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Article

Michael Ramscar

Healthy aging is associated with many cognitive, linguistic, and behavioral changes. For example, adults’ reaction times slow on many tasks as they grow older, while their memories, appear to fade, especially for apparently basic linguistic information such as other people’s names. These changes have traditionally been thought to reflect declines in the processing power of human minds and brains as they age. However, from the perspective of the information-processing paradigm that dominates the study of mind, the question of whether cognitive processing capacities actually decline across the life span can only be scientifically answered in relation to functional models of the information processes that are presumed to be involved in cognition. Consider, for example, the problem of recalling someone’s name. We are usually reminded of the names of friends on a regular basis, and this makes us good at remembering them. However, as we move through life, we inevitably learn more names. Sometimes we hear these new names only once. As we learn each new name, the average exposure we will have had to any individual name we know is likely to decline, while the number of different names we know is likely to increase. This in turn is likely to make the task of recalling a particular name more complex. One consequence of this is as follows: If Mary can only recall names with 95% accuracy at age 60—when she knows 900 names—does she necessarily have a worse memory than she did at age 16, when she could recall any of only 90 names with 98% accuracy? Answering the question of whether Mary’s memory for names has actually declined (or improved even) will require some form of quantification of Mary’s knowledge of names at any given point in her life and the definition of a quantitative model that predicts expected recall performance for a given amount of name knowledge, as well as an empirical measure of the accuracy of the model across a wide range of circumstances. Until the early 21st century, the study of cognition and aging was dominated by approaches that failed to meet these requirements. Researchers simply established that Mary’s name recall was less accurate at a later age than it was at an earlier one, and took this as evidence that Mary’s memory processes had declined in some significant way. However, as computational approaches to studying cognitive—and especially psycholinguistic—processes and processing became more widespread, a number of matters related to the development of processing across the life span began to become apparent: First, the complexity involved in establishing whether or not Mary’s name recall did indeed become less accurate with age began to be better understood. Second, when the impact of learning on processing was controlled for, it became apparent that at least some processes showed no signs of decline at all in healthy aging. Third, the degree to which the environment—both in terms of its structure, and its susceptibility to change—further complicates our understanding of life-span cognitive performance also began to be better comprehended. These new findings not only promise to change our understanding of healthy cognitive aging, but also seem likely to alter our conceptions of cognition and language themselves.

Article

It is often said that languages for specific purposes (also named special languages or technolects) are the product of a division of labor. Although this concept was introduced only as late as 1776 (by Adam Smith, in An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations), the idea that professions or occupations of all kind are characterized by a particular vocabulary that is not understood by all native speakers was already manifest in the writings of medieval scholars (for instance, in Dante’s De vulgari eloquentia). In the Middle Ages most Romance languages conquered a more or less wide range of domains. The question arose whether they were also appropriate to serve as a medium of scholarship. The disciplines taught at the universities (arts, theology, law, medicine) had a strong Latin tradition; their knowledge was popularized by means of translations, which enriched the vocabulary and the syntactic flexibility of the emerging languages. Thus, the translators—sometimes organized in “schools”—contributed to the elaboration of the target languages and to their emancipation from Latin. Aside from the septem artes liberales, however, a second group of (seven) disciplines without Latin roots (called artes mechanicae) established and introduced mainly native vocabulary typical of the respective occupational fields. During the first centuries of modern times, more and more scholars felt that their mother tongue should take the place of Latin as a means of propagating scholarship and new findings. In the 17th and 18th centuries, French held the lead among the modern languages in nearly all fields of knowledge; it maintained its dominant position among the Romance languages until the second half of the 20th century. On a global level, German was a strong rival in the humanities and several scientific disciplines in the 19th century; for many decades, however, English has been the universal medium of communication in the scientific community. This process has given rise to many discussions about language planning measures to be taken in order to curtail the Anglo-American supremacy. Before the 18th century, special languages did not have a strong impact on the physiognomy of developed languages. In the sphere of academic disciplines, translations of canonical Latin texts entailed a general re-Latinization and, as a consequence, a process of convergence of the Romance languages. The technical languages of trade and artisanry were highly fragmented so that their special vocabulary was used and understood only in limited geographical areas. In the Age of Enlightenment, the growing prestige of experts, on the one hand, and philosophical considerations about the optimization of language(s), on the other hand, led to increasing harmonization efforts on national and supranational levels. Organizations were founded with the purpose of creating and standardizing terminologies for various kinds of subjects (technical products, medicine, etc.). Special languages, far from being homogeneous varieties, are differentiated vertically. Linguists use to distinguish between three levels of communication: specialists inter se (e.g., physician—physician), specialist—skilled worker (physician—nurse), and specialist—layman (physician—patient). Studying how technical terms seep into common language and what changes they undergo during this process is a great challenge for linguists.

