How Does Language Influence Thought?

In this video I consider the relationship between language and thought. The Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, or linguistic relativity hypothesis, suggests that one’s language influences one’s perception of the world. While evidence is mixed on just how language influences thought, there are other ways of examining the complex relationship between language, thought, and culture. It’s possible to consider how language influences thought within an individual (such as a bilingual individual) or how language influences thought within a language (such as whether Orwellian newspeak influences perception). We’ve already seen how language can influence memory (Loftus and Palmer’s car crash study) and in a future video we’ll see how language may influence decision-making.

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Video Transcript:

Hi, I’m Michael Corayer and this is Psych Exam Review. In the previous videos I’ve talked about this idea of a critical period for language acquisition which seems to be about age 7 and you may have found yourself wondering, what is it like to be someone who misses that window of time?” What does it feel like to be a child who was raised in isolation, or a deaf child in Nicaragua who was just a few years too late for this new school and this new language that emerged?

How do these people think, right? Because our own language and thought are so tied together it seems that all of our thoughts happen in language. It feels that way but we might wonder, well what exactly is this relationship between our language and how we think?

So this brings us to what’s called the Whorf Sapir hypothesis. This was proposed by Benjamin Whorf and named after Whorf and his mentor Edward Sapir. Whorf proposed that speakers of the Hopi language conceptualized time differently because of the structure of their language. This is also called the linguistic relativity hypothesis. It’s the idea that the language that you speak influences your perception of the world.

Now how would we go about testing this? Well researchers have come up with some clever ways to try to test this so they’ve looked at things like if you look at the spectrum of visible light we see that different languages divide colors in different places and so you could have two similar colors that in one language we have two words for these colors, they’re considered to be different, and in another language we use the same term for both of those colors.

So you might think well maybe this influences people’s perception of those colors, maybe it influences their memory for those colors right? I ask you to remember these, one of these two colors, if you have a different word for it that might help you versus if you don’t you might mix them up, mix up those two colors later. Or we could think about how language might influence time perception like Whorf suggested with the Hopi language. So might think well maybe reading from left to right or right to left or top to bottom maybe that influences how people perceive the passage of time, how they think about the relationship of things over time.

So researchers have looked into this and what seems to be clear is it’s not the case that there’s linguistic determinism. In other words, your language doesn’t determine how you think about the world. That’s certainly not true but there may be room for this relativity idea. It might be the case that your language has some influence on your thought but it’s difficult to assess reliably and the results of these studies have been mixed.

Now I think of this language and thought relationship occasionally when I see sort of like BuzzFeed type articles on things like untranslatable words. I always find these articles rather silly because of course the words can be translated because otherwise you couldn’t write the article. So just because we don’t have a single term for something doesn’t mean that we can’t conceptualize it, right? So just because German has schadenfreude doesn’t mean that, you know, English doesn’t have this word and therefore I can’t conceptualize taking joy in someone else’s suffering. In fact I may experience it myself from time to time.

Alright so it’s kind of silly to try to think of, well of course we can use, we might not have a single word, but we can use other words to describe the concept and that means we can think about it. But we might wonder well some of these untranslatable terms seem to have more to do with culture and cultural perceptions so bringing in the idea of culture here makes this even more complicated because

language and culture are so closely tied to one another. We certainly accept that culture influences people’s perception of the world. The way that you think is influenced by your culture, there’s really not a lot of debate on that. There’s debate on the specifics of how this occurs, but it’s generally pretty well accepted that your culture is going to influence how you think. So how do we separate language from that? We have this sort of braid of language and thought and culture and they’re all twisted together.

So how do we separate them? One thing that we can do is we can think about how language might influence thought within individuals. What do I mean by that? Well, here I’m referring to the idea that it could be the case that people who speak multiple languages think differently in those different languages. So you have the same person and different types of thoughts depending on what which language they use.

So studies have been done with bilingual individuals and one thing that’s been found in Mandarin and English bilingual individuals and English and Spanish bilingual individuals that if they take personality tests in the different languages they actually get different results. So their personality traits will change slightly depending on whether they take the test in English or in Spanish or in Mandarin.

