Terms and Study Questions: Unit 1

Terms and concepts from Pinker, arranged by page number (occasional F cross-references to are to Peter Farb's Word Play, Knopf 1973)

instinct, the language P18 people know how to talk in more or less the sense that spiders know how to spin webs; language is no more a cultural invention than is upright posture
"Standard Social Science Model" P 23 the human psyche is molded by the surrounding culture
foreigner talk, the demeaning thereof F140, P26 barbarians=those who stammer "barbar," said the Greeks; Tatars=those whose speech sounded like "ta-ta" to the Chinese; Nonotli=stammering of foreigners to the Aztecs; the "jabbering" of New Guinea Highlanders reported by Michael Leahy
genders P27 different kinds of nouns in a language, according to how they pattern grammatically: English and many other European languages have three (masculine, feminine, neuter), whereas Bantu languages may have as many as 16 (humans, animals, extended objects, clusters of objects, body parts, etc.)
language and the state, quotations F138, P28 the Bishop of Avila to Queen Isabella, "Your majesty, language is the perfect instrument of empire." Max Weinreich, "A language is a dialect with an army and navy."
pidgin F147, P33 a language that belong to no one—a new language that is not the mother tongue of any of its speakers; choppy strings of words borrowed from the language of the colonizers, highly variable, with little in the way of grammar
creolization by children observed in real time P36 the ISN developed by deaf children in Nicaragua today is superior to the LSN developed there in the 1970s by older people
Motherese (a.k.a. Mamanaise) P39 unnatural and stilted form of speech used by parents with young children in the belief that they are teaching them language
Broca’s aphasia P46 characterized by a struggle to get speech out, even though the rest of intelligence seems more or less intact
chatterboxes P50 linguistic idiot savants—that is, people with good language and bad cognition
"Hoax, The Great Eskimo Vocabulary" P64 the assertion, repeated from textbook to textbook, and inflated over time, that the Eskimo have several hundred words for snow
deictic pronouns their referent shifts with the speaker: you, me, . . .
language and thinking,
Pinker’s position P81
People do not think in English or Chinese or Apache; they think in a language of thought ("mentalese").
arbitrariness of the sign, the, of Ferdinand de Saussure P83 the wholly conventional pairing of a sound with a meaning
generative grammar
a discrete combinatorial system; a code for translating between orders of words and combinations of thoughts
infinite use of finite media, language makes, Wilhelm Von Humboldt P84 a generative grammar, a discrete combinatorial system
blending systems
the properties of the combination lie between the properties of its elements; the only way to differentiate large numbers of combinations is to discriminate tinier and tinier differences
discrete combinatorial system, consequences of
one: the sheer vastness of language
two: a code that is autonomous from cognition
autonomy of code: consequences of the autonomy of code from cognition P87 one: sentences can be ungrammatical but interpretable
two: sentences can make no sense but still be recognized as grammatical
Jabberwocky F267, 275, P89 poem by Lewis Carroll that filled Alice’s head with ideas she didn’t understand but whose sounds conformed to Whorf’s formula
word-chain devices
the simplest example of a discrete combinatorial system (a finite state or Markov model)
word-chain devices, problems with such grammars P93 one: points in the string have low transition probability
two: they are amnesiacs, but language has long-distance dependencies
three: they cannot handle multiple embeddings
trees: sentences are not chains, but trees P97 words are grouped into phrases with names, and little phrases can be joined into bigger ones; words are linked to branches on an inverted tree
phrase structure
one solution to the engineering problem of taking an interconnected web of thoughts in the mind and encoding them as a string of words that must be uttered, one at a time, by the mouth
a symbol inside another instance of the same symbol, as for example, a sentence within a sentence
ambiguity as evidence for independence of language and mentalese P102 a particular stretch of language can correspond to two distinct thoughts
parts of speech
a kind of token that obeys certain formal rules: for example, a noun is simply a word that does nouny things
X-bar theory
one of the most intriguing discoveries of modern linguistics, that there appears to be a common anatomy in all phrases in all the world’s languages
head: the main component of a phrase P107 what the entire phrase is "about" is what its head word is about
modifiers (or "adjuncts"): the third component of a phrase P107 if a phrase contains both a role-player and a modifier, the role-player has to be closer to the head than the modifier—there’s no way the modifier could get between the head and the role-player
role-players (or "arguments"): the second component of a phrase
phrases are about not just single things or actions in the world but to sets of players that interact with each other in a particular way: the head and its role-players ("arguments") are joined together in a subphrase (e.g., "N-bar" or "V-bar"
subjects or specifiers ("spec’s"): the fourth and final component of a phrase P109 a special role-player or argument, usually the causal agent if there is one
the trees become mobiles, removing their left-to-right order, to be reconstituted by pieces of information that make one language different from another, as for example, either "X-bar first" or "X-bar last."
verbs’ dictionary entries P113 within a phrase, then, the verb is a little despot, dictating which of the slots made available by the super-rules are to be filled
grammar puts little tags on the noun phrases that can be matched up with the roles laid out in a verb’s dictionary entry
words that express layers of meaning having to do with the truth of a proposition as a speaker conceives it
function words
bits of crystallized grammar; they delineate larger phrases . . ., thereby providing a scaffolding for the sentence
their position serves as a reminder of the role that a moved phrase is playing at the level of ‘who did what to whom’
lexicographers P126 writers of dictionaries
wug-test P127 experiment that showed that preschoolers already know how to inflect words
derivational morphology P128 where one creates a new word out of an old one, as in learnable and teachable
inflectional morphology P128 where one modifies a word to fit the sentence, like marking a noun for the plural with –s or a verb for the past tense with -ed
compounding P129 glues two words together to form a new one, like toothbrush and mouse-eater
promiscuity of affixes "like inflections, stem affixes are promiscuous, mating with any stem that has the right category label, and so we have crunchable, scrunchable, shmooshable, wuggable, and so on.
Astem Ó Stem Astemaffix P134 An adjective stem can consist of a stem joined to a suffix
heads of words P 134 "The head of an English word is simply its rightmost morpheme."
Stem affixes: an example:
-able P134
adjective stem affix: crunchable
means "capable of being X’d": !
attach me to a verb stem: scrunchable, shmooshable, wuggable . . .
roots P135 the smallest part of a word, the part that cannot be cut up into any smaller parts
Nstem Ó Nroot Nrootsuffix P136 A noun stem can be composed of a noun root and a suffix
Root affixes: an example:
-ity P136
noun root suffix: electrÝss-
means "the state of being X": "the state of being electric"
attach me to a noun root: academicity, acrobaticity, alcoholicity . . .
irregular forms, a family of P138 drink–drank, sink–sank, shrink–shrank, .etc.
Walkmans vs. workmen P143 headless compounds must be regular; no perculation of irregularities can take place
mice-infested vs. rat-infested P146 compounds can be formed out of irreguar plurals, but not out of regular plurals; irregular plurals must be stored as such and cannot be generated by a rule
word1: one definition of a word P147 a linguistic object that, even if built out of parts by the rules of morphology, behaves as the indivisible, smallest unit with respect to the rules of syntax: a "syntactic atom"
word2: another definition of a word
a rote-memorized chunk: a string of linguistic stuff that is arbitrarily associated with a particular meaning, one item from the long list we call the mental dictionary: a "listeme"
word classes (parts of speech) as they fit into sentence structure P157 Can you see any sibbing? Response: points to the hands kneading
Can you see a sib? Response: points to the bowl
Can you see any sib? Response: points to the stuff inside the bowl

