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Article

Laurence B. Leonard

Children with specific language impairment (SLI) have a significant deficit in their ability to acquire language that cannot be attributed to intellectual disability, neurological damage, hearing loss, or a diagnosis of autism. These deficits can be long-standing, and adversely affect other aspects of the affected individual’s life. There seems to be a genetic component to SLI, but the disorder is not likely to be traced to a single gene. The problem appears to be universal, but symptoms vary depending on the language being learned. Current attempts to account for SLI have increased our understanding of the most salient symptoms of the disorder, but a full understanding of SLI is not yet within reach.

Article

Lori E. James and Sara Anne Goring

The questions of whether and why language processes change in healthy aging require complicated answers. Although comprehension appears to be more stable across adulthood than does production, there is evidence for age-related changes and also for constancy within both input and output components of language. Further, these changes can be considered at various levels of the language hierarchy, such as sensory input, words, sentences, and discourse. As concluded in several other comprehensive reviews, older adults’ language production ability declines much more noticeably than does their comprehension, presumably because comprehension is able to benefit from contextual processing in a way that production cannot. Specifically, lexical and orthographic retrieval become more difficult during normal aging, and these changes appear to represent the most noticeable age-related declines in language production. Some theories of age-related decline focus on global deterioration of cognitive function, whereas other theories predict changes in specific processes related to language function. Both types of theories have received empirical support as applied to language performance, although additional theoretical development is still needed to capture the patterns of effects. Further, in order to truly understand how cognitive aging impacts the ability to understand and produce language, it is necessary to examine how age-related shifts in goals, expertise, and compensatory strategies influence language processes. There are important implications of research on language and cognitive aging, in that language can play a role in physical health and psychological well-being. In summary, our review of the existing literature on language and cognitive aging supports previous claims that language ability is asymmetrically impacted by age, with smaller overall effects of aging on comprehension than production processes.

Article

Michael D. Beecher

Among Darwin’s brilliant ideas was his (1871) conception of animal communication signals as adaptive characteristics of a species. The idea was subsequently taken up by the ethologists of Europe in the 1930s (Lorenz, Tinbergen, and von Frisch in particular) in their studies of animal signaling systems in nature. For many subsequent researchers, human language was the implicit model for an animal communication system. Although not expecting the same level of complexity, these researchers assumed that animal signals transmitted information from sender to receiver that was honest, and that benefitted them both. However, the honest signaling/mutual benefit view was challenged by new researchers steeped in the sociobiology and behavioral ecology movement of the 1960s. The emphasis on competition in this new field inspired these researchers to reconceive the animal signaling process as one in which the sender manipulates the receiver to the sender’s advantage. This view was challenged in turn when researchers recognized that the receiver was not a passive party in the interaction, but fully capable of manipulating the sender to its advantage. The communication interaction can be viewed as an arm’s race. The handicap principle—the idea that honesty in signaling can be maintained if signals are costly—is one way the receiver may gain an edge in this competition. Eventually, game theory considerations led to the development of a revised perspective in which signals evolve only when both the sender and the receiver benefit on average, and where signals are honest on average. Researchers examining a particular signaling system’s signals these days ask not are the signals honest, but how reliable are the signals.

Article

The subfield of communication and intergroup relations attempts to disentangle the ways in which human message exchange is influenced by, and itself affects, relations between social groups. Typically, the social groups considered are large scale groups (e.g., national, religious, ethnic groups), but similar processes can also be applied to smaller groups such as families or work groups. Specifically, the field of communication and intergroup relations considers how social interaction is changed when the interlocutors belong to (or perceive themselves as belonging to) specific social groups, and how everyday talk about groups changes perceptions and attitudes concerning those groups. The subfield also considers how broader societal messages relate to group memberships. For instance, how do media messages reflect the macrosocial position of particular groups, and do media messages influence how consumers think about group memberships and intergroup relations? Underpinning all study of intergroup communication is the belief that intergroup relations are forged, perpetuated, and modified in real-life everyday social communication.

