Discuss the structure and functions of language

 The structure and functions of
language People talk or use language incessantly. Language, to cognitive
psychologists, is a system of communication in which thoughts are transmitted
by means of sounds (as in speech and music) or symbols (as in written words and
gestures). As you read this text, you are engaging in one of the mind’s most
enchanting processes – the way one mind influences another through language. 

In
this process, some cell assemblies in your brain are permanently changed, new
thoughts are made, and, in a very real sense, you are changed. Cognitive
psychology concerns both language and thought and has been popular only since
the 1950s. Before that, many psychologists believed that the scientific method
could not be applied towards the study of a process as private as thinking.
From ancient Greek times, only philosophers and metaphysicians studied the
nature of language and thought.

Discuss the structure and functions of language The study of human
language is important to cognitive psychologists for the following reasons:

• Human language development
represents a unique kind of abstraction, which is basic to cognition. Although
other forms of life (bees, birds, dolphins, dogs and so on) have elaborate
means of communicating and apes seem to use a form of language abstraction, the
degree of abstraction is much greater among humans.

• Language processing is an
important component of information processing and storage.

• Human thinking and problem
solving can be conceptualised as processes involving language. Many, if not
most, forms of thinking and problem solving are internal, that is, done in the
absence of external stimuli. Abstraction of puzzles, for example, into verbal
symbols provides a way to think about a solution.

• Language is the main means of
human communication, the way in which most information is exchanged.

• Language influences perception,
a fundamental aspect of cognition. Some argue that how we perceive the world is
affected by the language we use to describe it.

On the other hand, language
development is at least largely based on our perception of language. So the
perceptual-language process is one of interdependency; both significantly
influence the other. Language from this point of view operates as a window. The
processing of words, speech, and semantics seem to engage specific cerebral
areas and thus provide a meaningful link between neuro anatomical structures
and language. In addition, the study of pathology of the brain has frequently
shown manifest change in language functions, as in the case of aphasia.

Discuss the structure and functions of
language , structure and functions of language ,  structure of language and its components in
psychology.  Get MPC 001 Notes and guides
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Language is a system of symbols
and rules that is used for meaningful communication. A system of communication
has to meet certain criteria in order to be considered a language: A language
uses symbols, which are sounds, gestures, or written characters that represent
objects, actions, events, and ideas. Symbols enable people to refer to objects
that are in another place or events that occurred at a different time. A
language is meaningful and therefore can be understood by other users of that
language. A language is generative, which means that the symbols of a language
can be combined to produce an infinite number of messages. A language has rules
that govern how symbols can be arranged. These rules allow people to understand
messages in that language even if they have never encountered those messages
before.

A theoretical intervention about
the process which leads to the understanding of an utterance in communication
should involve two aspects. Firstly, the aspects of language linked to the
recognition of the form of the utterance itself (phonology, morphology, and
syntax); secondly, questions about how the meaning of what is understood can be
defined, which are linked to semantics and pragmatics of the communication
process. These two aspects cannot be separated, and in order to analyse the
process of language, both are to be taken into consideration. Thus, to
understand the language processes, it is fundamental to understand the basic
structure of language first. As should be evident by now, language can be
divided into three basic parts, each with its own structure and rules: phonology,
syntax (grammar), and semantics. The first of these, phonology, concerns the
rules for pronunciation of speech sounds. The second aspect of language,
syntax, deals with the way words combine to form sentences. And semantics
focuses on the meaning of words and sentences.

Basic Units of Language: Phonemes and Morphemes

All languages
are made of basic sounds called phonemes. Adult human beings can produce
approximately 100 phonemes, and the English language is made up of about 45
phonemes. Languages vary in the number of phonemes, ranging from as few as 15
to as many as 85. One reason why it is difficult for many Americans to learn
foreign languages is that different phonemes are used. For instance, Germanic
and Slavic languages contain phonemes never used in the English language.
(Phonemes and morphemes have already been defined in the previous chapter).

Higher Levels of
Linguistic Analysis

1) The study of
speech sounds which make up a language is called phonology, and the study of
how these sounds combine to produce morphemes is called morphology. However,
psychologists are frequently interested in a more global analysis of language
than is provided by phonology and morphology. Psychological investigations of
language typically adopt words, phrases, sentences, or prose, rather than more
elementary speech sounds, as the most fundamental unit of analysis. There are
several levels at which these higher-order analyses can be made. 1) First, one
could analyse the lexical content of a sentence or of some other unit of
language production. When a lexical analysis is performed, the question is
simply, what words are used, and how many times they are used in this sample of
language? Information gained from lexical analysis of language, such as that by
Thorndike and Lorge, has proved to be very useful in predicting the ease with
which different words can be learned in laboratory situations.

2) At another
level of linguistic analysis, the syntactic content of language text may be
investigated. In the study of syntax, interest is focused on the arrangement or
ordering of words to form phrases and sentences. The question asked in this
type of analysis is, how is this phase (or sentence) structured? Psychologists
and linguists interested in syntactic theory have attempted to specify rules
that account for the productivity of language (Chomsky, 1985). The set of rules
indicating how the elements of the language may be combined to make
intelligible sentences is referred to as a grammar. Although a large number of
different grammars have been proposed, there is little agreement about the
necessary features of an adequate grammar.