Article

Matthew B. Winn and Peggy B. Nelson

Cochlear implants (CIs) are the most successful sensory implant in history, restoring the sensation of sound to thousands of persons who have severe to profound hearing loss. Implants do not recreate acoustic sound as most of us know it, but they instead convey a rough representation of the temporal envelope of signals. This sparse signal, derived from the envelopes of narrowband frequency filters, is sufficient for enabling speech understanding in quiet environments for those who lose hearing as adults and is enough for most children to develop spoken language skills. The variability between users is huge, however, and is only partially understood. CIs provide acoustic information that is sufficient for the recognition of some aspects of spoken language, especially information that can be conveyed by temporal patterns, such as syllable timing, consonant voicing, and manner of articulation. They are insufficient for conveying pitch cues and separating speech from noise. There is a great need for improving our understanding of functional outcomes of CI success beyond measuring percent correct for word and sentence recognitions. Moreover, greater understanding of the variability experienced by children, especially children and families from various social and cultural backgrounds, is of paramount importance. Future developments will no doubt expand the use of this remarkable device.

Article

“Special language domain” (SLD) refers to domains or areas of language use in which linguistic rules may be violated legitimately. The SLD is similar to “free trade zones,” “special administrative regions,” and “special economic zones” in which tariff, executive, and economic regulations may be legitimately violated to an extent. Innovative use in SLD is another major resource for language evolution and language change as well as language contact and language acquisition, since some temporary and innovative forms of usage in SLD may develop beyond the SLD at a later stage to become part of the core system of linguistic rules. Focusing on relevant grammatical phenomena observed in the Chinese language, poetry in various forms, titles and slogans, and Internet language are the three major types of SLD, and their violation of linguistic rules is motivated differently. Furthermore, although core linguistic rules may be violated in SLD, the violations are still subject to certain limits and restrictions. Only some language-particular rules can be violated legitimately in SLD; the principles of Universal Grammar, applicable generally for all human languages, have to be observed even in the SLD. The study of a special language domain provides an ideal and fascinating window for linguists to understand language mechanisms, explain historical change in language, and plausibly predict the future direction of language evolution.

Article

Lenore A. Grenoble

Language shift occurs when a community of users replaces one language by another, or “shifts” to that other language. Although language shift can and does occur at the level of the individual speaker, it is shift at the level of an entire community that is associated with widespread language replacement and loss. Shift is a particular kind of language loss, and differs from language attrition, which involves the loss of a language over an individual’s lifetime, often the result of aging or of language replacement (as in shift). Both language shift and attrition are in contrast to language maintenance, the continuing use of a language. Language maintenance and revitalization programs are responses to language shift, and are undertaken by communites who perceive that their language is threatened by a decrease in usage and under threat of loss. Language shift is widespread and can be found with majority- or minority-language populations. It is often associated with immigrant groups who take up the majority language of their new territory, leaving behind the language of their homeland. For minority-language speaker communities, language shift is generally the result of a combination of factors, in particular colonization. A nexus of factors—historical, political, social, and economic—often provides the impetus for a community to ceasing speaking their ancestral language, replacing it with the language of the majority, and usually politically dominant, group. Language shift is thus a social issue, and often coupled with other indicators of social distress. Language endangerment is the result of language shift, and in fact shift is its most widespread cause.Since the 1960s there has been ever-increasing interest across speaker communities and linguists to work to provide opportunities to learn and use minority languages to offset shift, and to document speakers in communities under the threat of shift.