This indicates that maybe language does influence thought, at least within individuals and then we can wonder about, well, what about within a language? So what do I mean by that? We might wonder within a language how much does word choice influence how people think about things? Is there really this influence of Orwellian Newspeak? We might think of in Beijing the haze around the city is often referred to “wu mai” which means “foggy haze” but a good deal of that haze isn’t just fog. It’s “pollution” or “wu ran” and so we might wonder, does calling it “foggy haze” influence how people think about their environment rather than if we called it pollution?

We might also wonder in more recent events whether it influences people’s thought if we call something an “alternative fact” versus a “lie” or a “distortion”. So how does word choice within a language influence how people think? We’ve actually already seen an example of this when we saw Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer’s study on reconstructive memory. This is the idea that the wording of a question actually influenced people’s recall of the event. So when people saw this car crash video, if they were asked a question about the cars “smashing” into each other they gave a higher speed estimate than if they were asked about the cars “hitting” each other and this suggests a role of language influencing thought.

We also saw it in the follow up where a week later people remembered seeing broken glass if the word smashed had been used but they were less likely to remember seeing broken glass if the word hit had been used. This suggests a role of language on thought within a single language and this is something that we’re going to look at in a future video. We’ll look at the role of language and framing of questions on how people make decisions.

All right so we don’t have a clear answer to this question of how language influences thought but we can see some examples where it may play a role and we’ll look at those again in a future video. I hope you found this helpful, if so, please like the video and subscribe to the channel more.

Thanks for watching!

The Interactionist Approach to Language Acquisition

In this video I describe the interactionist approach to language acquisition. This approach recognizes our genetic predisposition for language and considers how the social environment plays a role in that development. Children are learning more than just vocabulary and syntactical rules and their ability to interact and communicate using language is supported by the adults and other children around them, which Jerome Bruner referred to as the Language Acquisition Support System (LASS). I also explain how the social environment played a fundamental role in the emergence of a new sign language in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

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Video Transcript:

Hi, I’m Michael Corayer and this is Psych Exam Review.

In the previous video I talked about this idea of a critical period for language acquisition and this is the idea that if children aren’t exposed to language prior to about the age of seven then they’re unable to develop full linguistic fluency in any language.

Now this idea brings us to consider the role of the environment on language development. So it’s not just the case that we have a genetic predisposition for language and it just emerges, but we need to have the correct environment in order to realize that full potential.

This brings us to consider the role of the social environment more carefully when it comes to language acquisition and this brings us to what’s called an interactionist approach to language acquisition. The interactionist approach recognizes that we seem to have a genetic predisposition for language acquisition that other animals don’t have but that we also have a social environment that plays an important role in the full development of language ability.

So when we think about the way the children develop language, it’s not the case that they simply sit there listening to adults talk and then one day they jump into the conversation, right? Instead we see that there’s this process of development and adults and even other children are actively involved in shaping that development. It’s also the case that children aren’t simply learning language, right? They’re not just learning vocabulary and syntactical rules, right? They’re learning how to interact with others and they’re learning how to communicate.

So this brings us to what a researcher named Jerome Bruner referred to as the language acquisition support system and this was in contrast to Chomsky’s language acquisition device, the idea of this genetic predisposition. So Bruner suggests we have this language acquisition support system; these are the features of the social environment that help language ability to emerge.

So it’s not the case that adults simply talk and children listen and then they develop language but adults do things like direct the child’s attention to certain things, so they tell a child what to focus on and they ask questions to the child and then they label things. So they point things out and “say this is a dog” “this is a cat” and they provide feedback when the child makes mistakes. So when the child has learned the word dog and then later sees a cat and points to it and says dog the adult can say “no, actually this is a cat and they’re similar but they’re, you know, we use different words for these”. And so this provides this support system or this scaffolding that allows the language to develop more fully. Okay, so another thing that’s different with the way that adults interact with children is that they don’t speak to them like adults right?

You are probably aware of this yourself anytime you found yourself talking to a young child you probably find that you talk differently, right? You adjust your language use in order to help the child to understand and to help the child to develop his or her own language ability. This is often referred to as motherese or caregiver talk or baby talk and this is a common feature in all sorts of languages; that adults don’t talk to children the same way they talk to other adults. This is part of this environment that’s helping the child to develop language ability and helping the child to communicate.

