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Unformatted text preview: 3 Syntactic analysis introduced Typical human language users have a remarkable ability to analyze sounds and other gestures in a certain very sophisticated way. One of our main goals in studying language is to understand how this is done, and how this ability arises in the human mind. This conception defines our field of linguistics as a branch of cognitive psychology. Of course, cognition depends on neurophysiology, and neurophysiology depends on the physics of organic matter, and so linguistics is ultimately part of the scientific study of the natural world. Like these other sciences, it is experimental. One of the ways to study language is to look first at an organism’s linguistic “input” and “output.” Examining the input we can explore, in the first place, the physical properties of linguistic signals. The relevant output includes our linguistic behavior, but also all the other changes and behavior that are caused by language: what we say, how we say it, how we react to what we hear, etc. From these, we can infer something about the distinctive contribution made by the organism, and ultimately something about how the distinctive biological and cognitive properties of the organism make the acquisition and use of language possible. From this perspective, our first assumptions about morphological structure are already surprising. For example, su ffi xes are not readily detectable in the input, when they are there at all. When su ffi xes are pronounced, they are always pronounced with other things, and in fluent speech there is no generally present acoustic boundary between stems and a ffi xes. To make matters worse, there is reason to say that some su ffi xes are not pronounced at all. So any properties of a ffi xes must be inferred by some kind of analysis of the linguistic input that we can perform. Recall that auditory input is just a slight variation in air pressure that can be detected by the eardrum, and visual input is a pattern of light hitting the retina. Neither air pressure variations nor arrays of light intensities and colors explicitly present words, a ffi xes, nouns or adjectives, tense or plural 45 46 3. SYNTACTIC ANALYSIS INTRODUCED a ffi xes. The step from the perceived signal to the linguistic description is a very significant one. The same is true in vision generally: the step from an array of light colors and intensities to the recognition of object edges and shapes and movements is a very significant one, and it is something we can do e ff ortlessly even when parts of the objects are not visible. The basic strategy for studying language and other cognitively mediated behavior is roughly as follows. Suppose that we think that the cognitive agent has some internal representation or state R that is causally involved in the production of certain behaviors. We can only study such a thing by looking at how it influences or is influenced by other things; so we look for or set up some situation in which we think R will interact with other systems or...
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- Fall '11
- d. Bill