[back to syllabus]

Terms and Study Questions: Unit 3

Terms and concepts from Pinker and O'Grady et al., plus additional study questions

Clever Hans phenomenon, the O612 named after a German horse gifted in nonverbal communication
Sarah O611 young chimpanzee to whom the Premacks attempted to teach a language that used different pieces of colored plastic for words
Washoe O610 young chimpanzee to whom the Gardners attempted to teach American Sign Language
bilateral symmetry in mammals, possible reason for the need for motion in a straight line may be the reason for this quality in mammals
calls, a finite repertory of P334 communication among certain primates, which includes a warning of predators, claim of territory, and so on
analog signal (continuous) that registers the magnitude of some state P334 the language of the bees: the livelier the dance, the richer the food source that the dancer is telling its hivemates about
birdsongs P334 a series of random variations on a theme: Charlie Parker with feathers
semantic broadening O318 word meaning changes from restricted to more general: dog once referred only to a powerful breed of hunting dog
semantic narrowing O318 word meaning changes from more general to more restricted: deer once meant ‘animal’; meat once meant ‘food’
conversion of N to V P379 to parent, to access, to impact, to host, to chair, etc.

syncope O298

speakers tend to telescope syllables or to drop unstressed parts of a word or phrase: personal and history as two-syllable words in English
epenthesis O296 speakers often deal with a difficult cluster of consonants by simply inserting another sound into the midst of the cluster [or at one of its edges]: English "athaletic", the p in something
assimilation O294 one sound is altered by the influence of a neighboring sound to the extent that it becomes more like the sound that exerts the influence: English input > "imput" (m is more like p than n is)
metathesis O297 the switching of sounds within a word or phrase: English task > tax
shibboleth P375 a word meaning ‘torrent, stream’, used as a password by the Hebrews against an enemy who could not pronounce sh properly
spelling pronunciation O291 a standardized system of spelling can sometimes be a conservative force that prevents pronunciation from going too far astray (reintroduction of the t in English often), but it may also have the opposite effect and itself create changes in speech (English Theodore with initial fricative, as opposed to the initial stop of Ted—the original sound)
blend O139 parts of two words are combined to create a new blend: smog, vog
dissimilation O296 one segment is made less like another segment in its environment when it would be difficult to articulate or perceive the two sounds: Latin arbor became Spanish arbol and Italian alboro to eliminate one of two r’s in the word
folk etymology O310 people who hear an unfamiliar word or phrase assume that something else was meant, and they make a "correction" where no correction was necessary, thereby becoming self-appointed etymologists: when the Purgatoire River in Arkansas is renamed the Picketwire River.
reanalysis P244, O310 English a norange becomes an orange; an apkin becomes a napkin
accusative-type lg. P232 S[intr]=S[tr], in Nominative case [typically unmarked]; in contrast, O has an accusative case marker
agglutinating type of lg. P232 word-to-morpheme ratio higher than isolating type; differ primarily in that each affix conveys one piece of information, and many are strung together (see the Kivunjo example P127)
ergative-type lg. P232 S[intr]=O, in Absolutive case [typically unmarked]; in contrast, S[tr] has an ergative case marker
fixed word order P232 each phrase has a fixed position within a sentence
free word order P232 phrases can appear in any order within a sentence
inflecting type of lg. P232 word-to-morpheme ratio higher than isolating type due to inflectional affixes attached to N, V, A; who did what to whom expressed by case affixes on nouns, or person-number-gender affixes on verbs in agreement with role-players; such affixes typically contain several pieces of information
isolating type of lg. P232 sentences built by rearranging immutable word-sized units (dog bites man; man bites dog): word to morpheme ratio approaches one-to-one
classifier lg. P233 in many constructions (counting, possession, for example) the name for the class, not the noun itself would be referred to; nouns fall into gender classes
non-classifier lg. P233 a noun can name a thing in any construction: one can say "two coconuts"; one doesn’t have to say "two fruits of coconut"
SOV order P233 Dog man bites.
subject-prominent lg. P233 all sentences must have a subject, even if there is nothing for the subject to refer to:

It is raining.; There is a unicorn in the garden.

SVO order P233 Dog bites man.
topic-prominent lg. P233 sentences have a special position that is filled by the current topic of the conversation:

This place, planting wheat is good.; California, climate is good.

