Chpater2 Primitive and Derived Features of Language

This chapter identifies some of the aspects of human linguistic ability that may be present in other species.

Human linguistic ability devolves from 3 basic capabilities; (1) lexical capacity, (2) morphologic and syntactic processes, (3) phonetics and phonologic processes.



a. What Words Convey

Words convey concepts. But the meaning of a word almost never is precisely equivalent to a thing. When pushed, the meaning conveyed by most words becomes imprecise, fuzzy and subject to the influence of context, culture and time. The ambiguity and uncertainty of the linguistic system most likely matches the richness of our inner psychological conceptual framework.                                                        


b.The Neural Bases of Words

Neuroimaging experiments reveal that the same region of ¡§sensory¡¨ temporal cortex that are the neuro bases of perceiving something also serve as stores of the ¡§semantic¡¨ information that characterizes the certain word in the brain¡¦s dictionary. Damage to prefrontal to hippocampal circuits may be the basis of Alzheimer¡¦s dementia in which semantic knowledge is lost. The brain¡¦s dictionary and the store of words therein constitute a recollection of times past that is beyond the descriptive powers of formal logic. Words also convey emotion. Particular neural structures in animals¡¦ brains are activated when they hear conspecific vocal signals. When people listen to a word, parts of motor cortex that are involved in speech production become active. Visual and auditory information are integrated when we listen to a person whose face we can see. The situation also occurs in monkeys.


c. Accessing Words

Naming deficits roughly correlated with damage to each of the three adjoining cortical areas and the underlying subcortical structures in this region. The result of different life histories; the detail circuitry for the meaning and sound pattern is acquired rather than genetically.


d. The Arbitrary Nature of the Phonetic Code

The arbitrary relationship between sounds and meaning is one of the signal properties of language. Systematic speech production errors form one source of data that reveal both the psychological reality and the internal structure of the sound pattern. Neural mechanisms plays a part in producing overt speech maintain words in a short-term memory system that integrates knowledge of syntax, word meaning and context to derive the meaning of a sentences.


Animal Words

a. What do Animals Say?

The basic assumption was animals are automatons that produce a particular signal whenever the appropriate stimulus occurs. According to Darwin, the communications of animals are innately determined, following from ¡§the principles of actions due to the constitution of the Nervous System, independently from the first of the Will, and to a certain extent of Habit.¡¨ Particular facial expressions are innate and have a single, fixed meaning and particular muscles have fixed purposes. The context-dependent meaning of vervet monkey calls can be instead be viewed as evidence for word like behavior on the part of the monkeys.


b. Phonetic Limits on Animal Vocalizations

Acoustic analyses of the vocalizations of primates suggest that they lack the neural capacity that would allow them to form novel vocalizations. Also, vocal phonetic ability of primates is largely confined to a fixed repertoire of calls, but could instead adapt existing calls to new situations.


Ape Using Human Language

a. Chimpanzee Word

Human beings have the neural capacities that enable literacy because normal children from any cultural context can learn to read if instruct properly. The ape-language studies of the last century were aimed at determining whether primate animals had biological capacity to acquire some aspects of human language. The major finding was apes have the biological capacity to acquire and productively use human words and syntax at a reduced level equal to that of most three-year-old children.


b. A vocabulary test for chimpanzees

Gardner gives the chimpanzees task to name each pictured object in order to know if chimpanzees have their own vocabulary. And for the ¡§Biuniqueness¡¨-the two levels of representation that marks the words: the phonetic representations of words and their meanings. The experiment of Savage-Rumbaugh shows that the chimpanzees raised in an environment that involves productive linguistic interchange with humans clearly biuniqueness.

The chimpanzee language debate

Gardner indicates that the chimpanzees have their own vocabulary and he brings many experimental results. But Terrace point out that the Gardner chimpanzees were simply imitating the last ASL sign and this is the true vocabulary of chimpanzees.

William Stock was convinced that ASL was being used productively.

In other word, it is clear that the referents of the ASL signed that chimpanzees acquire when they are raised in a humanlike environment are not restricted to single item.

The most important is if the chimpanzees have to be taught these aspects of language, then how the young children acquire language innate.


Gestures and speech

a. Referential and Emotional Information

Manual gestures and facial expressions play a part in providing the pragmatic context for words in early stages of speech communication. Human beings can use the word to replace the sounds of their emotion. But this is not mean that other kinds of animals have special biologic capacity for full human language.


b. Animal Syntax

Many contemporary theoretical linguistics claim that on other aspect of human or animal behavior approaches the complexity of the syntactic operation of human language. Those hypothetical language universals are said to be lacking in animal communication, If theoretical linguists actually were able to specify the syntax of any human language by meaning of the serial algorithms, the results and processes that they employ, these claims might merit serious consideration. But any linguist will tell us that we are nowhere near a complete account of the mental grammar for any language. Theoretical linguists test their theories against theories of data, not actual data.


c. the Syntactic Abilities of Chimpanzees

ASL is highly ¡§inflected¡¨, and many distinction conveyed by preposition or word order in English are fused in the gestures that constitute ASL signed words. In other word, the ASL chimpanzees make use of simple syntax.


The neural mechanisms that yield our species-specific ability to talk are gradually becoming apparent. The neural substrate that allows us to form a limitless number of words also appears to be implicated in human syntactic ability, allowing us to form a potentially limitless number of sentences.