Article

M. Teresa Espinal and Jaume Mateu

Idioms, conceived as fixed multi-word expressions that conceptually encode non-compositional meaning, are linguistic units that raise a number of questions relevant in the study of language and mind (e.g., whether they are stored in the lexicon or in memory, whether they have internal or external syntax similar to other expressions of the language, whether their conventional use is parallel to their non-compositional meaning, whether they are processed in similar ways to regular compositional expressions of the language, etc.). Idioms show some similarities and differences with other sorts of formulaic expressions, the main types of idioms that have been characterized in the linguistic literature, and the dimensions on which idiomaticity lies. Syntactically, idioms manifest a set of syntactic properties, as well as a number of constraints that account for their internal and external structure. Semantically, idioms present an interesting behavior with respect to a set of semantic properties that account for their meaning (i.e., conventionality, compositionality, and transparency, as well as aspectuality, referentiality, thematic roles, etc.). The study of idioms has been approached from lexicographic and computational, as well as from psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic perspectives.

Article

The linguistic study of literature addresses the ways in which language is differently organized in verbal art (literature): form is added to language, altered, attenuated, and differently grouped. These different kinds of organization are normatively subject to limits, some derived from limits on general linguistic form or language-specific linguistic form. However, linguistic form can in principle be altered in any way at all, for example, in avant-garde texts or to produce artificial languages for literature; this possibility raises the general question of whether some organizations of literary language are cognitively transparent and others are cognitively opaque. Of the various added forms, the most extensively studied has been metrical form, which requires the words of the text to be grouped into lines. Metrical form combines a non-linguistic counting system with a rhythmic system that adapts the rhythmic systems of ordinary phonology; most accounts of meter have focused on the rhythms as these are of greater linguistic interest than counting (which plays no significant role in language in general). The metrical line may have a special status, as a cognitively privileged level of grouping, possibly because it is fitted to working memory. Rhyme and alliteration are two common kinds of added form; most linguistic interest has been in what counts as “similarity of sound” between two words, whether at a surface or underlying level. Rhyming and alliterating words are distributed relative to the grouping into lines and other constituents. The other major kind of added form is parallelism, where two sections of text are structurally similar, usually in syntax and vocabulary. The various added forms may allow for variation (e.g., every line in an English sonnet can be in a different rhythmic variation of iambic pentameter), and can be intermittently present; there is no clear equivalent to ‘grammaticality’ in literary linguistic form. This may be because literary linguistic form holds as a presumption about a text, derived by inference, rather than as a constitutive structural device. All literary texts have a discourse structure, which includes division into various types of group or constituent, including the division of a narrative into episodes, exploiting verbal cues of episodic boundaries. Narratives also require the tracking of referents such as people and objects across the discourse, which draws on the study of pronominals. Literary texts may also have a distinctive vocabulary, borrowing or inventing words to an unusual degree, and engaging in various kinds of wordplay. Literary texts have ‘style’ and ‘markedness’, ways in which the language varies in noticeable ways but without coding a different linguistic semantics. These stylistic variations are sometimes treated as having determinate interpretations, but there are also approaches to stylistic variations in literature that treat them as having a non-determinate relation to meaning. Literature cannot have a different semantics or pragmatics from ordinary language, but meaning can be ‘difficult’ in literature in ways not characteristic of much ordinary language (but in common with ritual speech and other ways of speaking). A major mode of linguistic investigation involves corpora, over which statistical analyses are undertaken. This has a relation to the question of whether our literary-linguistic knowledge has a probabilistic basis, a question that ties the study of language to questions of expectation in aesthetics (e.g., music) more generally. Literature exists in various modalities—writing, oral literature, and signed literature—and linguistic approaches to literature have been sensitive to this, as well as to the special questions about how texts are set to music in songs.

Article

The expression language of the economy and business refers to an extremely heterogeneous linguistic reality. For some, it denotes all text and talk produced by economic agents in the pursuit of economic activity, for others the language used to write or talk about the economy or business, that is, the language of the economic sciences and the media. Both the economy and business contain a myriad of subdomains, each with its own linguistic peculiarities. Language use also differs quite substantially between the shop floor and academic articles dealing with it. Last but not least, language is itself a highly articulate entity, composed of sounds, words, concepts, etc., which are taken care of by a considerable number of linguistic disciplines and theories. As a consequence, this research landscape offers a very varied picture. The state of research is also highly diverse as far as the Romance languages are concerned. The bulk of relevant publications concerns French, followed at a certain distance by Spanish and Italian, while Romanian, Catalan, and Portuguese look like poor relations. As far as the dialects are concerned, only those of some Italian cities that held a central position in medieval trade, like Venice, Florence, or Genoa, have given rise to relevant studies. As far as the metalanguage used in research is concerned, the most striking feature is the overwhelming preponderance of German and the almost complete absence of English. The insignificant role of English must probably be attributed to the fact that the study of foreign business languages in the Anglo-Saxon countries is close to nonexistent. Why study foreign business languages if one own’s language is the lingua franca of today’s business world? Scholars from the Romance countries, of course, generally write in their mother tongue, but linguistic publications concerning the economic and business domain are relatively scarce there. The heterogeneity of the metalanguages used certainly hinders the constitution of a close-knit research community.