VSO order P233 Bites dog man.
agglutination in English, occasionally P239 many pieces "glued" together in sensationalization," "Darwinianism", etc.
free word order in English, occasionally P239 strings of PP (prepositional phrases that may occur in various orders: . . .from Chicago to Boston by Mary

. . . by Mary to Boston from Chicago, etc.

classifiers in English, occasionally P240 "a piece of fruit," " a blade of grass," "a stick of wood," "fifty head of cattle"
ergativity in English,

occasionally P240

O of Vtr and S of Vintr have same "unmarked" form:

"John broke the glass." "The glass broke."

"There arrived three men." "Three men arrived."

SOV in English, occasionally P240 "With this ring I thee wed." "Till death do us part."
topic prominence in Engl., occasionally P240 elements at front end of S in "John I never really liked.", "As for fish, I eat salmon."
Early Modern English: a sample P248 "Our father which are in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. . . ."
Middle English: a sample P248 "Oure fadir that art in heuenes halowid be thi name, thi kyngdom come to, be thi wille don in erthe es in heuene . . ."
Old English: a sample P248 "Faeder ure thu the eart on heofonum, si thin nama gehalgod. To becume thin rice. Gewurthe in willa on eorthan swaswa on heofonum. . . ."
Anatolian branch of Indo-European P252 extinct languages spoken in Turkey, including Hittite
Afro-Asiatic languages Arabic, Hebrew, Maltese, Berber, and many Ethiopian and Ebyptian languages (also called Hamito-Semitic)
Altaic languages P254 the main languages of Turkey, Mongolia, the Islamic republics of the former USSR, possibly also Japanese and Korean
Austro-Asiatic languages P254 Vietnamese and Khmer (the language of Cambodia), and others
Austronesian languages P254 the languages of Madagascar (off the coast of Africa), Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, New Zealand (Maori), Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia
Dravidian languages P254 Tamil, Telugu, and other languages of southern India
Sino-Tibetan languages P 254 Chinese, Burmese, and Tibetan
Uralic languages P254 Finnish, Hungarian, Estonian, Lappish, Samoyed, and others
Nostratic languages P256 a phylum resulting from the aggressive lumping together (by some scholars) of the Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic, Dravidian, Altaic (including Korean and Japanese), Uralic, and Eskimo-Aleut language families
speech perception P263 "the sixth sense" which, when used by babies, makes it possible for them to hear distinctions between syllables used in a variety of human languages, leading P to call them at this stage "universal phoneticians"
the "All Hell Breaks Loose" stage P269 language blooms into fluent grammatical conversation so rapidly that it overwhelms the researchers who study it, and no one has worked out the exact sequence
the Gibberish Babbling stage P269 utterances consisting of neh-nee, da-dee, meh-neh, etc. that are "really cute" and sentence-like
the One-Word Utterances stage P269 words for common objects, actions, and routines produced in isolation
the Syllable Babbling stage P269 utterances consisting of ba-ba-ba, neh-neh-neh, dee-dee-dee, etc. consisting of phonemes and syllable patterns that are most common across languages
the Two-Word Strings stage P269 All dry. I sit. No pee. More cereal. Other pocket. Mail come. Our car. Etc.
ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny P265 one can see in the embryo various stages of evolutionary development
tempting errors that would seem to be natural generalizations, but aren’t P272 He seems happy: Does he seem happy?::He is smiling.: Does he be smiling.

He did eat.: He didn’t eat.::He did a few things. : He didn’t a few things.

He did eat: Did he eat? :: He did a few things. :: Did he a few things? Etc. Etc.

causative rule, the P275 The butter melted. : Sally melted the butter.

The ball bounced. : Hiram bounced the ball.

The horse raced past the barn. : The jockey raced the horse past the barn.

  Why don’t children make many of the errors that would seem to be natural generalizations?
  Is speech input necessary for speech development. Is a mere soundtrack sufficient?
  How important is practice in training for the gymnastics of speaking? How important is practice in learning grammar? How important is feedback and correction in learning grammar? What do the corrections of parents seem to focus on?
  What do the words that precede bother in the following sentences have in common? What significance does this have for the child’s learning of grammar?

That dog bothers me.

What she wears bothers me.

Music that is too loud bothers me.

Cheering too loudly bothers me.

The guy she hangs out with bothers me.

