What is language?
Language is constructed and intentional
Language is rule governed
Language is creative and open ended
Language is social
Language does something.
Problems of Language
“Pile” Paradox
Flying planes can be
I dislike visiting
Cleaning fluids can be
Curse words
Renaissance Curse words
By the Rood!
Ethics and History
Modern English Curse words
What makes something a curse word?
When does it stop being a curse word?
What does a curse words do?
What’s in a name?
According to National Bureau of Economic Research…
Identical Resumes with “White” names (Greg, Emily, Anne) received 50% more
callbacks than resumes with African-American sounding names like Jamal, Tyrone,
Tamika, and Rasheed.
More education and skills did not make a difference in responses
According to Journal of Applied Psychology…
Calls about apartment vacancies in LA elicited 89% positive responses for whites,
66% positive responses for foreign sounded names, and 56% positive responses for
AfricanAmerican sounding names
According to University of Florida Study…
Girls with more “Feminine” were less likely to study math and science
1,000 pairs of twins names Isabelle and Alex were studied. Study found Alex twice
as likely to
study math or science at a higher level than her twin Isabelle.
Questions about Language
How is language acquired? Nature or
How does language affect thinking?
Do animals use language?
Can everyone learn language?
How do culture and gender influence
language usage?
Language Acquisition:
Nature vs. Nurture
Traditionally language
was seen as an innate
human ability. A child
who was not taught to
speak as an infant
would eventually
develop language or be
able to “catch-up” once
Language is a product
of upbringing and
Language is a product
of parental upbringing
Major Language Theories
(Nature vs. Nurture)
Noam Chomsky / Steven Pinker
Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
Noam Chomsky / Steven Pinker
Language as innate instinct
“Universal Grammar”
“Critical Period” hypothesis (Lenneberg)
Universal Grammar
All humans are born with a limited set of rules for
organizing language, but use it or lose it.
Learning one language aids one in learning other
languages since all languages in some way follow
Universal Grammar
Children instinctively know what is important in
language without necessary parental aid
Ex: Child says, “want coat” or “my cookie”
instead of other missing words such as “I want my
coat” or “That is my cookie”
Critical Period Hypothesis
(Dr. Eric Lenneberg)
Period in child development (3-11 years)
when if given the correct stimulus a child
can develop a first language.
If language is introduced after this critical
period, child may never develop mastery
over any language.
Feral Children can not develop abstract
word usage
Feral Children:
“Genie” & Oksana
Genie(California), feral child rescued at 13,
was able to develop some language skills
after the critical period, but limited mastery
and can not think abstractly.
Oksana, feral child rescued at 14, raised by
dogs. She was able to learn language but
limited usage and vocabulary.
Language & Culture
"I speak Spanish to God, Italian to
women, French to men, and German
to my horse"
Charles V
Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
Language determines our experience of
Culture is embedded in language.
No two languages are exactly alike.
Therefore people who speak different
languages see the world differently.
Gabri’s Destraction
Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
The “real world” is to a large extent unconsciously built
upon the language habits of the group. No two
languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered
as representing the same social reality. The worlds in
which different societies live are distinct worlds, not
merely the same world with different labels
attached…We see and hear and otherwise experience
very largely as we do because the language habits of
our community predispose certain choices of
Word Play: What Happens When People
Talk, Peter Farb
Bilingual Japanese women were asked:
Real friends should…
Help each other (Japanese)
Be very honest (English)
When my wishes conflict with my family…
It is a sad time (Japanese)
I do what I want (English)
Lost in translation
Straight forward word
for word translation
Assumes languages
correspond to each
other word for word
Ignores idioms
Emphasis on message,
main idea, or emotion
of translated passage
Depends on
understanding of
original message
Idioms and cultural
subtexts might be
difficult to translate
Spanish Idioms: Language and
“Dejar la Iglesia en las manos del lutero.”
“Putting the Church in the hands of the Lutheran.”
“Como Dios manda.”
“How God demands.”
“Arroz con moros”
“Estas Como Miercoles”
“You’re being like Wednesday.”
“Para de Friel Huevos”
“Stop frying eggs.”
Gender Barrier:
You Just Don’t Understand, Deborah Tannen
Women speak for
Support, Intimacy, and Understanding
Men speak for
Status, Information, Problem-solving
“Every problem of
philosophy is problem of
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Wittgenstein describes the task of the philosopher:
“Language sets everyone the same traps; it is an
immense network of easily accessible wrong turnings.
And so we watch one man after another walking down
the same paths and we know in advance where he will
branch off, where he will walk straight on without
noticing the side turning, etc. etc. What I have to do
then is erect signposts at all the junctions where there
are wrong turn so as to help people past the danger
What did you we learn today?
Key Concepts
What is language?
Critical Period
“Universal Grammar”
Words as Cultural
Aristotle, Rhetoric
Fann, William Edwin. “Fundamental– The Language Instinct of Steven
Pinker”. The American Journal of Psychology. Vol. 152
Hadley, Gregory. “Lexis and Culture: Bound and Determined?”, Journal of
Psycholinguistic Research. Vol. 26. No. 4, 1997.
Pines, Maya. “The Civilizing of Genie”. Teaching Through the Disciplines.
Tannen, Deborah, You Just Don’t Understand. Ballantine Books, New York.
Hungarian Phrasebook
Feral children