Hello! Welcome to my personal Wikiversity web page where I will be writing weekly reflections on material presented in my Psycholinguistics course. My name is Jayme and I am in my final year at Dalhousie University. Upon graduating with a major in Psychology, I plan to pursue a law degree and to eventually integrate my knowledge in both law and psychology in an attempt to promote a healthy society.
January 17, 2011
Having grown up in Montreal, the city's unique cultural and linguistic makeup has enabled me to recognize the importance of language and communication. In class we pondered on whether language is central to thought. Can we think without language? This is a question I have ruminated on in the past and that remains highly debatable among linguists across the world. While I believe language may be an important and useful means of shaping thoughts, I do not believe it is vital to the essence and ability of thinking. In my opinion, it would be erroneous to suggest that people who don't have language are unable to think. Consider ancient humans, such as cavemen, who had no language but yet were able to hunt and trap their own food, behaviours that require reasoned thought. Thoughts can evolve from abstract forms such as symbols or pictures that are not bound to the confines of a structured human dialect. In further support of my argument, a simple answer is brought to the surface when we consider how language could have even evolved without thought in the first place!
January 24, 2011
This week in our Psycholinguistics class, one of the main topics was aphasia. We learned that there are many different types of this disorder and that each individual suffering from aphasia tends to experience it differently. While some people with the disorder can speak just a few words, others cannot speak at all, and can no longer read or write. Learning about aphasia really hit home for me. While I have never personally known anyone suffering from the disorder, I do know an individual who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and I can't help but find the strong connection between the symptoms of both illnesses. Like with Alzheimer's, someone suffering from aphasia can lose the ability to engage in everyday activities such as maintaining a conversation, answering the phone, or even reading a book. Such activities often become a source of intense anxiety and frustration for the individual with the illness as well as the people who surround them. Upon reflecting on both illnesses, it seems as though the strong link between the two maladies stems from the fact that aphasia is often a characteristic of Alzheimer's disease. As I can only imagine with aphasia, knowing someone with Alzheimer's disease is a devastating experience. While in class we mostly touched on the general understanding of the different types of aphasia, it is also important to recognize the profound emotional circumstances that accompany the illness as well.
January 31, 2011
This week, we learnt that people typically study speech acoustically with a sound spectograme, which is a visual representation of sound. The speech spectrograph converts a human speech into graphs that can be easily compared. Using colour coding, time, and frequency, different speech sounds, or phonemes, are distinguished on the spectograme by their distinct patterns and shapes on the graph. I think that this phenomenon of measuring human speech is very telling of how far modern science has come. Even more interesting, is the beneficial ways that speech spectogrames can be used to benefit society.
I am interested in discovering whether a person can be positively recognized by his voice? As humans, we have the ability to readily recognize a person by their voice but do spectographs have this same ability of distinguishing individual speech patterns? If they did, the spectograme would be useful in things like helping in police investigations to catch criminals. For instance, suppose a child has been kidnapped and the kidnapper has demanded a ransom over the phone. If this voice were to be recorded and relayed onto speech spectogrames, the voice prints could then be compared to a suspect’s voice. In this respect, obtaining the voice prints of the individual are comparable to the use of fingerprinting in standard police investigations.
February 7, 2011
This week was short week in terms of classes due to some intense Atlantic winter storms. I am therefore left to discuss the topic covered in Monday's class, morphology. Amongst other things, we learned about morphological typologies, discussed some cross-linguistics examples, and spent some time going over some linguistic rules such as the lexicon rule. We learned that the lexicon of a language is what enables a person to mentally organize words and expressions, or in other words, it is one's vocabulary. When we discussed how to express "messaging someone on facebook" it was said that one would use the term "facebooked". I couldn't help but to relate this notion to my individual chapter topic. My chapter's main focus is to elaborate on the notion of jargon with a strong focus on Internet jargon the way it has affected communication online and offline. What is interesting to me about the term, "facebooked", is that this is a novel word that people are actually using these days that stemmed directly from internet-based jargon. I am interested in the way new online technologies are affected the way we speak in our everyday lives and this was an obvious example that I could not refrain from discussing on my blog.
February 14, 2011
Last week we covered the topic of syntax. Before last week, I did not fully understand the difference between syntax and semantics, however, now I know that they are distinct. Syntax is the grammar and rules of a language. It is possible to get some of the meaning out of a sentence from the syntax. Even in a phrase with a lot of grammatical errors, you can often still find meaning. However, semantics is what really enables the interpretations of the meanings of phrases; it is what enable us to retain an understanding the message.