  What are some of the possible phrasemates of a head noun within a noun phrase? Give examples.
  What are some of the possible places in a sentence where a whole noun phrase can go? Give examples.
  Why can’t adults continue to learn languages like children do?
  Why is language more lopsided than many other brain functions?
  What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of having genes for left-handedness?
  What does the existences of types such as raconteurs, punsters, accidental poets, sweet-talkers, rapier-like wits, sesquipedalians, word-jugglers, owners of the gift of gab, Rev. Spooners, Mrs. Malaprops, Alexander Haigs, and people who can talk backward tell us about the language instinct, according to Pinker?
  What do sobbing, laughing, moaning, shouting in pain, and control over the swearing that follows the arrival of a hammer on a thumb, that emerges as an involuntary tic in Tourette’s syndrome, and that can survive as Broca’s aphasics’ only speech—what do these all have in common as opposed to genuine language?
  Give some pro’s and con’s of:
    • split infinitives: "to boldly go"
    • double negatives: "I will not budge for no man’s pleasure." F301
    • their as a variable: "Everyone returned to their seats."
    • verbs made out of nouns: "to elbow your way through the crowd"
    • hopefully as a sentence adverb
    • ending a sentence with a preposition: "That is something up with which I will not put."
    • dropping of g’s: workin’
    • ain’t
    • data as a singular
  What are the two blind spots of the language mavens, according to Pinker?
  What explanations have been offered for the spread of Indo-European speaking peoples over much of Europe and parts of Asia?
  Give at least two reasons why children aren’t born talking.
interchangeability All members of the species can both send and receive messages
feedback Users of the system are aware of what they are transmitting
specialization The communication system serves no other function but to commucate
semanticity The system conveys meaning through a set of fixed relationships among signifiers, referents, and meanings
arbitrariness There is no natural or inherent connection between a token and its referent
discreteness The communication system consists of isolatable, repeatable units
displacement Users of the system are able to refer to events remote in space and time
productivity New messages on any topic can be produced at any time
duality of patterning Meaningless units (phonemes) are combined to form arbitrary signs. These signs in turn can be recombined to form new, meaningful larger units
tradition At least certain aspects of the system must be transmitted from an experienced user to a learner
prevarication The system enables the users to talk nonsense or to lie
learnability A user of the system can learn other variants
reflexiveness The ability to use the communication system to discuss the system itself


Other study questions over Pinker chapters 6 and 7 (postponed from 2nd Midterm)

What are the sounds of silence, according to Pinker? Why is this an apt name? (P169)

Why do we say "pingpong," etc., rather than "pongping," etc. (P167)

Distinguish between trochaic and iambic feet in the following: (P176)

Mary had a little lamb.

The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain.

Explain how and why the two k sounds in Cape Cod are different. (P182)

What are some of the mechanisms languages provide for avoiding top-heavy sentences? (P202)

Indicate whether each of the following sentences is right-branching, left-branching, or center-embedding: (P203)

  1. This is the cow with the crumpled horn that tossed the dog that worried the cat that killed the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built?
  2. The hummingbird’s wing’s motion’s rapidity is remarkable.
  3. The malt that the rat that the cat killed ate lay in the house.
  4. The rapidity that the motion that the wing that the hummingbird has has has is remarkable.
  5. Remarkable is the rapidity of the motion of the wing of the hummingbird.
  6. The dog the stick the fire burned beat bit the cat.
  7. The cheese that some rats I saw were trying to eat turned out to be rancid.
  8. Do you think that the rumor that the stuff they put in soft drinks causes cancer is true? (Labov’s real-life question concerning cyclamate)

Give a paraphrase of each of the following sentences (another sentence that says the same thing) that is easier to understand. Explain why the one sentence is easier to understand than the other.

  1. The dog the stick the fire burned beat bit the cat.
  2. The malt that the rat that the cat killed ate lay in the house.
  3. If if if it rains it pours I get depressed I should get help.
  4. That that that he left is apparent is clea is obvious.

Find the ambiguities in the following sentences (P209) (Give a paraphrase for each meaning):

  1. Visiting relatives can be boring.
  2. Vegetarians don’t know how good meat tastes.
  3. I saw the man with the binoculars.
  4. They heard the shooting of the hunters.
  5. Flying planes can be dangerous.
  6. Time flies like an arrow.

Parse the following sentence (by inserting helpful function words and/or other words.): (P210)

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

How do people home in on the sensible analysis of a sentence? By a "breadth-first search" or a "depth-first search"? How does the answer differ at the word level and at the phrase/sentence level? (P210)

Explain why each of the following is a "garden path" sentence: (P212)

  1. The horse raced past the barn fell.
  2. The man who hunts ducks out on weekends.
  3. The cotton clothing is usually made of grows in Mississippi.
  4. The prime number few.
  5. Fat people eat accumulates.
  6. The tycoon sold the offshore oil tracts for a lot of money wanted to kill JR.

