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Linguistics in Cognitive Science
 Why are Cognitive Scientists Interested in
 Language seems to be uniquely human trait
 All normal humans use language
 Animals don’t seem to
– Sometimes have some signals, but no complex grammar, relationships
– Not sure about dolphins…
 Language is how we express our thoughts
 It must give us some hints about those thoughts themselves
 Language is easy to study
 Compare with brain scans, or anthropology
Linguistics in Cognitive Science
 Example: Grammar
 Grammar is the study of the rules governing the use of a given natural
 Why is that interesting?
 Trying to get some scientific hypothesis about the language knowledge
native speakers have
 How to describe that knowledge?
The dog irritated Mary.
Mary irritated the dog .
Dog the Mary irritated.
Irritated the Mary dog.
 Describe grammar as a list of options?
 It seems we would have to describe too many options
 These rules seem to be best described by algorithms
 Quite advanced - recursion
 Quite complicated
 Note: these are used by ALL speakers, not just some advanced experts
Knowledge of Grammar is Implicit
 We all know the rules…
 but are usually unaware of this knowledge
 The rules of a natural language are very complicated
 Hard to find because they are implicit
 More complicated than grammar you might learn in school
John believed that pigs can fly.
That sugar is sweet is obvious to everyone. (optional that)
The pain that I feel is unpleasant.
The dog that bit me is missing now. (seems to depend on head-subject)
 Everybody knows the rules, but few can write them down
 These rules are complicated…
 but most kids have learnt most by 5 yrs … how?
 Language acquisition – address later
Overview of Linguistics Areas
 Phonology - sounds
 Lexical - words
 Morphology - words built up of bits
 Syntax – order of words
 Semantics - meaning
 Words
 Sentences
 Pragmatics
Pretty much everything else
Example: Context
Example: Gricean maxims
Example: Dialogues
 Two types of languages:
 Synthetic: stick parts together to make words
 English has synthetic features: Unbreakable, Antidisestablishmentarianism
 Turkish: Avustralyalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmışsınız
 Analytic: order of words is used to make up the meaning
 Chinese, many far-eastern languages
 Example: tense is indicated by words around, rather than conjugation
 Morphemes are smallest bits of language that have meaning
 Example: cat, dog, happy, un-, -ness, -s, break, -able, -ory, -ment
 Many ways to things
 Can compound words: toothbrush
 Output of one can input to another
 Toothbrush-holder
 Unmicrowaveability
 Can use recursion
Anti-missile missile
Anti-anti-missile missile missile
Anti-anti-anti-missile missile missile missile
Need to keep track of antis and missiles
 Phonology tells us how words (made of morphemes) get pronounced
 Examples…
 Plural: cat  cats
 Plural: dog  dogs
 Pronounced “dogz” … why?
 Plural: glass  glasses
 What about non-words
 Blort  ?
 Blorb  ?
 Blorch  ?
 There seem to be some rules being applied
 Example: Do you want to?
Do you wanto
Do you wanna
Dyu wanna
 Is this simply what happens when you try to force your voice to go fast
 Or are there also rules?
 Another example
I’m going to leave (“to” is part of the verb)
I’m gonna leave
I’m going to New York (“to” is a preposition)
I’m gonna New York (sounds odd?)
I’m going to split
I’m going to Split (city in Croatia)
I’m gonna split
 Depends on grammar rules…
 Interestingly… principles of phonology also apply to sign language
 Something common underlying both grammars
Noam Chomsky
 “A Review of BF Skinner's Verbal Behaviour”
 Challenged the behaviourist approach
(was dominant in the 1950s)
 Especially to the study of language
 Sparked the “cognitive revolution” in psychology
 Mind contains mental states, beliefs, desires, intentions
 Most properties of language and mind are innate
(puts him at odds with Piaget)
Poverty of the stimulus
Patterns in grammar of natural language cannot be learned using positive
evidence alone
Children are only ever presented with positive evidence
Children do learn the correct grammars for their native languages
Humans must have some innate knowledge of the rules for language
Example of what is learned:
Statement: You are happy.
Question: Are you happy?
Statement: Anyone who is interested can see me later.
1. Is anyone who interested can see me later?
2. Can anyone who is interested see me later?
Some controversy… some premises not accepted by some
Example: Maybe domain general learning theory adequate
Example: Some say positive evidence is enough
Universal Grammar
 A basic grammatical structure common to all human languages
 Humans are born with innate knowledge of this
Principles and Parameters approach
 Grammatical principles underlying languages are innate and fixed
 Differences among world's languages are parameter settings in the brain
Example: “pro-drop parameter”
Indicates if an explicit subject is always required
Yes in English
No in Spanish, Maltese
Mar. Maltese sentence "he went/left" (verb)
 A child learning a language only needs to
 acquire lexical items
(words, grammatical morphemes, and idioms)
 and determine the appropriate parameter settings
 can be done based on a few key examples
Universal Grammar
 Principles and Parameters approach
Explains a lot…
 Rate at which children learn languages is very fast
 Similar learning steps taken by children across the world
 Children make same characteristic errors on first language
 Some seemingly logical kinds of errors never occur
Some Limitations on Internal Buffers…
 “That many teachers are being laid off in a shortsighted attempt to balance
this year’s budget at the same time that governor's cronies and bureaucratic
hacks are lining their pockets is appalling.”
 “It is appalling that many teachers are being laid off in a shortsighted
attempt to balance this year’s budget at the same time that governor's
cronies and bureaucratic hacks are lining their pockets.”
 Maybe grammar allows choice to ease buffer burden
 “The rapidity that the motion has is remarkable.”
 “The motion that the wing has is remarkable.”
 “The rapidity that the motion that the wing has has is remarkable.”
 “The rapidity that the motion that the wing that the hummingbird has has has
is remarkable.”
 “The dog bit the cat.”
 “The dog the stick beat bit the cat.”
 “The dog the stick the fire burned beat bit the cat.”
 Not short term memory… seems to be one part of the “parser”
Special buffer for this type of “incomplete phrase” – buffer size = 1!
Ambiguity and Garden Paths…
 “Rumour had it that, for years, the government building had been plagued
with problems. The man was not surprised when he found several spiders,
roaches, and other bugs in the corner of his room.”
 Human must make choices… how long to entertain alternatives?
 “The man who hunts ducks out on weekends.”
 “Fat people eat accumulates.”
 “The cotton clothing is usually made of grows in Mississippi.”
 “The horse raced past the barn fell.”
 Conscious processing of grammar is necessary for difficult writing.
Language Acquisition
 Children learn very quickly
17 year old has about 60,000 words
Must learn about 10 new words a day
6 year old has about 13,000 words
Child learns a new word every two hours
 Learning a word is not easy
Know what aspect of situation was referred to
Without having to try the word in many situations
Example: gavagai
Humans tend to chop up
the world into the same
Language Acquisition
Do children have a special device for language learning?
 Children learn very quickly and easily
Children become perfect speakers
adults usually learn second language imperfectly
and with great difficulty
 Children make mistakes,
but not the same ones adults make
Children never misjudge appropriate position of question words
Even on basis of sentences like "I know what John ate."
Language Acquisition
 Hawaiian sugar plantations
Adults from many countries
Communicated in pidgin
Their children invented a creole
Some controversy about the claims
 Sign language
Nicaragua created new schools for the deaf
Younger children invented a new sign language