So when we think about this interactionist approach, one of the best examples of the role of the social environment on language acquisition comes from Nicaragua in the mid-1980s. So what happened was that a new deaf school was created in Managua, the capital, and children from remote villages were brought together and the goal was to teach them a formal sign language because what happened was a lot of children who were in remote villages who were deaf, they didn’t have a full language around them, they didn’t have exposure to a full grammatically-complex sign language, so they had simple gestures and they could communicate with family and friends but they weren’t really being exposed to complex language use.

So the hope was bring all of these children together and then teach them a formal sign language and this would be a great improvement for them. One of the problems that they had was the children actually didn’t seem to want to learn the formal sign language. What happened was the formal sign language was just too slow. If you take a bunch of children who want to interact and communicate with one another and you put them all together they’re gonna find a way to communicate and they weren’t going to wait around until, you know, three months from now we’re gonna learn how to talk about some particular thing. “‘I want to talk about it right now.”

So the children essentially invented their own sign language in order to communicate with one another and initially this was dismissed as being mimicry or miming or you know really simple gestures or slang or something like that. And it turns out that it actually was a full language and it developed the full grammatical complexity and syntactical rules of any other language.

This shows us this role of the social environment in helping with this language development. This language didn’t emerge in these isolated cases where you had children in a remote village but put enough of them together where they want to interact and they want to communicate and that social environment will allow language to emerge. Now this also demonstrates the critical period that I mentioned before because children who were over the age of seven were not able to develop full linguistic fluency in this new language but children who were younger than this, who were exposed to this new language, were able to develop full fluency just like anybody else who’s exposed to their native language. Okay, I hope you found this helpful, if so, please like the video and subscribe to the channel for more!

Thanks for watching!

Language Development

In this video I provide an overview of language development in children. Children learn thousands of words within a matter of a few years and they seem to effortlessly pick up and apply the rules of grammar, first in their telegraphic speech and later in more complex sentences. Errors of overgeneralization reveal that by age 4 or 5 children already have an understanding of grammatical rules and are able to apply these rules to new words, which can also be demonsrated in the Wug Test. There is a critical period for language development and children who are deprived of language and do not have sufficient exposure before age 7 may be unable to ever fully develop linguistic fluency.

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The Wug Test demonstration with Steven Pinker:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYJTdYGckBs

Video Transcript:

Hi, I’m Michael Corayer and this is Psych Exam Review. In the previous video I mentioned that children seem to naturally acquire the language that they’re exposed to so in this video I want to go into a little more detail on this process of language development.

One thing that happens is children acquire vocabulary and they acquire vocabulary very, very rapidly. Within their first few years children are able to learn thousands of words. Now this brings up some questions about the conditioning approach, right? If we try to explain this using behaviorism, we see that it’s far too rapid for each individual word to be reinforced or punished, right?

It just simply couldn’t be the case that that mom and dad sit down and reinforce every single correct word that the child uses. This would be too slow. Instead it seems that we are prepared to learn words very quickly without reinforcement and one way that this occurs is what’s called fast mapping. Fast mapping refer to the idea that young children are able to connect the sounds of a particular word with the meaning of that word after just a single exposure.

So we have this arbitrary pattern of sounds that make up the word and that gets connected to the meaning of the word and this can happen just from hearing the word once. So, you know, the child sees something and asks “what’s that?” and mom says “that’s a doggie” and now the child knows the word dog. And a week later the child sees a doggie, points to it and says “doggie”. It’s like they’ve connected those sounds with the meaning immediately after this single exposure. So this is part of the explanation of how we’re able to acquire so many words so quickly.

When children first start speaking they speak in just single words but eventually they start stringing words together and they start with two-word sentences. This is called telegraphic speech. The reason that it’s called telegraphic speech is that it’s like a telegram in that it’s only the most important words for communicating meaning. Children leave out all of the extra words, the function words, so even though they’re constantly hearing words like “the”, “of”, “and” they somehow have learned that these words don’t really matter. These sounds are just like grammatical fluff that allow us a little bit more precision but that when you want to communicate meaning you don’t necessarily need those, right?

So if you want a cookie you don’t need to say “I want a cookie” you can just say “want cookie” and the meaning is clear.