Article

Mutsumi Imai, Junko Kanero, and Takahiko Masuda

The relations among language, culture, and thought are complex. The empirical evidence from diverse domains suggests that culture affects language, language affects thought, and universally shared perception and cognition constrain the structure of language. Although neither language nor culture determines thought, both seem to highlight certain aspects of the world, with stronger influence when there are no clear perceptible categories. Research must delve into how language, culture, perception, and cognition interact with one another across different domains.

Article

Erica H. Wojcik, Irene de la Cruz-Pavía, and Janet F. Werker

Language is a structured form of communication that is unique to humans. Within the first few years of life, typically developing children can understand and produce full sentences in their native language or languages. For centuries, philosophers, psychologists, and linguists have debated how we acquire language with such ease and speed. Central to this debate has been whether the learning process is driven by innate capacities or information in the environment. In the field of psychology, researchers have moved beyond this dichotomy to examine how perceptual and cognitive biases may guide input-driven learning and how these biases may change with experience. There is evidence that this integration permeates the learning and development of all aspects of language—from sounds (phonology), to the meanings of words (lexical-semantics), to the forms of words and the structure of sentences (morphosyntax). For example, in the area of phonology, newborns’ bias to attend to speech over other signals facilitates early learning of the prosodic and phonemic properties of their native language(s). In the area of lexical-semantics, infants’ bias to attend to novelty aids in mapping new words to their referents. In morphosyntax, infants’ sensitivity to vowels, repetition, and phrase edges guides statistical learning. In each of these areas, too, new biases come into play throughout development, as infants gain more knowledge about their native language(s).

Article

Research in the psychology of language has been dogged by some enduring controversies, many of which continue to divide researchers. Furthermore, language research has been riven by too many dichotomies and too many people taking too extreme a position, and progress is only likely to be made when researchers recognize that language is a complex system where simple dichotomies may not be relevant. The enduring controversies cover the width of psycholinguistics, including the work of Chomsky and the nature of language, to what extent language is innately determined and the origin of language and how it evolved. Chomsky’s work has also influenced our conceptions of the modularity of the structure of the mind and the nature of psychological processing. Advances in the sophistication of brain imaging techniques have led to debate about exactly what these techniques can tell us about the psychological processing of language. There has also been much debate about whether psychological processing occurs through explicit rules or statistical mapping, a debate driven by connectionist modeling, deep learning, and techniques for the analysis of “big data.” Another debate concerns the role of prediction in language and cognition and the related issues of the relationship between language comprehension and language production. To what extent is language processing embodied, and how does it relate to controversies about “embedded cognition”? Finally, there has been debate about the purpose and use of language.

Article

Darwin’s theory of evolution opened the way for the study of nonhuman primates as a valuable method for understanding human behavior. Psychologists and anthropologists both value the study of nonhuman primates, but they have different methods and goals. Broadly speaking, anthropologists have studied the behavior and social lives of animals in their natural habitat with interests in how primates adapt to their environment and in tracing primate evolutionary history. Psychologists typically study captive primates where controlled experiments are possible to understand the ontogeny and underlying mechanism controlling behavior. The two approaches are complementary and, when integrated, can lead to important insights. Since the middle of the 20th century, primate research has expanded exponentially, with an increasing number of long-term field sites providing important data across generations with expanded studies of a great variety of species. Captive research also has thrived with the establishment of national primate research centers. Primate research has illuminated our understanding of cognition, language evolution, tool use, culture, and social structure, including mating systems and sexual behavior, parenting, aggression, and cooperation. However, the majority of nonhuman primate species are threatened or endangered in their natural habitats and require human intervention to preserve our primate heritage.