Following are two pairs of sentences in which one member of each pair is easier to parse than the other. Identify which is easier, and explain why. (P214)

1. The defendant examined by the lawyer turned out to be unreliable.

2. The evidence examined by the lawyer turned out to be unreliable.

1. The student forgot the solution was in the back of the book.

2. The student hoped the solution was in the back of the book.


Explain the parsing problems presented by each of the following sentences: (P216)

Flip said that Squeaky will do the work yesterday.

Sherlock Holmes didn’t suspect the very beautiful young contess was a fraud.

Where are the traces in the following sentences? Explain. (P219)

1. I wonder who introduced John to Marsha.

2. I wonder who Bruce introduced to Marsha.

3. I wonder who Bruce introduced John to.

Which of the following two sentences is easier to parse, and why? How do the sentences differ grammatically? (P221)

1. Reverse the clamp that the stainless steel hexhead bolt extending upward from the seatpost yoke holds in place.

2. Reverse the clamp that is held in place by the stainless steel hex-head bolt extending upward from the seatpost yoke.

Which of the following two sentences is easier to parse, and why? How do the sentences differ grammatically? (P228)

    1. Some astonishing questions about the nature of the universe have been raised by scientists studying the nature of black holes in space. The collapse of a dead star into a point perhaps no larger than a marble ceates a black hole.
    2. Some astonishing questions about the nature of the universe have been raised by scientists studying the nature of black holes in space. A black hole is created by the collapse of a dead star into a point perhaps no larger than a marble.

Final Examination

I. Matching

II. Matching

III. Polynesian

IV. Genetic closeness

V. Short answers


Matching I.

  1. adstratum
  2. Afro-Asiatic languages
  3. Altaic languages
  4. amelioration
  5. Anatolian branch of Indo-European
  6. apocope
  7. assimilation
  8. auditorily-based substitution
  9. Austro-Asiatic languages
  10. Austronesian languages
  11. borrowing
  12. conversion of N to V
  13. conversion of V to N (with stress shift)
  14. deletion
  15. dissimilation
  16. Dravidian languages
  17. Early Modern English
  18. epenthesis
  19. folk etymology
  20. hypercorrection
  21. identity correspondences
  22. lateralization
  23. metaphor
  24. metathesis
  25. Middle English
  26. Modern English
  27. Nostratic languages
  28. Old English
  29. overlapping correspondences
  30. pejoration
  31. proto-forms
  32. reanalysis
  33. semantic broadening
  34. semantic narrowing
  35. shibboleth
  36. Sino-Tibetan languages
  37. spelling pronunciation
  38. substratum
  39. superstratum
  40. syncope
  41. umlaut
  42. Uralic languages


Matching II.

  1. analog signal, registers the magnitude of some state
  2. accusative-type language
  3. agglutinating type of language
  4. agglutination in English, occasionally
  5. arbitrariness
  6. bilateral symmetry
  7. birdsongs
  8. calls, a finite repertory
  9. causative rule, the
  10. classifier language
  11. classifiers in English, occasionally
  12. Clever Hans phenomenon
  13. discreteness
  14. displacement
  15. duality of patterning
  16. ergative-type language
  17. ergativity in English, occasionally
  18. feedback
  19. fixed word order
  20. free word order
  21. free word order in English, occasionally
  22. inflecting type of language
  23. inflection in English, occasionally
  24. interchangeability
  25. isolating type of language
  26. learnability
  27. non-classifier language
  28. ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny
  29. prevarication
  30. productivity
  31. reflexiveness
  32. Sarah
  33. semanticity
  34. SOV in English, occasionally
  35. SOV order
  36. specialization
  37. speech perception
  38. subject-prominent language
  39. SVO order
  40. tempting errors that would seem to be natural generalizations, but aren’t
  41. the "All Hell Breaks Loose" stage
  42. the Gibberish Babbling stage
  43. the One-Word Utterances stage
  44. the Syllable Babbling stage
  45. the Two-Word Strings stage
  46. topic prominence in English, occasionally
  47. topic-prominent lg.
  48. tradition
  49. VSO order
  50. Washoe

[back to syllabus]