Article

Edgar W. Schneider

English clearly is the world’s most widely used language in the early 21st century: the language of formal and other interactions in very many countries, the main tool of globalization, and the default choice for transnational communication. Initially, the expansion of the British Empire, beginning in the 17th century and driven by various motives for colonization, brought it to all continents: North America and the Caribbean, the southern hemisphere (including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other territories), and also Asia, Africa, and the Pacific region. In contact with indigenous languages new, increasingly stable and localized varieties of English with properties and functions of their own have grown in many countries. These varieties have come to be summarily labeled as “World Englishes,” and a new subdiscipline in linguistics has emerged since the 1980s investigating their features and conditions of use. They have conventionally been classified according to their status in specific countries and territories, as native, second, or foreign languages, respectively, and several theoretical models have been proposed to account for their status, developments, and mutual relationships. Vibrant changes of the recent past, broadly associated with a sociolinguistics of globalization and increasing superdiversity, have continued to push the dissemination of English to new contexts, both socially and individually, and a “post-varieties approach” is now being envisaged. A wide range of facts and issues can be discussed and investigated when addressing World Englishes. The basic perspective, obviously, concerns the sociohistorical diffusion of the language: Who brought English to which territories, when, and why? And how has the language been transformed in different places? It has been argued convincingly (in the “Dynamic Model” of the evolution of Postcolonial Englishes) that despite all geographical, historical, and social differences, amazing similarities in the emergence of these new varieties, grounded in principles of sociolinguistic accommodation and identity transformations, can be identified. In all contexts and territories, contact with local and other languages has been determinative, usually via the process of second-language acquisition of English by indigenous people. Language policies and their implementation by means of strategies of language pedagogy have played a major role, and all of this is shaped decisively by linguistic attitudes—the question of what speakers and authorities believe about such emerging varieties and their relationship to norms of correctness. Also, specific structural patterns and types of linguistic phenomena can be observed in all these varieties on all levels of language organization. Consequently, the notion of “English” today needs to be retuned from thinking of it as a single, monolithic entity, a linguistic “standard” and a reference system, to understanding it as a set of related, structurally overlapping, but also distinct varieties, the products of a fundamental “glocalization” process with variable, context-dependent outcomes.

Article

Bilingualism/multilingualism is a natural phenomenon worldwide. Unwittingly, however, monolingualism has been used as a standard to characterize and define bilingualism/multilingualism in linguistic research. Such a conception led to a “fractional,” “irregular,” and “distorted” view of bilingualism, which is becoming rapidly outmoded in the light of multipronged, rapidly growing interdisciplinary research. This article presents a complex and holistic view of bilinguals and multilinguals on conceptual, theoretical, and pragmatic/applied grounds. In that process, it attempts to explain why bilinguals are not a mere composite of two monolinguals. If bilinguals were a clone of two monolinguals, the study of bilingualism would not merit any substantive consideration in order to come to grips with bilingualism; all one would have to do is focus on the study of a monolingual person. Interestingly, even the two bilinguals are not clones of each other, let alone bilinguals as a set of two monolinguals. This paper examines the multiple worlds of bilinguals in terms of their social life and social interaction. The intricate problem of defining and describing bilinguals is addressed; their process and end result of becoming bilinguals is explored alongside their verbal interactions and language organization in the brain. The role of social and political bilingualism is also explored as it interacts with individual bilingualism and global bilingualism (e.g., the issue of language endangerment and language death). Other central concepts such as individuals’ bilingual language attitudes, language choices, and consequences are addressed, which set bilinguals apart from monolinguals. Language acquisition is as much an innate, biological, as social phenomenon; these two complementary dimensions receive consideration in this article along with the educational issues of school performance by bilinguals. Is bilingualism a blessing or a curse? The linguistic and cognitive consequences of individual, societal, and political bilingualism are examined.