An Introduction to Psycholinguistics
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An Introduction to Psycholinguistics

Danny D. Steinberg, Natalia V. Sciarini

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eBook - ePub

An Introduction to Psycholinguistics

Danny D. Steinberg, Natalia V. Sciarini

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About This Book

Learning About Language is an exciting and ambitious series of introductions to fundamental topics in language, linguistics and related areas. The books are designed for students of linguistics and those who are studying language as part of a wider course.

Cognitive Linguistics explores the idea that language reflects our experience of the world. It shows that our ability to use language is closely related to other cognitive abilities such as categorization, perception, memory and attention allocation. Concepts and mental images expressed and evoked by linguistic means are linked by conceptual metaphors and metonymies and merged into more comprehensive cognitive and cultural models, frames or scenarios. It is only against this background that human communication makes sense. After 25 years of intensive research, cognitive-linguistic thinking now holds a firm place both in the wider linguistic and the cognitive-science communities. An Introduction to Cognitive Linguistics carefully explains the central concepts of categoriza­tion, of prototype and gestalt perception, of basic level and conceptual hierarchies, of figure and ground, and of metaphor and metonymy, for which an innovative description is provided. It also brings together issues such as iconicity, lexical change, grammaticalization and language teaching that have profited considerably from being put on a cognitive basis.The second edition of this popular introduction provides a comprehensive and accessible up-to-date overview of Cognitive Linguistics:

  • Clarifies the basic notions supported by new evidence and examples for their application in language learning
  • Discusses major recent developments in the field: the increasing attention paid to metonymies, Construction Grammar, Conceptual Blending and its role in online-processing.
  • Explores links with neighbouring fields like Relevance Theory
  • Uses many diagrams and illustrations to make the theoretical argument more tangible
  • Includes extended exercises
  • Provides substantial updated suggestions for further reading.

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Part 1
First-language learning

Chapter 1
How children learn language

We have minds and in our minds we have the means for producing and comprehending speech. But how did we come to have such abilities? At birth we cannot comprehend speech, nor can we produce speech. Yet, by the age of 4 years we have learned vocabulary and grammatical rules for creating a variety of sentence structures including negatives, questions, and relative clauses. And although 4-year-olds still have passives and some other elaborate syntactic structures to learn, along with a never-ending stock of vocabulary items, they have already overcome the most difficult obstacles in language learning. This is true of children the world over, whatever the language may be.
Indeed, the language proficiency of the 4- or 5-year-old is often the envy of the adult second-language learner, who has been struggling for years to master the language. It is one of the fundamental tasks of psycholinguists to explain how children learn language.
For reasons that will become apparent later, we will separate language into two distinct, but related, psychological processes: speech production and speech comprehension. We will deal with each in turn and then consider how they are related.