In discussing syntax, we talked about Watson, an artificial intelligence program created by IBM designed to answer questions in the game of Jeopardy. Watson is an information seeking tool that is able to answer questions in natural language. The big question here is, can a computer compete against the world’s best jeopardy player? Watson is an emblem for pushing technology as far as we can. What is so remarkable about this new technology and what makes it an interesting subject in our psycholinguistics class is that linguists and psycholinguists have been trying to understand syntax in humans for a long time and the creation of Watson enables us to look at the issue of syntax in a new light. For a computer to be able to play jeopardy, it must understand the meaning of words, syntax, and all other complex things that we can do with our language like jokes, irony, and even riddles. Watson must have the ability to seek out extraneous knowledge to answer specific questions. Most intriguingly, is the potential this technological innovation can have for understanding better how syntax works in humans—maybe Watson will be able to teach us.
In class this week we talked about music and language. We learnt about the many similarities between the acquisition of language and music such as Patel’s (2003) discovery that humans use similar brain systems for perceiving syntactic structures in music and language (frontal brain—broca’s area). Given that we have very extensive practice at speaking our natural languages, if we played an instrument as often as we spoke in our daily lives, would we be as fluent at both?
In class we learnt that language seems to be an innate intuitive medium but this does not take away from the fact that much learning also occurs through experience. Music is different from language in that it is not used from a young age as readily or naturally as language for the expression of ideas or thoughts. Still, music is a natural activity used from an early age to communicate and entertain. In order to discover whether we could be as fluent in music as we are with language, maybe it would be a good start to connect early music experiences with writing. Just as reading and writing is an enabler of language development, writing down words to tunes and then singing what has been written could be an important tool in the development of music fluency. The same goes for starting to play an instrument from a very young age at a consistent rate. The main issue with comparing the ability to play an instrument with language fluency is that babies do not have the same motor skills as they do cognitive skills at the early stages of language development to be able to play an instrument such as a guitar. This is a tough comparison to make but it is definitely an interesting thought.
In class last week we talked about models of speech production and briefly touched on the tip of the tongue phenomena. For speech to translate from thoughts to spoken language, there is a process that occurs in which one must know the phonology (sounds), articulation (how to use the sounds), meaning, syntactic rules, pragmatics, morphology, and semantics. In order, this process goes as follows:
- Semantics (want to know what you say before you say it- meaning)
- Pragmatics (choose specific words= lexical selection)
- Syntax and morphology
- Intonation (stress pattern)
When thinking about the generally smooth process of speech production, it is important to mention the tip of the tongue phenomena, which seems almost like an exception to this process. When in this state, there are only certain things you can access about a word and it disables you from getting the whole word out. It is very frustrating when you know what you want to say but for some reason, you can’t get the sounds out even if you have the meaning or syntax. Cleary, there are multiple levels involved in accessing a word but why is it that sometimes we get stuck? The phenomenon clearly constitutes a failure in retrieval, however the exact features involved in this failure are subject to debate due to the many possible explanations.
It often seems I have a word at the tip of my tongue during moments of high stress, for instance, during episodes of public speaking. A lot of what I’ve learnt about cognitive and behavioural processes in my psychology classes stems from the notion of evolution. I can’t help but wonder, what possible evolutionary advantage could there be to the temporary loss of memory during periods of stress? Upon pondering this idea and doing research to find promising evidence of an evolutionary explanation, I have found no satisfying information.
This week, we learnt about language development. Prof. Newman introduced the topic with the story of Genie, a child who spent the first thirteen years of her life locked inside a room, strapped onto a chair. This was a severe case of social isolation of which psychologists and linguists showed much interest due to its ability to aid in the understanding of the critical periods of language development. Genie’s situation inadvertently provided scientists with a natural experiment that would enable much research in this area. For instance it would help answer question such as, whether people learn language from their environment or are born with the innate ability to speak? Must children learn language at a young age or can they sufficiently learn language at any age? Could an individual having entered puberty still learn to speak?
In class we learnt that Chomsky felt that learning language was an innate phenomena. We also learnt that Lenneberg felt there was a critical period for language acquisition and that language had to be learned before the age of puberty or the individual would not learn to speak the language as well as a native speaker.
So had Genie's case proven Chomsky or Lenneberg’s theories? The answer is no. In my opinion, there are many problems with this “natural experiment” in that, we would never know if Genie was in fact born with mental and linguistic deficits or if they developed in time based on her hash and abusive lifestyle. Upon being found, Genie’s history was so disastrous that the reason for her slow progress during rehabilitation could be strongly based on irreversible emotional damage interfering with all learning processes.
When considering critical periods, I believe we must consider both the age of acquisition as well a one’s social environment.
This week our psycholinguistics class was fortunate to have a guest lecturer who spoke to us about her experiences working with people suffering from aphasias. One of the most interesting point I took away from this lecture was the fact that the number of people suffering from aphasia in Canada far exceeds those suffering from the common disease, Parkinson’s. Given that even global aphasics can often only speak one word, if any at all, made me question why I had never even heard about aphasia before my psycholinguistics class! Like many, I am part of a population that is not well informed about aphasia due to the lack of awareness out there.