So the idea is that this telegraphic speech focuses on the content words, the words that have meaning, and the children tend to ignore function words, words that serve grammatical purposes. This actually indicates that by ignoring those words they actually understand that those words are just serving grammatical purposes. They know that those words aren’t the ones that have meaning. The ones that have meaning are the nouns and the verbs and so those are the ones you should worry about speaking first and, you know, I’ll get to figuring out where to put “of” in the sentence later on.

Another thing that happens with this telegraphic speech is that it starts following the syntactical rules of the language that the child is learning. So for instance when the child says “big doggie” like they see a large dog and say “big doggie” they’re already showing that they kind of understand how grammar works in English and that you tend to put an adjective before a noun. Nobody’s given them explicit instruction in this, the child’s two or three years old at this point and so nobody’s sitting down and saying “make sure that you always put your adjectives before your nouns”. I mean the child doesn’t even know what an adjective is but they’re able to apply these rules and it shows that they’re naturally coming to understand the grammatical rules of the language.

Children start doing this around age two or three but around age four or five something interesting starts happening. They actually start making errors in their grammatical rules. This brings us to what’s called over-generalization or you may also see this called over-regularization.

This refers to the idea that the children start applying grammatical rules where they’re not supposed to be applied. So the child will say something like “she hitted him” or “he runned to the store” or, you know, “I bringed my bag”. What’s happening here? Well, again conditioning doesn’t really seem to work to explain this because the child is not hearing and being reinforced for these things. It’s not the case that mom and dad are saying “hitted” and “runned” so rhe child is not just mimicking or modeling the behavior that they’re hearing.

They’re coming up with this on their own and this means that even though they’re misapplying the rule, it shows that actually they know the rule. They’ve sort of picked up on this idea that if you want to make something into the past tense, if you want to say that something already happened, well if you have this nice little -ed rule and that is it you just put -ed onto the end of the word and now it means that it already happened in the past tense in some way.

Now again, the child hasn’t had explicit grammatical instruction on this. Nobody sat down and said “here’s how you make the past tense” right? But just by being exposed to the language the child starts realizing “hey this seems to be how this works” and “oh great, now I can make the past tense and I can do it every time” and they just start doing it with every single word that they want to put into the past tense rather than realizing that there are exceptions to this. That you say “ran” rather than “runned”.

Ok, so another way that we can see this over- generalization which actually demonstrates that even though they’re making a mistake, it shows that they actually know the grammatical rule. We see this in what’s called the Wug Test. This was created by Jean Berko Gleason and the Wug test is that you introduce something that the child has not seen before and you introduce a word that the child has not heard before. So this eliminates the possibility that the prior conditioning or prior exposure is influencing what the child is going to say.

So you know, let’s, I don’t know, we’ll make some creature here, I don’t know what this is. This is a Wug. Ok, this is one wug. Ok, so I take this here and I show it to the child and I say this is a wug and then I show them a card with two of these and I say here are two ___ and I let the child complete the sentence.

What does the child say? “Here are two wugs.” Ok, so what does this tell us? Well, this tells us that the child understands the grammatical rule. It understands that putting an S onto a word makes it plural. If you want to talk about this thing called a wug then how do I talk about two of them? I put an S on the end, I have two wugs and then you can do this with other words as well.

So you can make up some verb and I’ll put a link in the video description box where you can see some children doing this where they’re given this new word they’ve never heard before like this is this is what it means to pell. You make up some word here, this is, I’m going to pell and then you say “What am I doing?” “You’re pelling”. Or “What did I do before?”. “You pelled.” This shows that the children actually understand all these grammatical rules for how to deal with different tenses even though, again, they haven’t had explicit instruction in this. Even though, of course, sometimes there are exceptions, this shows that they know the rule.

This wug test is evidence that even at age four or five children understand the rules of grammar in their native language. Now when it comes to the development of these rules of grammar, there is a time window and so this brings us to what’s called a critical period. The idea here is that children have to have exposure to the language before a certain time. So we have this biological predisposition to acquire language but it’s not unlimited, it has to happen while we’re young. It has to happen before sometime around age seven is the sort of estimate that we have.