3) Another level
of analysis of language is the one that considers the semantic content or
meaning of passage. This perspective on language results in the asking of
questions such as the following: What does the passage communicate? What is the
meaning of this particular sentence? Word meaning is a function of the
interaction between word features and the extent to which they match those
belonging to certain prototypical and nonprototypical contexts (Lakoff, 1987).
Here, both feature theory and prototype theory are seen as important.

Phase Structure of Sentences

In order to
understand language in an adult, it is necessary to examine the structure of
sentences. At one level of analysis, a sentence can be regarded simply as a
string of phonemes. At another level, a sentence can be regarded as series of
morphemes, which are grouping of phonemes. From this viewpoint, however, the
sentence is viewed as a string of words. Linguists have found it more useful to
describe a sentence in terms of phrases, which are grouping of words. Analysis
of a sentence into its various phrases describes the phrase structure of a
sentence. A sentence is viewed as composed of two basic phrases, a noun phrase
and a verb phrase, which in turn are composed of subcomponents.

Language serves many functions,
which are all related to the fundamental process of communication. Perhaps most
important is that language conveys meaning and is part of almost all kinds of
social interaction. Language conveys intentions, motives, feelings, and
beliefs. Language is used to issue requests and commands; and is also used to
teach and to convey information. Language is useful because it can represent
ideas and events that are not tied to present. You can also describe abstract
ideas, such as beauty and justice, as well as concrete objects of everyday
experience. The structure and functions of language  Thus, language is symbolic, in that speech
sounds and utterances stand for or represent various objects, ideas, and
events. Regardless of whether we are considering spoken language, written
language, or sign language, there are three elements of language expression and
human communication that have been identified as operating in the
speaker-listener situation: speech acts, propositional content, and thematic
structure. A brief description from the analysis by Clark & Clark (1977) is
as follows:

i) Speech Acts: Speakers normally
intend to have some influence on their listeners. To do so, speakers get the
listeners to recognise the speakers’ intentions. Indeed, failure to recognise
these intentions can result in awkward situations. Speech-act theory holds that
all utterances can be classified as to the type of speech act they represent.
For example, speech acts may make assertions, make verbal commitments, convey
thanks, give a warning, or issue a command. Typical examples of speech acts
including the following: “I insist that you turn down the volume on the stereo”
(a command); “What are your plans for weekend?” (a question); “I promise to pay
you tomorrow” (a verbal commitment), symbolise ordering, questioning,
committing etc, which are common direct speech acts.

ii) Propositional Content: The
second element of communication concerns the propositional content of a
sentence. In communication, speakers want to convey certain ideas, and to do
this, they must be sure that they are understood. Thus, the content around a
speech act is very important. As a general rule, the propositional content of a
sentence is used to describe certain states or events; it can be part of other
propositions. For example, the sentence “The bright student received an A in
Mathematics” expresses two separate propositions: “the student is bright” and
“the student received an A in Mathematics.” Combined into a single sentence,
the propositions convey what the speaker intends to convey. There is
experimental evidence that we represent as propositions. For example, the more
propositions contained in a sentence, the longer the time required to read the
sentence (van Dijk & Kintsch, 1983)(discussed in detail in last section).

iii) Thematic Structure: The
third component in communication is thematic structure. To communicate
effectively, good speakers pay careful attention to their listeners. Good
speakers have to judge what listeners do and do know, keep track of where they
are leading their listeners, and regularly examine any assumptions about the
listeners’ knowledge of the topic being discussed. In short, the speaker must
be able to make reasonably accurate judgments of the listener’s current level
of understanding. All of these features are present in good teachers,
entertaining and effective storytellers, and interesting conversationalists. The
structure and functions of language

 

Other
Important Questions

1) Note the various experimental
tasks that have been used to study language comprehension. Have you run into
any of them before in this course?

2) It is intuitively obvious that
context facilitates word interpretation, but how can it interfere with
interpretation?

3) What is the role of context
and expectations in the interpretation of speech? How has the influence of
context been studied experimentally?

4) What are several major
features of language development?

5) Compare and contrast the role
of speech perception, syntax and semantics in the development and understanding
of language.

6) What are the different
processes involved in language comprehension?

7) The exposition of Kintsch’s
model is necessarily abstract and therefore difficult to comprehend. Preserve
in your reinstated searches! See if you can use it to deal with a new example
of text selected from another course.

8) What factors are included in
Kintsch’s model? How does the reader enter into this model?

9) Give an example of a humorous
violation of one of Grice’s four maxims of successful conversation.

10) Describe the various
processes involved in multilingualism?

11) Why study of multilingualism
is important for cognitive psychologists?

12) What can multilingualism tell
us about language structures and processes?

13) What are the advantages of
being bilingual? Can you think of any disadvantages?

14) Give a detailed account of
language acquisition of a second language.

15) Suppose you are an instructor
of English as a second language. What kinds of things will you want to know
about your students to determine how much to emphasise phonology, vocabulary,
syntax, or pragmatics in your instruction?

16) Compare and contrast the
speech errors made by individuals in different speech disorders.

17) Based on the discussion of
language disorders in this chapter, make a worksheet of different kinds of
language disorders and their symptoms and causes.

18) What do brain disorders like
Broca’s and Wernicke’s aphasias tell us about how a healthy brain processes
phonological, syntactic and semantic information?

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