were created.
      • Where does this come from?
      • Something in the human mind/brain/genetic makeup?
      • Something about the way the new (creole) languages are used communicatively?
      • Something particular about the languages that have often been involved in forming creoles?
    • Nicaraguan Sign Language
      • 1978: First deaf schools in Nicaragua.
      • More complexity found with who learned the language at an early age.
      Idiosyncratic Signing Systems Pidgin NSL Fully-formed NSL
    • How does this happen? (Two familiar views, no?)
      • Nativist
      • All humans have an innate “linguistic bioprogram” or a “core grammar” which allows them to learn or (in some cases) create languages based on the input they receive.
      • Empiricist
      • Creoles get to be more complex grammatically because they are used in a wider variety of communicative situations – these new uses require the language to encode more differences.
    • Critical Period Effects
      • Critical Period: the biologically-determined period in which acquisition of a behavior or property must occur to be successful.
      • Some environmental input is necessary for development to occur “normally”:
        • Imprinting in ducks, geese
        • Photoreceptors in humans
    • Kids gone WILD! (The cases of feral children…)
      • Limited number of children have been found who have developed without exposure to language .
      • Victor of Aveyron (19 th century France, ???)
      • Isabelle (1930’s France, 6 years old)
        • Normal IQ
        • Normal (?) use of language as an adult
      • Genie (1970’s California, 13 years old)
        • Abusive situation, likely brain damage
        • Learned vocabulary, limited (if any) syntax.
        • Language processed on the right hemisphere , not the left.
    • No pressure, dudes… (More evidence for the Critical Period Hypothesis)
      • Second Language Acquisition :
        • Younger learners  native fluency.
        • Older learners (>17) never quite make it.
      • ASL Acquisition :
        • Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs) have an advantage over later-learners of ASL
      • Aphasia :
        • Less chance of recovery of linguistic function after age 5.
    • How does this happen?
      • Nativist
      • Language modules are only fully-operational during a specific period of time . After that, a child’s conception of grammar (and language) is relatively fixed.
      • Empiricist
      • The CP for learning language is the time when the child’s cognitive capacity is best attuned to learning the complex systems of grammar.
    • The tough questions… (Reprised from before…)
      • Why does language acquisition always follow the same developmental path ?
      • How can infants learn any natural language ?
      • How do humans create new languages in order to communicate?
      • Why should language learning be subject to specific critical period effects ?
    • Why can’t it be both ?
      • Short answer : It probably is.
      • Longer answer :
      • The development of language isn’t directly observable – so we can’t reliably determine what is innate and what is ultimately learned.
      • Approaches like nativism and empiricism give us logical extremes to start with…
      • But we can do better, can’t we?
    • Consider this… (New insights that might prove useful…)
      • Human infants pay attention to faces and people who are talking.
      • Human infants like listening to human speech – and especially speech from their own language.
      • Human infants constantly seek new sources of stimulation.
      • Human infants attach to nurturing figures and environments.
      • Human infants babble long before they are able to produce words.
      • WHY?
    • What’s my motivation?
      • Any time we ask why a behavior evolved in the way that it did, we have to consider 4 different factors:
        • Evolutionary Component
          • How did the behavior develop?
        • Developmental Component
          • How does the behavior develop in infants?
        • Mechanistic Component
          • How does the body perform such a behavior?
        • Functional Component
          • Why does the individual engage in the behavior?
    • The Teleological Trap (For catching Teleogies, right?)
      • Insects developed wings in order to fly.
      • Birds fly south in winter because it’s too cold for them in the north.
      • Kids babble at 9 months because they’re getting ready to start speaking.
      • Teleology :
      • The notion that a process (like development) proceeds to achieve a single logical goal.
    • Teleological Explanations
      • What’s wrong here?
      • We can’t say that kids start babbling in order to get to language any more than we can say that insects decided that wings would be a good idea!
      • Kids (like insects) have no idea where the course of development will take them!
    • So, what can we say?
      • Instead of adopting a teleological approach , let’s try a teleonomic one.
      • Teleonomic :
      • The notion that a process (like development) proceeds in a sequence of stages, each of which facilitates or reinforces the next step in the sequence.
      • Okay, this is more than a little fuzzy…
    • A Teleonomic Explanation Behavior Kid learns mother’s voice. Kid recognizes mother. Kid figures mother is a good person to attach to. Kid is taken care of by mother. KID LIVES! Kid isn’t so scared of the world. Kid is comfortable in a nurturing environment Kid undergoes fruitful social-cognitive development. Kid exposed to plenty of language stimuli from mother. KID ACQUIRES LANGUAGE!
      • We can build similar chains of events for most behaviors…
    • Making Sense…
      • A teleonomic approach should make some intuitive sense…
      • Complex behaviors like language can now be seen as a series of complementary developmental advances.
      • Unfortunately, this doesn’t get rid of the nativist/empiricist distinction entirely: we still need to figure out where each individual advance, skill, or module “comes from”…
    • Hopeful Monsters… Behavior Kid learns mother’s voice. Kid recognizes mother. Kid figures mother is a good person to attach to. Kid is taken care of by mother. KID LIVES! Kid isn’t so scared of the world. Kid is comfortable in a nurturing environment Kid undergoes fruitful social-cognitive development. Kid exposed to plenty of language stimuli from mother. KID ACQUIRES LANGUAGE!
      • Mutation causes a leap “across” the teleonomic chain.
    • …and Missing Links. Behavior Kid learns mother’s voice. Kid recognizes mother. Kid figures mother is a good person to attach to. Kid is taken care of by mother. KID LIVES! Kid isn’t so scared of the world. Kid is comfortable in a nurturing environment Kid undergoes fruitful social-cognitive development. Kid exposed to plenty of language stimuli from mother. KID ACQUIRES LANGUAGE!
      • Without the acquisition of certain stages  no language.
    • Hopeful Monsters: A big assumption
      • The hypothesis that a mutation could be the single factor that allows humans (and only humans) to have language is a powerful one…
      • It presumes that human language may be fundamentally different than any other form of animal communication.
    • The flip side: Missing Links
      • Conversely, the hypothesis that animals lack certain cognitive aspects needed to process language forces us into an opposite position:
      • Human language may not be fundamentally different than the forms of communication employed by animals .
    • The Answer?
      • See you Friday!