Now how do we have this estimate? Well it’s through some unfortunate cases of children who are not exposed to language at all, who are deprived of a language environment. These are really terrible cases where children are raised in isolation and as a result they don’t develop linguistic fluency and if they are raised this way after the age of seven, or until after the age of seven, then their chances of developing full linguistic fluency decrease very sharply. So if a child is rescued from this type of environment at age five or six then they may be okay and they may be able to still acquire the rules of grammar but if they’re not rescued until later age 10 or something, then they aren’t going to be able to develop this full understanding of grammatical rules.

There’s some famous cases of this, perhaps the most famous is a girl named Genie, who was unable to acquire language because she was rescued too late and this critical period had already passed. We’ll look at another example of this idea of a critical period in the next video but the other part of this critical period is that if you’re exposed to a language before the age of 7 this equips you with the ability to process language and this can then be applied to other languages.

So when we talk about a critical period it’s important to remember that we’re talking about the first language. You have to have exposure to some language before the age of 7 in order for your brain to sort of learn how to process language but once you’ve learned one language you can then apply that to others and this is further support for this idea of universal grammar. If you understand how one language works you can sort of use that processing to figure out a new language even though the grammatical rules might be different.

So this isn’t applying to, it’s not saying that you can’t learn your second language after age 7, or your third or fourth or fifth, right? If you’ve learned a first language this equips your brain with the ability to process language and then you can apply that to other languages. Now it might not be easy, it might be a bit slower when it comes to acquiring that second or third or fourth language, but it is possible. Whereas if you’re not exposed to any language before the age of seven this means that you won’t be able to acquire grammar in any language.

Ok, so that’s the idea of a critical period and a little bit about how language develops in children. We’ll look at one more example this in the next video. I hope you found this helpful, if so, please like the video and subscribe to the channel for more.

Thanks for watching!

Universal Grammar

In this video I provide a brief introduction to Noam Chomsky’s theory of Universal Grammar, which suggests that all human languages must share certain features. The human predisposition for language acquisition which allows us to acquire any human language depending on exposure suggests that all language follow the same types of rules even though they may differ in their specific grammatical rules.

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Video Transcript:

Hi, I’m Michael Corayer and this is Psych Exam Review. In this video I want to briefly introduce the idea of universal grammar. Universal grammar is a theory proposed by Noam Chomsky that suggests that all human languages share certain features. Now people often misinterpret this as meaning that all languages share grammar and that they share the same grammatical rules. Of course this is not the case. This is not what universal grammar refers to.

So in order to understand this idea of universal grammar we’re going to start with the idea that all children acquire language, right? So all children will acquire the language that they’re exposed to and it doesn’t matter what that specific language is. Children will learn it and they’ll learn it essentially naturally. It will emerge automatically and the rules of grammar will also emerge naturally. Children will come to understand how to express things in that language and they’ll learn the rules of grammar in that specific language.

So this is support for this idea of the language acquisition device and this is this idea from Chomsky that we must have some predisposition for learning language that other animals don’t have. If language naturally emerges in pretty much all people who are exposed to language then this means that our brains are prepared to learn language. We have a natural sort of predisposition for acquiring language. So the idea of a language acquisition device suggests that we are prepared to acquire language and again, this is not a specific structure in the brain or something, we talk about this language acquisition device as a sort of a general idea of well our brains are prepared in some way to acquire language. It’s not about a specific region of the brain that’s doing this.

Well, now we have this problem. We say we all acquire language if we’re exposed to it and we have some preparation, some predisposition, to acquire language, well how can we be prepared to acquire language if languages are all different? In other words, if I take an infant and I raise that infant in Japan then, you know, he’ll grow up speaking Japanese, if I raise him in Russia, he’ll grow up speaking Russian or if I raise him in Germany, he’ll grow up speaking German and it’s like, how can he be prepared?

How can we say that he has a biological predisposition to acquiring language and yet he doesn’t know what that language is going to be? How does this work? Well, the idea would be there must be some underlying features of language that are all the same and that we’re prepared to acquire any language because all languages have certain things in common. So the idea here is that we’re prepared to acquire certain types of grammatical rules but not the specific grammatical rules.

In other words, languages must share certain features, certain types of rules are common to all languages and our brains are prepared to acquire those types of rules but the specific rules will vary. In other words the idea that in a specific language maybe we learn that the adjective comes before the noun and in some other language it could be completely the opposite, right? The noun could come before the adjective and so the specific rules vary but the idea of adjectives is the same, the idea that we use some words to describe some other words, that we can change some mental representation of something by adding an adjective to it or that we can use verbs to express things or we have different tenses to talk about the time period in which things occurred.

