David Myers
PowerPoint Slides
Aneeq Ahmad
Henderson State University
Worth Publishers, © 2011
Thinking, Language, and
Language and Thought
Module 23
Language Development
 When Do We Learn Language?
 Explaining Language Development
Thinking and Language
 Language Influences Thinking
 Thinking in Images
Animal Thinking and Language
 What Do Animals Think?
 Do Animals Exhibit Language?
 The Case of the Apes
Language and Thought
Language, our spoken, written, or gestured work,
is the way we communicate meaning to ourselves
and others.
Thanks to language, we transfer meaning from
one mind to another. Language enables us not
only to communicate but to transmit civilization’s
accumulated knowledge across generations.
Language Development
Children learn their native languages much
before learning to add 2+2.
We learn, on average (after age 1), 3,500 words a
year, amassing 60,000 words by the time we
graduate from high school.
When do we learn language?
By 4 months of age infants can discriminate
speech sounds and read lips. This marks the
beginning of the development of receptive
language, or the comprehension of speech.
Also around 4 months, babies enter the babbling
stage, spontaneously uttering various sounds,
like ah-goo. Babbling is not imitation of adult
When do we learn language?
Productive language, the ability to produce words,
matures after receptive language.
Beginning at or around the first birthday,
children enter the one-word stage, speaking one
word at a time and able to make family members
understand. The word doggy may mean look at
the dog out there.
When do we learn language?
Before the 2nd year, a child starts to speak in two-word
sentences, the two-word stage.
This form of speech is called telegraphic speech because
the child speaks like a telegram: “Go car,” means I
would like to go for a ride in the car.
Once children move out of the two-word stage they
quickly utter longer phrases and by elementary school
can understand complex sentences and get the humor
of double-meanings.
When do we learn language?
Explaining Language Development
Operant Learning: Skinner (1957, 1985) believed
that language development may be explained on
the basis of learning principles such as
association, imitation, and reinforcement.
Explaining Language Development
Inborn Universal Grammar: Chomsky (1959,
1987) opposed Skinner’s ideas and suggested
that the rate of language acquisition is so fast
that it cannot be explained through learning
principles, and thus most of it is inborn.
Explaining Language Development
Childhood is a critical
period for fully developing
certain aspects of language.
Children never exposed to any
language (spoken or signed) by
about age 7 gradually lose their
ability to master any language.
After the window for learning
language closes, learning a
second language seems more
difficult. People who learn a
second language as adults
usually speak it with the accent
of their first.
Thinking & Language
Language and thinking intricately intertwine.
Asking which comes first is one of
psychology’s chicken - and - egg questions.
Language Influences Thinking
Linguistic Determinism: Whorf (1956) suggested
that language determines the way we think. For
example, he noted that the Hopi people do not
have the past tense for verbs. Therefore, the Hopi
cannot think readily about the past.
Language Influences Thinking
When a language provides words for objects or events,
we can think about these objects more clearly and
remember them. It is easier to think about two colors
with two different names (A) than colors with the same
name (B) (Özgen, 2004).
Language Influences Thinking
To expand language is to expand the ability to
think. Increasing word power pays its dividends.
It helps explain the bilingual advantage of bilingual
children to inhibit one language while using
Thinking in Images
To a large extent thinking is language-based. When alone, we
may talk to ourselves. However, we also think in images.
Artists, composers, poets, mathematicians, athletes, and
scientists think in images.
Images and Brain
Imagining a physical activity activates the same
brain regions as when actually performing the
Jean Duffy Decety, September 2003
Language and Thinking
Traffic runs both ways between language and thinking.
Animal Thinking & Language
What Do Animals Think?
We are not the only
creatures to display insight.
Kohler demonstrated this
with the chimpanzee
Some animals even display
amazing numerical abilities.
One researcher,
Matsuzawa, has spent two
decades studying chimps’
ability to remember and
relate numbers.
Animal Culture
Animals display customs and culture that are
learned and transmitted over generations.
Michael Nichols/ National Geographic Society
Copyright Amanda K Coakes
Dolphins using sponges as
forging tools.
Chimpanzee mother using and
teaching a young how to use
a stone hammer.
Do Animals Exhibit Language?
There is no doubt that
animals communicate.
Copyright Baus/ Kreslowski
Vervet monkeys,
whales and even honey
bees communicate
with members of their
species and other
Rico (collie) has a
200-word vocabulary
The Case of Apes
Gardner and Gardner (1969) used American Sign
Language (ASL) to train Washoe, a chimp, who
learned 181 signs by the age of 32.
But Can Apes Really Talk?
Apes acquire their limited vocabularies with a
great deal of difficulty, unlike children who
develop vocabularies at amazing rates.
Chimpanzees can make signs to receive a
reward, just as a pigeon who pecks at the key
receives a reward. However, pigeons have not
learned a language.
Chimpanzees use signs meaningfully but lack
human syntax.
Presented with ambiguous information, people
tend to see what they want to see (perceptual
The Case of Apes
Continued research with Washoe and her foster son, showed
that chimps can think and communicate.
Others have shown that pygmy chimpanzees can develop even
greater vocabularies and perhaps semantic nuances in learning
a language (Savage-Rumbaugh, 1993). Kanzi (shown below)
developed vocabulary for hundreds of words and phrases.
Most now agree that humans alone possess language, if we
mean verbal or signed expression of complex grammar. If we
simply mean an ability to communicate through a meaningful
sequence of symbols, then apes are indeed capable of