Article

Michael J. Beran

Comparative psychology is the study of behavior and cognition across species. In recent decades, much of this research has focused on cognitive capacities that are well studied in humans. This approach provides comparative perspectives on the evolution of these cognitive capacities. Although in many areas humans shows distinct aspects of various cognitive processes, it is clear that for most major topics in human cognition, important and illustrative data are available from studies with other animals. Moreover, these areas of investigation increasingly show continuities between the behavior of other species and human behavior. Several of these cognitive processes, including concept and category learning, numerical cognition, memory, mental time travel and prospective cognition, metacognition, and language learning, highlight these continuities and demonstrate the richness of mental lives in other animals. Nonhuman animals can discriminate between categories of perceptual and conceptual classes, they can form concepts, and they can use those concepts to guide decision making and choice behavior. Other species can engage in rudimentary numerical cognition, and more importantly share with humans certain core quantitative abilities for the approximate representation of magnitude and number. Nonhuman animals share many phenomena of memory that are well-recognized in humans, and in some cases may even share the capacity to mentally re-experience the past and to anticipate and plan for the future. In some cases, some species may even reflect on their own knowledge states, memory accessibility, and perceptual acuity as they make metacognitive judgments. And, studies of animal communication provided the basis for intensive assessments of language-like behavior in certain species. Taken together, these results argue much more for continuity than discontinuity. This should not be seen as a challenge to the uniqueness of human minds, but rather as a way to better understand how we became the species we are through the process of evolution.

Article

Susan C. Baker, Bernadette M. Watson, and Cindy Gallois

Language is a social behavior and a key aspect of social interaction. Language is ubiquitous and usually occurs with other human behaviors across diverse contexts. Thus, it is difficult to study it in isolation. This difficulty may be why most, albeit not all, social psychologists tend to neglect language, in spite of the prominence of language in early 20th century social psychology and the presence of numerous handbooks and reviews of this area. Language use has implications for many social psychological processes, and, given its role in daily social life, it is important to understand its social underpinnings. The field of language and social psychology highlights the relationship between language and communication and foregrounds the differences between the social-psychological and communication approaches. One central issue is bilingualism and the relationships among language, identity, and culture. Another is methodology, where social psychologists have tended to choose experimental and survey strategies to look at language (not always to the best advantage). This century has seen the development of new technologies that allow us to look at language on a large scale and in rich detail and that have the potential to transform this research. In part as a consequence, in the early 21st century there are many new topics emerging in language and social psychology that help to set a new agenda for future research.

Article

Jeanne Marecek and Eva Magnusson

Qualitative inquiry is a form of psychological research that seeks in-depth understanding of people and their social worlds. Qualitative researchers typically study the experiences of people as meaning-making agents, relying on verbal material. Qualitative inquiry has a long history in psychology, beginning in the 19th century with founders of psychology like William James and Wilhelm Wundt. However, for much of the 20th century, qualitative inquiry has occupied a marginal position in the discipline. This marginalization is best understood in relation to the discipline’s early struggle to be regarded as legitimate. Adopting the methods of the natural sciences—notably quantification and measurement—was a means to that end. Qualitative approaches, though suppressed for much of the 20th century, were not entirely eliminated from the field. Personality theorists, for example, continued to make use of them. The 1970s marked the advent of new forms of qualitative inquiry in psychology, which drew from a variety of intellectual and philosophical movements. These developments continued to gain acceptance and adherents. Since the turn of the 20th century, national and international organizations of qualitative researchers in psychology have been established. Venues for publishing qualitative research in psychology have increased. Nonetheless, qualitative inquiry is still marginalized in many academic psychology departments, and training in qualitative methods is seldom part of the methods curriculum.

Article

Margaret Jane Pitts and Cindy Gallois

Social markers in language and speech are cues conveyed through verbal and nonverbal means that serve to identify individuals to the groups to which they belong. Social markers can be linguistic, paralinguistic, or extralinguistic in form, and can range from intentional and purposive (e.g., language selection or dialect accentuation) to unintentional and uncontrollable (e.g., vocal features that mark age or sex). They help to provide context for social organization. Extralinguistic cues are those that may be conveyed through gesture and physical appearance (i.e., skin color). However, social markers in language and speech focus on the paralinguistic (i.e., vocal cues such as pitch and tone) and linguistic cues (i.e., language choice, language style, accent, dialect, code-switching, and multilingualism) that mark social categories. Relevant social categories that are made distinctive through language and speech markers include age, sex and gender, social class, ethnicity, and many others. Scholars across disciplines of psychology, social psychology, linguistics, and communication have approached the study of social markers from different perspectives, resulting in theoretical (e.g., communication accommodation theory, ethnolinguistic vitality theory, linguistic intergroup bias) and methodological (e.g., matched-guise technique and ethnography of communication) advancements.