These are things that all languages are going to have and these are the things that our brains are predisposed to picking up on. The specific ways that we express it, of course, are going to vary and we’re not born with some pre-programmed rules about grammar but rather that we’re sort of programmed to acquire any specific grammatical rules because all those rules will follow similar patterns, similar types of rules, in the existence of things like adjectives or adverbs or nouns.

So that’s really the idea of universal grammar. It’s often misinterpreted but hopefully this made it a little bit clearer. I hope you found this helpful, if so, please like the video and subscribe to the channel for more.

Thanks for watching!

Introduction to Linguistics

In this video I introduce some terminology from linguistics for describing how languages use sounds to represent meaning. Phonemes refers to the individual sounds used in a language, while morphemes refer to units of meaning. Phonological rules dictate how sounds can be combined in a language (with variations resulting in accents), while syntactical rules relate to how words can be combined into meaningful phrases and sentences.

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Video Transcript:

Hi, I’m Michael Corayer and this is Psych Exam Review. In this video, we’re going to have a brief introduction to some ideas of linguistics; the study of language. Now if we’re studying language, one thing that we might do is break it down into pieces.

One way we could do this would be to break it down into the individual sounds that make up the language. So these would be called the phonemes. Phonemes are all of the sounds that are used within a language to make all of the words that exist in that language. In English, for instance, we have about 40 phonemes that we use. There’s about 40 different sounds that you can use to make all of the words in English. Other languages might have different numbers of phonemes. So there are languages that have just over a dozen phonemes there are languages that have almost twice as many phonemes as English.

If you’ve ever studied a foreign language, you might be aware of some of these different phonemes. For instance, if you were studying Spanish you might be aware of this double r; this rolled R sound, like in arriba or tierra, right? Now this is a sound you might struggle with initially because this is a phoneme that is used in Spanish but it’s not used in English. You don’t have much practice making this sound so it might be more difficult for you to use this when you first encounter it. Of course there’s other phonemes besides just this double r, you know, there’s nasal sounds in French that might be difficult for English speakers or if you’re learning a language like Xhosa that has clicking sounds, you’re going to find these difficult initially because you’re not used to producing these sounds and the same will be true for people who are learning English.

English has phonemes that their languages may not have and they might struggle with these. All right so we’ll come back to that in a minute when we talk about accents. Another way we could break a language down is that we could think about meaning. We could break it into meaningful pieces and so if we do that we’re looking at morphemes.

So phonemes refer just to the individual sounds in language whereas morphemes refer to meaningful units in the language. Ok, let’s say I look at a word like “bat”. Ok, there’s multiple phonemes in this word, you know, I have this B sound and this T sound at the end of the word. But in terms of morphemes this is a single unit. In other words I can’t break this down any further and still have meaningful pieces, right?

If I look at another word, however, like “batman” well, now I can say okay, this is one word but it’s possible to break it down and still have meaningful units left. I say all right this is actually two morphemes “bat” plus “man” so one word but two morphemes and actually even more phonemes, right? There’s still more sounds in there, we have an m sound an sound right? There’s a lot of different sounds but there’s only two meaningful pieces.

What about a word like “bats”? Well what we have here, actually we can break this down further, we can say this is really bat, that’s a morpheme, plus this s sound. Even though it’s a single letter and it’s a single sound, it has meaning in this case and that makes it a morpheme, right? Morphemes always have meaning and what’s the meaning here?

Well this s, the meaning is it makes it plural, it changes the meaning of that, when you add an S to it that means that s counts as a morpheme. This also applies to other things that we add to words to change the meaning. So prefixes and suffixes that change the meaning would still be considered morphemes. Things like “pre” you know, whatever or “post” or at the end of a word you might add “ism” and that makes it a noun and so that changes the meaning and therefore that “ism” would still be considered a morpheme.

Ok, when we think about combining things in a language we can combine sounds of course in order to make words from all these different phonemes that we have and there’s certain rules for how we combine those sounds and these are called the phonological rules. Just like phonemes can vary between languages, the rules for combining sounds can vary between languages and in fact the rules for combining sounds can vary within a language.