1.1 The development of speech production

1.1.1 From vocalization to babbling to speech Vocalization to babbling
Prior to uttering speech sounds, infants make a variety of sounds – crying, cooing, gurgling. Infants everywhere seem to make the same variety of sounds, even children who are born deaf (Lenneberg et al., 1965). The ability and propensity to utter such sounds thus appear to be unlearned. Later, around the seventh month, children ordinarily begin to babble, to produce what may be described as repeated syllables (‘syllabic reduplication’), e.g. ‘baba’, ‘momo’, ‘panpan’. While most of the syllables are of the basic Consonant + Vowel type (‘baba’ and ‘momo’), some consist of closed syllables of the simple Consonant + Vowel + Consonant variety (‘panpan’). This structure of babbling as repeated syllables has been found to be produced by children in all studied languages.
The sounds that infants make involve many but not all of the speech sounds that occur in the languages of the world. For example, English sounds like the ‘th’ in ‘though’ and the ‘th’ in ‘thin’ are rare, as are the click sounds common in various African languages such as Zulu. In time, however, such vocalizations take on the character of speech. From as early as 6 months of age infants from different language communities begin to babble somewhat distinctively, using some of the intonation of the language to which they have been exposed (Nakazima, 1962; Lieberman, 1967; Tonkova-Yampol’skaya, 1969). Research seems to indicate that in languages where the intonation contours are quite distinctive, native speakers can tell the difference between the babble of infants who were learning their (the native speakers’) language as opposed to the babble of infants learning other languages (de Boysson-Bardies et al., 1984).
The production of sounds using the intonation contours of the first language is obviously a learned phenomenon because when infants babble they follow the intonation contours of the language which they hear. This is something that deaf infants deprived of hearing speech do not do. While such infants are able to vocalize and cry, they do not progress to babbling. Interestingly, deaf infants who have been exposed to sign language from birth do the equivalent of babbling – with their hands (Petitto and Marentette, 1991)! Babbling to speech
It is from the advanced stage of babbling that children move into uttering their first words. Often this occurs at around 1 year of age but can occur much earlier or much later. When children begin to utter words, somewhat surprisingly only some of the sounds that they have uttered in babbling appear in speech. The other sounds must be reacquired.
And there may be some order to the acquisition of speech sounds. For example, sounds like /x/ (as in Bach), /k/, and /l/ that commonly occurred in vocalization and babbling prior to speech may now tend to occur later, after the acquisition of such phoneme sounds as /p/, /t/, /m/, /a/ ‘fall’, and /o/ ‘tall’. A phoneme, it should be said, represents a class of speech sounds in a language. For example, in the word ‘pep’ the individual sound /p/ can represent the sound at the beginning of the word ‘pep’ as well as the sound at the end of the word ‘pep’. (Incidentally, the letters surrounded by slashes (//) indicate that a phoneme sound is identified. A phoneme sound is a single discrete sound of a language.) Phonetically, the two sounds are different, with /p/ in the final position having a large amount of aspiration (puff of air). Nevertheless, they are regarded as the same phoneme. There is, then, some discontinuity between babbling and meaningful speech where the kinds of sounds that occur in babbling are not always immediately realized in meaningful speech.
While some studies show some continuity between babbling and early speech (Vihman et al., 1985), most research shows a lack of continuity, e.g. Oller and Eilers (1982), Stoel-Gammon and Cooper (1984), and Kent and Bauer (1985), in that advanced babbling seems to approach the consonant-vowel combinations of later meaningful speech. The relationship, however, is not a strong one.
Why is there some degree of discontinuity from babbling to the production of speech sounds? In our view, the discontinuity issue involves, as Jesperson (1933) noted many years ago, the distinction between intentional and non-intentional vocalization. Babbling is non-intentional in the sense that particular sounds are not under central cognitive control; the infant does not intentionally make the particular babbling sounds that occur. They seem to happen by the chance coordination of speech articulators (various parts of the body that are used to create speech sounds: mouth, lips, tongue, vocal cords, etc.). The case of meaningful speech is quite different. Here, sounds must not be uttered at random but must match previously heard sounds that are conventionally associated with certain objects, needs, and so forth. In order to accomplish this feat, it is necessary that the child discover which sound is created by which speech articulators. It is this knowledge that the child must acquire in order to speak meaningfully. Speech is dependent to some degree on babbling, however, for it is in engaging in babbling that the child will chance on many of the various articulatory mechanisms for producing speech and give practice to the use of those articulators. Explaining the acquisition order of consonants and vowels
In the meaningful speech phase, it appears that consonants are acquired in a front-to-back order, where ‘front’ and ‘back’ refer to the origin of the articulation of the sound. Thus, /m/, /p/, /b/, /t/, and /d/ tend to precede /k/, and /x/. Conversely, vowels seem to be acquired in a back-to-front order, with /a/ (ball) and /o/ (tall) preceding /i/ (meet) and
(mud). Jacobson (1968) devised a theory based on his distinctive feature theory of phonological oppositions that attempts to predict the order of the acquisition of speech sounds. In the main, however, empirical studies have not supported his predictions (Velten, 1943; Leopold, 1947; Braine, 1971; Ferguson and Garnica, 1975). There is much more variation in the order of acquisition than the theory predicts. Actually, this may well be expected, since there could be a great deal of chance involved when a child searches for the proper articulators of speech with which to make a sound.
As far as the establishment of intentional connections is concerned, our opinion is that two variables dominate this process: visibility of articulators and ease of articulation (first proposed by Steinberg, 1982). When the child becomes motivated to produce meaningful speech (this occurs after the child has learned to understand some words spoken by other people), the child begins to seek ways to produce the desired sounds. The child then becomes alert to clues that relate to the articulation of the speech sounds.
