Cognitive Psychology Class Notes > Language Production


Language: a shared symbolic system for communication

Discourse: the general study of communicative interactions

    • conversation between 2 people
    • lyrics of a song
    • story line of a film
    • content of a book

Linguistics: the study of language per se

Psycholinguistics: the study of language as it is used and learned by people

Linguistic Universals:

  • many linguists believe that all languages have certain aspects in common
    • we all need a way of referring to things, so all languages have nouns
  • Hockett's (1960, 1966) 13 Linguistic Universals
    • features or characteristics that are common to all known languages

Language as an Information Source: 4 Levels of Analysis

  1. phonology (sounds)
  2. syntax (structure)
  3. semantics (meaning)
  4. pragmatics (use)

Phonology: The Sounds of Language

  • concerned with the sound that results from a specific coordinations of muscle movements in the face, mouth, and throat
  • phonemes: basic sounds of language
  • categorical perception:

all sounds falling within a set of boundaries are perceived as the same, despite physical differences between them

debt, deal, dome, dirt

  • phenomic competence:

extensive knowledge of the rules of permissible English sound combinations

bat vs. abt

  • McGurk effect:

Task: Ss saw video of face saying /ga/, but voice was /ba/

Results: Ss reported hearing a syllable 'in between' /da/

Syntax: The Ordering of Words and Phrases

  • concerned with how we use rules about word order to form sentences
  • also concerned with how we are able to determine if a particular sentence we read or hear is grammatical and logical
  • How sentences are formed: Phrase Structure
    • parsing:

the process of assigning words to particular syntactic categories

My dog ate burritos.

S - V - O

    • 75% of the world's languages use S-V-O word order
    • exceptions: Japanese S-O-V, Welsh & Arabic V-S-O
  • Chomsky's Transformational Grammar
    • surface structure: actual words you hear or read
    • deep structure: underlying meaning
    • Problems with phrase structure grammar alone:
    • ambiguous sentences

(1) Visiting relatives can be a nuisance.

[2 different deep structures correspond to 2 different phrase structures]

(2) The shooting of the hunters was terrible.

[2 different deep structures, only 1 phrase structure--still ambiguous]

[the shooting of the hunters] [was terrible]

[Problem: if the phrase structure grammar is complete, then it should not generate an ambiguous sentence]

    • sentences with 1 deep structure and 2+ surface structures

(3) The girl kissed the boy.

(4) The boy was kissed by the girl.

[Problem: 2 different phrase structures, therefore 2 different sentences]

    • Transformational rules:
    • rules to convert the deep structure idea into a surface structure
    • by applying different transformations, we can form:
    • active declarative sentences
    • passive voice sentences
    • questions
    • negatives
    • future tense sentences
    • etc.
    • therefore, sentences (3) and (4) would differ only in their surface structures; one deep structure was merely transformed in two different fashions

Semantics: The Meaning in Language

  • morphemes: the smallest unit of language that has meaning

trees = tree + -s [large plant + 'more than one of']

    • free morphemes: (words) stand, bland, hand
    • bound morphemes: (prefixes and suffixes) un-, -s
  • case grammar approach:
    • our knowledge of certain words and their relationship to other words influences how we derive meaning from sentences
    • believed that sentence parsing is based on semantics rather than syntax

Pragmatics: The Social Rules that Underlie Language Use

  • how to interpret words in different social contexts
  • how communication is coordinated - conversations
    • Grice's (1975) conversational maxims:
      • rules of conduct for polite conversations
      • effective discourse depends on the participants' being informative, truthful, relevant, and clear
      • if any of these maxims is violated, a sense of unease in the conversation arises
        • we often'mark' violations of conversational rules

Conversational Postulates and Rules

1. Cooperative principle: be sincere

Make your contributions reasonable, given the agreed purpose of the conversation

2. Be relevant

2a. Don't say what others already know -- don't state the obvious

2b. Don't be superfluous -- don't say too much, don't be too informative

2c. Don't wander -- stick to the topic

3. Be informative

Make your contributions as informative as possible or necessary.

3a. Don't mislead -- don't say something you believe is false, or don't have the evidence for; don't overspecify

3b. Don't say more than you know

3c. Don't say less than you know

4. Manner and tone

4a. Be clear, easily understood

4b. Avoid obscurity, ambiguity

4c. Don't boast

4d. Be brief, orderly, polite

5. Relations with the conversational partner

5a. Infer and respond to partner's knowledge and beliefs

6. Mark intentional violation of conversational rules

6a. Use linguistic or nonverbal (stress, gesture) markers

6b. Use blatant violation as marker

6c. Invite partner's inference as to your reasons for the violation

Grice, H. P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole and J. L. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and semantics, Vol. 3: Speech acts (pp. 41-58). New York: Seminar Press.

