AP Psychology
Cognition: Language

Weiten Ch 8
Myers Ch 9

Notes Outline

1. Purpose of language

2. Structure of language

3. Language Acquisition

Purpose of Language

Languages are symbols that convey meaning, plus rules for combining those symbols, that can be used to generate an infinite variety of messages.

Structure of Language

Human languages are HIERARCHICAL in nature. Basic sounds are combined into unites with meaning, which are combined into words , words are combined into phrases, which are combined into sentences.

40 phonemes -->100,000 morphemes-->616,500-->infinite number of sentences


Phonemes are the smallest speech unit in a language that can be distinguished perceptually. Despite the number of words there are only about 100 phonemes, no one language uses them all, and most only use 20-80. English uses about 40 that correspond to the 26 letters of the alphabet.


Smallest units of meaning in a language. English has approximately 50,000 morphemes.


A system of rules that enables us to communicate with one another. Guides us in deriving meaning from sounds (semantics) and ordering words into sentences (syntax)

  • Semantics – the area of language concerned with understanding the meaning of words and word combinations
  • Syntax - system of rules that specify how words can be arranged into sentences.
    • EX: A sentence must have a noun phrase AND a verb phrase.
    • EX: The article (the) comes BEFORE the noun = The swimmer, not Swimmer the.

Language Acquisition


  • Aphasia - impairment of language, associated with multiple cortical areas
  • Broca’s area – SPOKEN SPEECH
  • Wernicke’s area – HEARING LANGUAGE and understanding

Pre-Speech Stage

First 6 months - crying, gestures, recognizes mothers voice

3 month old – babies can identify phonemes, and recognize all the possible phonemes, even those they don’t here in their native language. Ability disappears by 12 months.

Babbling – 4-18 months. Repetitive consonant and vowel combinations à “lalalalalalalalala” --> NOT an imitation of adult speech, cannot identify language spoken by adults at home from babbling. Continues even after words emerge, continually gets closer to actual language spoken by adults.

7 months old – Babies can segment sounds into individual words - "Mama loves you" not "Mahmahluvsuuuu"

8 month old – already recognize and store common word forms

10-13 months – Begin uttering sounds that correspond to words. In most languages the words for Mom and Dad are made out of the most common early sounds (Mama, dada, papa) --> DOES reflect language of parent

  • Jargon stage – 10 months - pre-linguistic vocalizations in which infants use adult-like stress and intonation. The general structure of the syllables that they are producing is very closely related to the sounds of their native language and this form of babbling significantly predicts the form of early words.

Speech Stage

Holophrastic / One word Sentence Stage

RECEPTIVE SPEECH v PRODUCTIVE SPEECH – Receptive speech is what they understand, productive speech is what they can say

  • First words - usually deal with objects (food, ball) then social actions (hello, goodbye)
  • Vocabulary spurt/naming explosion – learn first 10-15 words slowly, then around 18 months old realize everything has a name and begins learning words quickly
  • Fast mapping – occurs when children map a new word onto an underlying concept after only one exposure
  • Overextension – incorrectly using a word to describe a wider set of objects – everything round is a ball
  • Underextentions – incorrectly using a word to describe a narrower set of objects than it actually describes – only favorite doll is a doll
Two-Word sentences
  • Telegraphic speech - consists of mainly content words; articles, prepositions, and other less critical words are omitted – “give food” rather than “Please let me have some food”
  • 3 year old - can express complex ideas such as plurals or past tense, but not perfectly
  • Overregularizations - occur when grammar rules are misapplied – “the girl goed home” instead of “the girl went home” or “he is the baddest” instead of “he is the worst” – SHOW THEY ARE ACTIVELY TRYING TO LEARN THE RULES

Longer Sentences

  • Most development in language develops in the first four to five years, but does continue during elementary grades as students get formal verbal and written training in the language.
  • Metalinguistics – ability to think about language. Use of metaphors, irony, sarcasm

Want to know MORE about Language?!?!

Mrs. Rice's Language Video's Parts I (3:56):

Mrs. Rice's Language Video Part 2 (2:26):

Mrs. Rice's Language Video Part 3 (11:17):

Crash Course: Language (10:02) -