The child observes where speech sounds come from and notes the relationship between the sounds and the position of noticeable speech articulators, particularly the mouth and lips (Kuhl and Meltzoff, 1988; Legerstee, 1990). It is mainly movements that the child observes and imitates. Since noticeable mouth and lip movements are primarily involved in the articulation of certain consonants, it is not surprising, therefore, that children tend to produce these consonants, such as /m/, /p/, and /b/, before the others. Consonant sounds like the stop /k/ and the fricatives /s/ and /z/, which involve the movement of non-visible articulators, are generally learned later.
As for vowels, since most involve the use of largely unseen articulators, children get little aid from direct observation. Rather, they must indulge in a lot of trial and error in order to secure the proper positions for articulators. It seems that those sounds that are closest to the resting position of articulators, e.g. back vowels such as /a/ (watch), are easier to create and are learned earlier while those sounds that require more motor control to create, e.g. a tensed front vowel such as /i/ (feet), are learned later.
However, over and above the operation of these variables of ease and visibility, there is (as first mentioned above) the important one of chance. It seems that children may discover by chance a particular articulator–sound connection, e.g. the daughter of Leopold (1953), Hildegard, was able to pronounce the word ‘pretty’ with precision yet she was unable to pronounce other words composed of similar sounds. Interestingly, although the word ‘pretty’ was pronounced accurately at first, over time, as her pronunciation of words developed, the pronunciation of that word deteriorated. It seems that if a word is to be retained, the chance discovery of an articulator–sound connection must be followed by its incorporation within the overall developing sound system.
1.1.2 Early speech stages: naming, holophrastic, telegraphic, morphemic Naming: one-word utterances
When do children start to say their first words? It may surprise you to learn that research on this basic question is not at all conclusive. This is not only because there is a very wide range of individual differences but also because the precise determination of just when a word has been learned is not easy to make and is not standardized.
The mere uttering of speech sounds by the child, e.g. ‘mama’, may or may not indicate word knowledge. Children can be said to have learned their first word when (1) they are able to utter a recognizable speech form, and when (2) this is done in conjunction with some object or event in the environment. The speech form may be imperfect, e.g. ‘da’ for ‘daddy’, and the associated meaning may be incorrect, e.g. all people are called ‘da’, but, as long as the child uses the speech form reliably, it may be concluded that the child has acquired some sort of word knowledge.
First words have been reported as appearing in children from as young as 4 months to as old as 18 months, or even older. On average, it would seem that children utter their first word around the age of 10 or 12 months. Some of this variability has to do with physical development, such as the musculature of the mouth, which is essential for the proper articulation of sounds. Certain brain development is also involved since the creation of speech sounds must come under the control of speech areas in the cerebral cortex (Bates et al., 1992).
It appears that children first use nouns as proper nouns to refer to specific objects (Moskowitz, 1978), after which they may or may not extend the meaning correctly for common nouns (Clark, 1973). For example, while ‘dada’ may first be used to identify one particular person, it may or may not be extended to include all men or all people. Or, ‘wow-wow’ may be used to refer to one dog, and then be extended to refer to all animals, soft slippers, or people in furs. In time, of course, the proper restrictions and extensions are learned. Holophrastic function: one-word utterances
However, children do not only use single words to refer to objects; they also use single words to express complex thoughts that involve those objects. A young child who has lost its mother in a department store may cry out ‘mama’, meaning ‘I want mama’. Or a child may point to a shoe and say ‘mama’, meaning ‘The shoe belongs to mama’. Research has shown that the young child can express a variety of semantic functions and complex ideas by the use of single words (Bloom, 1973; Greenfield and Smith, 1976; Scollon, 1976). In such cases, the child uses a single word to express the thought for which mature speakers will use a whole sentence. It is because of this whole sentence function that this aspect of one-word speech is often referred to as ‘holophrastic’, where ‘holo’ indicates whole, and ‘phras’ indicates phrase or sentence.
Actually, it is quite remarkable how inventive children can be in the use of single words. Researchers have noted that children may describe a complex situation by using a series of single-word holophrases. For example, ‘peach, Daddy, spoon’ was used to describe a situation where Daddy had cut a piece of peach that was in a spoon (Bloom, 1973), and ‘car, go, bus’ was used to describe a situation in which hearing the sound of a car reminded the child that she had been on a bus the day before (Scollon, 1976). These strings of words are not yet sentences, because at the end of each word the child pauses slightly and uses a falling intonation of the sort that is used by mature speakers to signal the completion of a sentence.
It is often not easy, of course, to interpret what a child is intending to convey by the single word. And, while knowing the child, the child’s previous experiences, and elements of the present situation will serve to aid in the interpretation of an utterance, even the most attentive parents are frequently unable to interpret utterances that their children produce. Incidentally, we often use the traditional term ‘utterance’ rather than ‘sentence’ in order to avoid disputes as to whether what the child says is truly a sentence or whether it is grammatical. The advantage of the term ‘utterance’ is that it describes what the child says without having to worry about assigning sentencehood or grammaticality to what was said. Telegraphic speech: two- and three-word utterances
Children do not proceed as rapidly to two-word utterances as one might expect. Why this should be the case is a matter of conjecture, although it is our view that children must first become aware that adding more words will improve communication, e.g. ‘tummy hurt’ is more effective than just ‘hurt’ or ‘tummy’. In any case, around 2 years of age or so children begin to produce two- and three-word utterances.
Table 1.1 lists a number of typical two-word utterances along w...

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