Pinker Glossary

See also the following terms in the Pinker Glossary: accusative, active, adjective, adjunct, adverb, affix, agreement, AI, algorithm, aphasia, argument, article, ASL, aspect, auxiliary, case, chain device, clause, complement, compound, concord, conjunction, copula, dative, deep structure, derivational morphology, determiner, finite-state device, gender, gene, gerund, grammar, head, indirect object, infinitive, INFL, inflectional morphology, intransitive, inversion, listeme, main verb, modal, modality, modifier, mood, morphemes, morphology, movement, nominative, noun, number, object, part of speech, participle, passive, person, phrase structure, phrase structure grammar, predicate, preposition, pronoun, proposition, recursion, relative clause, root, semantics, SLI, specifier, stem, subject, surface structure, syntax, tense, trace, transformational grammar, transitive, Universal Grammar, verb, voice, X-bar, X-bar theory.

Further definitions and explanations for many of these are also to be found in the O'Grady text and in the O'Grady glossary.

O'Grady Glossary--additional terms and concepts

ablaut, acrolects, acronyms, basilects, blending, Class I affixes, Class II affixes, clipping, complementizers, conversion, coordinate structures, do insertion, embedded clause, clipping, cliticization, coinage, creoles, language bioprogram hypothesis, matrix clause, mesolects, postpositions, reduplication, relexification, subcategorization, suppletion, Wh Movement, umlaut.

Bottom-line Terms

  1. ablative
  2. accusative
  3. active
  4. agent
  5. antecedent
  6. auxiliaries
  7. cases
  8. complements
  9. compounding
  10. coordinate structures
  11. creole
  12. dative
  13. degree word
  14. derivational morphology
  15. determiner
  16. embedded (or complement) clause
  17. function words
  18. gender
  19. genitive
  20. head
  21. inflectional morphology
  22. inversion
  23. lexical ambiguity
  24. locative
  25. matrix clause
  26. metaphor
  27. mice-infested vs. rat-infested
  28. modifier
  29. nominative
  30. number
  31. parameters
  32. part of speech
  33. passive
  34. person
  35. pidgin
  36. promiscuity of affixes
  37. qualifier
  38. relative clauses
  39. root
  40. specifier
  41. structural ambiguity
  42. subcategorization
  43. tense
  44. theme
  45. traces
  46. transformations
  47. trees: sentences are not chains, but trees
  48. universal grammar
  49. verbs’ dictionary entries
  50. Walkmans (vs. workmen)
  51. wh movement
  52. word, a definition
  53. wug-test
  54. X-bar theory
  55. XP rule