Frank - Language acquisition Michael C Frank Symbolic...

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Language acquisition Michael C. Frank Symbolic Systems 100 5.19.2011
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The uniqueness of human language Müller (1864): “The one great barrier between man and brute is Language . Man speaks, and no brute has ever uttered a word. Language is our Rubicon, and no brute will dare to cross it.”
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But other animals communicate Bees signal positions for honey sources (von Frisch, 1967) Vervet monkeys have alarm calls (Seyfarth & Cheney, 1990) Dolphins can distinguish individuals (Janik et al. 2006) A variety of chimps, bonobos, etc. have been trained to learn words (e.g. Savage-Rumbaugh, 1992) So what’s different about language?
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What’s special about human language? 1. The structure: allows composition of forms to make to complex concepts 2. The use: to share meaning with others
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What’s special about human language? 1. The structure: allows composition of forms to make to complex concepts 2. The use: to share meaning with others
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Acquisition of Syntax Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. (In other words: there are rules of syntax that govern word order independently from what makes a sentence meaningful.) Noam Chomsky
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Interpretation possible through structure “It can only be the thought of verdure to come, which prompts us in the autumn to buy these dormant white lumps of vegetable matter covered by a brown papery skin, and lovingly to plant them and care for them. It is a marvel to me that under this cover they are labouring unseen at such a rate within to give us the sudden awesome beauty of spring flowering bulbs. While winter reigns the earth reposes but these colourless green ideas sleep furiously.” (C. M. Street)
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