Blah Blah Blah: A Discussion of Language Josh Hall Caitlin O’Brien Sam Pierre Bilingualism Caitlin O’Brien Innate Propensity for Language • Language Predisposition • Language Acquisition Device • Recognition and Production of all phonemes Bilingual Experiences 1. Compound Bilingualism- Acquisition • Characteristics: – – – – – – – – Languages gained concurrently Stronger use of LAD Localized in Brain Usually occurs when young Subconscious process Not aware of rules of language Concepts have verbal labels from both languages Languages are interdependent • Stages: – Stage 1: Initial Single Language System – Stage 2: Different Languages Bilingual Experiences 2. Coordinate Bilingualism- Learning • Characteristics – – – – – Languages learned in separate environments, gained sequentially Spread out over brain, more right hemisphere Can occur after a critical period Conscious of learning new language Aware of knowledge and rules of language • Role of Native Language – – – – – Avoidance Differential Learning Rates Different Paths Over Production Predictability/ Selectivity 3. Different representations of languages with different characteristics Evolutionary Importance • Relevance with early human ancestors – Early cooperation and exchange between groups – Warfare or little interaction • Decline of LAD – Greater Reproductive Success Benefits of Multilingualism • Greater general cognitive development – – – – – Greater mental flexibility at an earlier age Earlier awareness of how language works More skilled at discovering and applying rules to tasks Increased focus Outperform monolinguals on tests and scholastically • Delays memory loss in old age – Decreases impact of Alzheimer's and Dementia The Temporary Language: Baby Signing as a Response to Evolutionary Design Sam Pierre In the beginning… • Slow acceptance of sign language • Seen as inferior to spoken language • Eventually recognized as helpful for learning disabilities • Opened the door to sign language use outside the deaf community Two Theories Acredolo and Goodwyn’s “Baby Signs” Program -Invent and adapt signs Garcia’s “Sign with Your Baby” Program -ASL and BSL Based Signal Categories • Common nouns: – foods, toys, everyday objects • Description words: – More, done, etc. • Feelings and emotions: – Afraid, sad, etc. • Baby Signing Example Benefits • Increased performance on verbal tasks • Improved communication between child and parents – Nurturance benefits • Decreased frustration in parents and child • Higher IQ “But I want my child to speak!” Most common concern: • Slowed verbal acquisition – No evidence in support – Actually the opposite Evolutionary Need for Language • Humans crave communication • Communication had strong benefits: – Alerts to danger – Foraging and hunting – Collaboration feeding development • Main purpose: survival of the species Baby Signing’s Role in Evolution • Human desire for communication still exists in infants • Verbal motor skills develop slowly • Rudimentary hand gestures are easier • Baby signing fills that need for communication The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis Or, Linguistic Relativism The Premise • A theory of the relation between language, perception, and cognition • Simple version: – Language is fundamental to the way we think and understand the world – Therefore, the particular language of an individual will influence his or her thought – Different languages will create different patterns of thought Background • Edward Sapir (18841939) • First hypothesized that languages are complete formal systems which are mutually influential with thought • Benjamin Whorf (18971941) • Took Sapir’s work a step further, claimed that language mediates all thought and action • Whorfian Hypothesis Whorfian Examples • English metaphors equating time and money – spend time, waste time, etc. • Hopi language describes time as process, not objective quantity • Perception of sound – Chinese consonants, etc. • Orwellian “Newspeak” • Inuit words for snow – whoops Two Formulations • Strong Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis – Complete linguistic determinism – No concepts outside of cultural language – Some concepts should be impossible to grasp • Weak Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis – Language does not determine, only influence – Alien concepts should be more difficult, but not impossible to understand The Opposition • Linguistic Universalism – Claims that all concepts are universal, or more fundamental than language – Language and culture, then, have no real effect on cognition – No such thing as “alien” concepts Empirical Testing • Color Triads • Other experiments – Chinese “classifiers”, etc. Results • Most studies show that subjects can distinguish colors for which they have no linguistic definition • Small, consistent errors appear in most cases, though Implications • No definite answers yet • Experiments seem to support weak SapirWhorf hypothesis – Concepts are understandable for all subjects – Small relativist influence still present • Ultimately, points to need for further study – Implications for multilingualism and sign languages? With Evolutionary Psychology… • From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, this would seem to support a modular theory of the mind – Fundamental concepts built upon by subjective/relative influence – Language becomes a basic heuristic of sorts – Would give an evolutionary advantage by allowing for faster, more efficient learning and cognition Conclusion • Language deserves plenty of attention as an evolutionary mechanism • Bilingualism and sign language fill human need for communication • Theories such as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis point to the fundamental nature of language Questions?