Chapter 9: Language and ThinkingLanguageLanguageconsists of a system of symbols and rules for combining these symbols in ways thatcan generate an infinite number of possible messages and meanings.Psycholinguisticsis thescientific study of the psychological aspects of language, such as how people understand,produce, and acquire language.Adaptive Functions of LanguageOver the course of evolution, humans adopted a more socially oriented lifestyle that helpedthem survive and reproduce (Flinn, 1997). Some evolutionary theorists believe that the use oflanguage evolved as people gathered to form larger social units. As the social environmentbecame more complex, new survival problems emerged: the need to create divisions of labourand cooperative social systems, to develop social customs and communicate thoughts, and topass on knowledge and wisdom. The development of language made it easier for humans toadapt to these environmental demands (Chomsky, 2017; Dor, 2014; Pinker, 2003).Humans have evolved into highly social creatures who need to communicate with one anotherand have the physical characteristics (e.g., a highly developed brain, a vocal tract) that allowthem to do so in the most flexible way known: through language.Properties of LanguageDescribe key properties of language.Language Is Symbolic and Structured●Language uses sounds, written characters, or some other system of symbols (e.g., handsigns) to represent objects, events, ideas, feelings, and actions. Moreover, the symbolsused in any given language are arbitrary.●Language also has a rule-governed structure●A language’sgrammaris the set of rules that dictate how symbols can be combined tocreate meaningful units of communication.Syntaxare the rules that govern the order ofwords.Language Conveys Meaning●No matter the arbitrary symbols or grammatical rules used, once people learn thosesymbols and rules, they are able to form and then transfer mental representations to themind of another person.●But understanding semantics, the meaning of words and sentences, actually is a trickybusiness.Language Is Generative and Permits Displacement●Generativity means that the symbols of language can be combined to generate aninfinite number of messages that have novel meaning.
●Displacement refers to the fact that language allows us to communicate about eventsand objects that are not physically present. In other words, language frees us from beingrestricted to focusing on events and objects that are right before us in the present.The Structure of LanguagePsycholinguists describe language as having a surface structure and a deep structure. Theyalso examine the hierarchical structure of language, in which smaller elements are combinedinto larger ones. Let’s look at both of these issues.Surface Structure and Deep StructureWhen you read, listen to, or produce a sentence, itssurface structureconsists of the symbolsthat are used and their order. As noted earlier, the syntax of a language provides the rules forordering words properly. In contrast, a sentence’s