Given that the topic of this weeks lectures focus on bilingualism, I got to the thinking about bilingual aphasia. Since most people know how to speak in more than one language, bilingual aphasia is an important research topic. It is my assumption that bilingual apahsics would have to be assessed and treated in both of their fluent language. Fabbro (2008) studied language recovery in 20 bilingual Friulian–Italian aphasics. The findings of this study revealed that 65% of the patients showed a similar impairment in both languages (parallel recovery), 20% of the patients showed a greater impairment of L2, while 15% of the patients showed a greater impairment of L1. In spite of the the many hypotheses generated to explain nonparallel recovery, it seems as though none of them provide satisfactory explanations. This of bilingual aphasics with parallel impairment in two languages allows us to verify the hypothesis that grammatical disorders in aphasia depend on the specific structure of each language. Thus, several questions can be raised on appropriate treatment programs for multilingual aphasics, many of which remain unanswered.
1. Bilingualism and Memory: Early 19th Century Ideas About the Significance of Polyglot Aphasia Original Research Article Cortex, Volume 43, Issue 5, 2007, Pages 658-666
This week our psycholinguistics class started our group debates. One that I would like to discuss today on my weekly blog is that of ebonics. Ebonics is a form of English referred to as African American Vernacular English. The argument being debated was whether the resolution of the Oakland, California School Board, who stated that Ebonics should be the language of instruction in classrooms where it is the dominant language of the majority of children, should be implemented in the appropriate schools. In my opinion, the winning side of this debate is the team that argued against this and my reasoning is as follows.
The “for” team argued that having Ebonics as the primary language in Ebonics-speaking community schools would keep the language “fresh”, celebrate diversity, and encourage the embracement of the students’ pre-existing skills. I do not believe this are strong enough arguments! The “against” team started off by discussing the pro’s of having Ebonics in these schools (i.e. statistics show there are significant benefits of bilingualism in schools, like having higher IQ scores). However, the strongest point made by the “against” team was that in the US, English is the tool to communicate outside of Ebonics-speaking communities. For instance, someone from the Ebonics community who only learnt Ebonics as their primary language at home and in school, would fail to impress potential employers outside of the community during formal interview settings where, unfortunately, Ebonics is seen as poor grammar. One must also learn standard English to pursue further education. Not only does having Ebonics as the primary language taught in schools have the potential to limit one’s education, there are many examples of thriving communities who speak Ebonics and English that learn Ebonics as their primary language in school.
So I guess this will be the last blog entry for my psycholinguistics course. This semester we covered topics that I found very interesting such as the morphological, lexical, and discourse levels of language, ﬁrst and second language acquisition, language acquisition and processing, and the neural bases of language processing. Aside from the interesting lecture topics, what I learned most in this class was how to engage in deep critical thinking about the material to generate some interesting questions for my weekly blog posts. These weekly assignment encouraged me not only to review each week's lecture topics, but also to dissect and find a deeper meaning to the new information taught in class.
My favorite aspect of the class has been the use of Wikiversity. While at times I have felt lost on this site and a tad frustrated with the unique internet formatting requirements, I feel as though I have learned a lot about using different methods to communicate my scholastic knowledge. In the future, to avoid much confusion and frustration, I'd recommend spending more time in class teaching the students how exactly to use Wikiversity. Overall, however, I found Wikiversity to be an interesting and creative outlet for posting my research.
Another aspect of this course that I really enjoyed were the online podcasts. I have never had a professor post every class' lecture online and I found it a very helpful tool! I also really enjoyed the debates. It is not common in the psychology program to have to do presentations and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of not only presenting course material, but doing so by the means of a debate with a strong argument. One aspect of the debates that I think could be improved for the future would be to add a component to the debates where the teams could argue directly against one another. I think a lot of the students, including myself, were antsy to give rebuttals for the other teams during the presentations and were frustrated to not be able to state their arguments in the moment.
Further, while I enjoyed the ease of knowing I would not be tested on the course material, I do believe having exams is an essential course requirement. Having exams requires students to stay on top of the material and maintains the necessary structure to motivate learning. I think having tests would be an important addition to the course.
Lastly, it is not often that I am able to be creative in my psychology courses. In this course, particularly with the learning exercise, we were encouraged to use creativity, which I loved.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this course. I think that Prof. Newman really created a modern take on standard classroom learning with the implementation of a lot of electronic use. Prof. Newman was always very helpful, understanding, and easy to speak to.
Thank you for following my blog and thank you, Prof. Newman, for a great experience in this psycholinguistics course!
- .Bilingualism and Memory: Early 19th Century Ideas About the Significance of Polyglot Aphasia Original Research Article Cortex, Volume 43, Issue 5, 2007, Pages 658-666