What I mean by that is that we can have regional variation in how we combine particular sounds. So regional accents would be examples of different phonological rules within the same language. Ok, what would be an example of this? Well if we think about a sort of stereotypical regional accent in English, we have the Boston accent.

All right, so what’s going on in the Boston accent? What’s happening is there’s some slightly different phonological rules that are being applied compared to say standard you know “newscaster” English. So what’s one of these rules? What makes this Boston accent noticeable? One of these is, how do you combine certain sounds that have “R”s in them? So what do you do when you have a word like park? When you have this r here, you have this r followed by a consonant. Well the standard pronunciation would be to say park but the Boston variation is to kind of ignore that R. You don’t need to really bother to pronounce it very much so you end up saying something like “pahk”.

So this is why you have this stereotypical phrase for making fun of the Boston accent which is “pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd” so what you’re doing is you’re taking all those r’s and you’re sort of dropping them out. You’re changing the rules, the phonological rules, for how you combine those sounds and as a result you have this regional accent. Now you also have accents across languages, so you can have variation by region or you can carry over the phonological rules.

This happens when somebody learns a new language but they start applying the phonological rules of their native language. They carry them over to the new language and as a result they sound kind of funny right? This would happen, for instance, if people are learning English right? I mentioned there’s different phonemes that are used like the “th” sound that’s used in English is not common in a lot of other languages. Like we use in “the” right? This sound at the beginning of the word is not used in a lot of other languages. As a result, people have difficulty with it, they carry over some other rule that’s close enough from their language. So they say something like “ze” instead of “the”. That accent is also a result of this different phonological rules between their native language and the language that they are trying to speak.

Another example of this would be if you’ve seen the show “An Idiot Abroad” with Karl Pilkington. There’s an episode where he goes to China and they’re going to write his name Karl in Chinese characters but there’s a problem here that in Mandarin they don’t have this phoneme where a sound ends in an L or a word, sorry a word ends in an L sound. So his name Karl, they don’t have a way to end it with that L sound in Chinese characters when they write it and even when they’re speaking. So an L sound in Mandarin is always followed by a vowel so you can have la, li, le, lu, right? You can have these different sounds but you can’t have L by itself. So when they try to write Karl with Chinese characters they end up always writing Karla and it always comes out as Karl LA because there’s no way for them to represent this L sound using Chinese characters because that’s not a phoneme that exists in Mandarin.

All right so that’s sort of an explanation of why this happens. Obviously it’s a lot funnier on the show then how I’m describing it but we can now understand a little bit about why that happens. Ok the last type of rules I want to look at are what are called syntactical rules and the syntactical rules are rules for how we combine words. Phonological rules are how we combine phonemes in order to get words then syntactical rules are how we combine words to get phrases and sentences. There’s rules about how we do this and violating those rules is going to change the meaning. What would be an example of this?

Well in English we have a syntactical rule that says if you want to describe a noun you want to have an adjective that describes a noun, almost always it’s going to be the case that the adjective comes before the noun. You say the adjective and then you save the noun, right? Now other languages don’t necessarily follow this rule. Spanish has just the opposite rule where you would put the adjective after the noun but in English we generally say it’s going to be adjective followed by noun.

So if I take two words and I say okay “yellow banana” right? In English this means I’m talking about a banana and yellow is describing it. It’s a yellow banana. What happens if I flip these? Well using these same words the syntactic rules are now going to say that actually what I’m doing here is I’m talking about the color yellow and I’m describing it as being “banana yellow” right? I’m using banana as an adjective here to describe the color rather than in this case where I’m using yellow to describe the banana. So just by changing the order of those two words, the syntactical rules are going to change the meaning.

Now it’s fairly amazing how easily we learn this when we’re kids. When we first start speaking, when we’re two years old we first start stringing words together, we start following these syntactical rules this shows that we’re learning grammar from a very very young age. We’re picking it out, picking it up without explicit instruction. We don’t need you know an English teacher to sit down with us and say you know you have to put adjectives before nouns when you’re two years old you don’t even know what adjectives means but you’re able to start applying these rules and this tells us something about how language acquisition occurs and we’ll go into that in a future video. Ok, I hope you found this helpful, if so, please like the video and subscribe to the channel for more.

Thanks for watching!