Norman, D. A., & Rumelhart, D. E. (1975). Explorations in cognition. San Francisco: Freeman Press.

Problems in Language Production:

1. Speech errors

2. Neurological disorders

Speech Errors

  • slips-of-the-tongue:
    • errors in which sounds or entire words are rearranged between two or more different words
    • spoonerisms - named after William A. Spooner, head of New College in Oxford (1903-1924)

noble sons of toil -->noble tons of soil

the dear old queen --> the queer old dean

  • Dell's (1986) connectionist model of speech production
  • Common speech errors recorded by Fromkin (1993):

Neurological Disorders

  • Broca's area: associated with language production
  • Wernicke's area: associated with language comprehension
  • PET scans of normal brain activity (Posner & Raichle, 1994)
  • aphasia:
    • language deficit or difficulty that results from physical damage to the brain, infections or tumors in the brain, and birth defects
  • Broca's aphasia:
    • associated with an ability to understand language, but an impaired ability to speak coherently
    • read Coast Guard story (Gardner, 1975):

E: Were you in the Coast Guard?

P: No, er, yes, yes...ship...Massachu...chusetts..Coast Guard...years.

E: Oh, you were in the Coast Guard for 19 years.

P: Oh...boy...right...right.

E: Why are you in the hospital?

P: [Points to paralyzed arm] Arm no good. [Points to mouth] Speech...can't, you see.

E: What happened to make you lose speech?

P: Head, fall, Jesus Christ, me no good, str, str...oh Jesus...stroke.

E: Could you tell me what you've been doing in the hospital?

P: Yes, sure. Me go, er, uh, P. T. nine o�cot, speech...two, er, rike, er, write...practice...get-ting better.

    • syntax is disrupted speech consists mainly of content words
      • very similar to telegraphic speech (two-word stage of language development)
  • Wernicke's aphasia:
    • associated with an ability to produce speech, but an inability to comprehend language and an inability to produce meaningful discourse
    • read sample (Gardiner, 1975):

Boy, I'm sweating, I'm awful nervous, you know, once in a while I get caught up. I can't mention the tarripoi, a month ago, quite a little, I've done a lot well, I impose a lot, while on the other hand, you know what I mean, I have to run around, look it over, trebin and all that sort of stuff.

    • syntax is preserved
    • problems in finding the right word...often make up words to substitute
    • associated with a conceptual deficit


Language Comprehension

How do we Understand Language?

Form a coherent mental representation
Inference generation
Role of context

Inference Generation

  • inferences integrate information from the text with knowledge (e.g. scripts)
  • inferences are used to construct a coherent mental representation
  • inferences are used to construct the meaning of a text
  • 4 types of inferences that readers can draw:


instrument inference:

    • "The man swept the floor" --> broom
    • inferences made about the thing (the instrument) used to perform the action

elaborative inference (O'brien et al., 1988):

All the mugger wanted to steal was the woman's money. But when she screamed, he stabbed her with the (weapon / knife) in an attempt to quiet her. He looked to see if anyone had seen him. He threw the knife into the bushes, took her money, and ran away.

    • involves inferring a general concept from a specific one, or vice versa
    • Task: eye movements --> duration of fixation on knife in last sentence
    • Results 1: same durations for either weapon or knife; therefore, Ss made an elaborative inference from weapon that knife was OK
    • Results 2: for assaulted instead of stabbed, Ss took longer to make the elaborative inference that a knife was used

causal inference (Rayner & Pollatsek, 1989):

John was eating in the dining car of a train. The waiter brought him a bowl of soup. Suddenly, the train screeched to a stop. The soup spilled in John's lap.

    • an inference made that something will cause something else

emotional inference (Gernsbacher et al., in press):

One night last week Tom went to visit his best friend Joe, who worked at the local 7-11 to get spending money while in school. While Tom was visiting, Joe needed to go to the storage room for a second. While Joe was away, Tom noticed the cash register had been left open. Tom couldn't resist the open drawer and quickly took a ten dollar bill. At the end of the week, Tom learned that Joe had been fired from the 7-11, because his cash had been low one night. It would be weeks before Tomi's guilt / pride would subside.

    • DV = mean reading times
    • Results: Ss were faster at reading guilt than pride --> they made an inference based on the emotion that Tom may have felt
  • When do readers draw inferences?
    • when they need to explain story events or actions
    • when they have the processing resources
    • when they have the necessary knowledge
    • when it is necessary given their goal

Role of Context in Comprehension

Effects of Context on Phonology:

  • phonemic restoration (Warren & Warren, 1970):

the ability to fill in sounds that are missing, using context as a cue

It was found that the *eel was on the axle.

It was found that the *eel was on the shoe.

It was found that the *eel was on the orange.

It was found that the *eel was on the table.