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Question and Answer on Language Structure

Watch the video, answer the questions on a piece of paper, then check your answers.

  1. Is syntax different from grammar?
    No, they're exactly the same
  2. What did the lecturer say before that was not completely true?
    Everybody who is neurologically normal comes to acquire and learn a language
  3. What animals were said to have brought up human children?
    Wolves and dogs
  4. What happens to children who grow up with nobody speaking or signing to them?
    They never learn to speak (or sign)
  5. What did Goldin-Meadow discover?
    Deaf children that nobody signed to but who had deaf siblings created their own language
  6. What two things don't any languages do?
    Construct a question by switching the order of words around in a sentence and  have a rule that says the fifth word has to be a verb
  7. How many sentences can grammar produce?
    An infinite number

Watch the video, complete the gaps on a piece of paper, then check your answers.

  1. I want to shift now and talk about where does all this
    knowledge
    come from but I'll stop and answer any questions about the material so far. What are your questions? Yes.
  2. [Student: How does syntax differ from grammar or are they exactly the same?] Syntax - The question is, "How is syntax different from grammar?" They're exactly the same. Syntax is a more
    technical
    term but it means the same thing as grammar. Yes.
  3. [Student: You said that every normal human being that's born uses at some point or another some kind of language. How about, like aren't there cases of people who weren't born within a culture and grew up and who never really spoke a language though they were physically normal?] Yes. I'm glad you actually asked me about that because, as I said it, I realized it wasn't quite right. The point that was just raised here is I had said before that everybody who's neurologically normal comes to
    acquire
    and learn a language. But what about people who are neurologically normal but they don't have language around them? And in fact there have been
    historically
    some cases of this. There's been probably apocryphal stories about children who are raised by wolves or by dogs. There are stories, horrible stories, some in the twentieth century, about children who are locked away by insane or evil parents and who never learned to speak. There are stories of deaf people who are within certain
    societies
    where nobody signs to them, and so they're what's known as
    linguistic
    isolates. And they themselves never learn to speak.
  4. And those cases are the dramatic
    exception
    and they do tell you something. They tell you that it's not enough to have a
    brain
    for language. Somebody does have to use it with you. Interestingly, it doesn't have to be that many people. So, Susan Goldin-Meadow has studied deaf children that nobody signed to but what she studies is deaf children with deaf
    siblings
    and these children don't just sit there. They create their own language. It's not a full-blown language like American sign-language or langue des signes quebecoise but it's a language
    nonetheless
    , with words and syntax and phonology. It's an interesting question. Any other questions? Yes.
  5. [Student: Could it be argued that there are inherent limits to grammar?] It's a good question. The question is, "Are there inherent limits in our
    abilities
    to come up with grammars?" And most linguists would argue "yes," that languages are highly constrained in how they do things. So, for instance, one example is there's no language in the world that ever
    constructs
    a question by switching the order of words around in a sentence. There's no language in the world that has a rule that says the fifth word has to be a verb. And linguists have all of these
    conditions
    they say, "no language in the world works this way." Now this is - So, these are
    constraints
    on grammar and they're really interesting because they tell us what's a humanly natural language versus what's not a humanly natural language. But notice, even if there is incredible
    constraints
    on grammars, still - we could still produce an infinite number of sentences. It's just like if you restrict me to only a
    subset
    of numbers, only the odd numbers, still there's an infinity of odd numbers. So, grammar can be restricted but still give rise to an infinity of possible sentences.

  1. I want to shift now and talk about where does all this knowledge come from but I'll stop and answer any questions about the material so far. What are your questions? Yes.
  2. [Student: How does syntax differ from grammar or are they exactly the same?] Syntax - The question is, "How is syntax different from grammar?" They're exactly the same. Syntax is a more technical term but it means the same thing as grammar. Yes.
  3. [Student: You said that every normal human being that's born uses at some point or another some kind of language. How about, like aren't there cases of people who weren't born within a culture and grew up and who never really spoke a language though they were physically normal?] Yes. I'm glad you actually asked me about that because, as I said it, I realized it wasn't quite right. The point that was just raised here is I had said before that everybody who's neurologically normal comes to acquire and learn a language. But what about people who are neurologically normal but they don't have language around them? And in fact there have been historically some cases of this. There's been probably apocryphal stories about children who are raised by wolves or by dogs. There are stories, horrible stories, some in the twentieth century, about children who are locked away by insane or evil parents and who never learned to speak. There are stories of deaf people who are within certain societies where nobody signs to them, and so they're what's known as linguistic isolates. And they themselves never learn to speak.
  4. And those cases are the dramatic exception and they do tell you something. They tell you that it's not enough to have a brain for language. Somebody does have to use it with you. Interestingly, it doesn't have to be that many people. So, Susan Goldin-Meadow has studied deaf children that nobody signed to but what she studies is deaf children with deaf siblings and these children don't just sit there. They create their own language. It's not a full-blown language like American sign-language or langue des signes quebecoise but it's a language nonetheless, with words and syntax and phonology. It's an interesting question. Any other questions? Yes.
  5. [Student: Could it be argued that there are inherent limits to grammar?] It's a good question. The question is, "Are there inherent limits in our abilities to come up with grammars?" And most linguists would argue "yes," that languages are highly constrained in how they do things. So, for instance, one example is there's no language in the world that ever constructs a question by switching the order of words around in a sentence. There's no language in the world that has a rule that says the fifth word has to be a verb. And linguists have all of these conditions they say, "no language in the world works this way." Now this is - So, these are constraints on grammar and they're really interesting because they tell us what's a humanly natural language versus what's not a humanly natural language. But notice, even if there is incredible constraints on grammars, still - we could still produce an infinite number of sentences. It's just like if you restrict me to only a subset of numbers, only the odd numbers, still there's an infinity of odd numbers. So, grammar can be restricted but still give rise to an infinity of possible sentences.

Paul Bloom, Introduction to Psychology (Yale University: Open Yale Courses), https://oyc.yale.edu (Accessed 10 June 2013). Licence: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA. Terms of Use