Resources for Communication Problems

Thursday, January 31, 2008



Summary of pp. 227-230 in Chinese missing?!



Language in the light of evolution and genetics


We tell our children that the cow says “moo,” the lamb says “bah,” and the rooster says “cock-a-doodle-doo.” Most animals around us seem to “say” something, and there is a temptation to assume that they are “communicating”; but how, what. And to whom these animals “speak” are questions to which there are but vague answers. Most vertebrate species emit some kind of acoustics signal, and the sensory receptors of each species are sensitive to the broadcasts of their own kind. The ubiquity of this phenomenon suggests that some biological functions are the same for all species—in fact. There is good evidence against this. An acoustic broadcast may serve to warn territorial intruders, to call the young, to transfer information; it may function to strengthen social cohesion in large groups or to prevent the breaking up of single couples only; it may have the effect of arousing or of lulling; it may be directed at members of other species, at members of the same species, at only certain individuals, or only to the self, as in echo-navigation.

Animal communication does not merely fascinate us as a zoological phenomenon; it also encourages us to believe that appropriate comparative studies will reveal the origin of human communication. The rationale here is approximately this: since Darwin has shown that man is not the product of special creation but that he descended from more primitive animal forms, neither his structure nor his behavior are special creations. His forms of communication must have descended from primitive animal forms of communication, and a study of the latter is likely to disclose that there is indeed a straight line of evolution of this feature. This type of reasoning we shall call the continuity theory of language development. I do not agree with it, and the first part of the chapter will be devoted to a critical analysis. I will then propose a discontinuity theory and show that this is not only biologically acceptable but, in fact, more in line with present theories in developmental biology than the former type theory (Roe and Simpson, 1958; Simpson, 1949; Haldane, 1949; Rensch, 1954).

(1) Continuity Theory A: Straight Line Evolution of Language With Only Quantitative Changes

I. Limitations on inferences from animal comparison

FIG. 6.1. Diagram of a “straight-line” evolution; numbers indicate traits of various species thought to be direct antecedents of 5.

This type of theory rests on the belief that there is no essential difference between man’s language and the communication of lower forms. Man’s noises just sound different, and his repertoire of messages is merely much large than that of animals, presumably due to a quantitative increase in nonspecific intelligence. Theorists of this persuasion might picture the development of communication systems in the animal world as a straight road towards language such as shown in Fig. 6.1, with various animal communication systems as early way-stations. Human language is thought to be much more advanced, perhaps by virtue of some kind of proliferation of elements (more memory units; or more classification devices; or more computing elements).

It can be only this kind of implicit belief that encourages investigators to count the number of words in the language of gibbons, to look for phonemes in the vocalizations of monkeys or songs of birds, or to collect the morphemes in the communication systems of bees and ants. In many other instances no such explicit endeavors are stated, but the under-lying faith appears to be the same since much time and effort is spent teaching parrots, dolphins, or chimpanzee infants to speak English. The rather wide-spread belief that many animals have a language of a very primitive and limited kind ( or that the animal pupils of English instruction can enter the first stage of language acquisition) is easily refuted by a comparison with man’s beginnings in language, discussed in Chapter Seven.

At the root of the idea that human language is merely quantitatively different from animal “language” is the idea that all animals have something that might be called “nonspecific intelligence,” but that man has much more of this endowment and that intellectual potential happens to be useful in the elaboration of a universal biological need for communication. Animals are thought to be unable to learn to understand English because of an insufficiency of this intellectual capacity. There are grave difficulties with this reasoning.

Intelligence or intellectual capacity are difficult to define in the context of general zoology. Insofar as intelligence is a measurable property within our own species (and there are those who have their doubts about this), we have seen (Chapter Four and Seven) that it correlates poorly with language capacity. Within certain IO ranges there is virtually no correlation whatever; and in the extreme low range, where there is an apparent correlation, it is rare to find individuals who have not even the capacity to understand simple spoken language. Most idiots and even imbeciles may be given verbal commands and many also acquire, spontaneously, the use of some words or even simple phrases. When the concept of intelligence must be applied to disparate species, the problem of scaling and measurement is enhanced greatly.

Clearly, intelligence is not a physical property that can be measured objectively. It is always tied to specific tasks and to the frame of reference of a given species. When we test different species by requiring animals to solve a certain problem, the similarity in task is seen by requiring animals to solve a certain problem, the similarity in task is seen by us, the human experimenter, but different species are likely to “interpret” an apparently similar task in their own, species-specific manner. Comparing the intelligence of different species is comparable to making relative measurements in different universes and comparable the results in absolute terms. When we say that a cat is more intelligent than a mouse, and a dog more intelligent than a cat, we do not mean that the one can catch the other by superior cunning but that one solves human tasks with greater ability than the other. The animal’s way of “interpreting” a problem situation becomes more and more similar to that of humans as the experimental animal is phylogenetically closer to man. But from this we cannot infer that language acquisition is just another problem-solving experiment and that phylogenetic proximity to man increases the capacity for language.

Summary of pp. 227-230 in Chinese missing?!


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物種演化:人 v.s. 其他物種



因此人類之所以異於其他物種,最為明顯的特徵是人類擁有一套完美的溝通系統語言。而語言學家為了解其他物種之特性,通常專注於動物溝通系統的研究。許多自然界的動物,其實都各自有其傳訊的方式,而研究的例子裡包含蜜蜂的舞動、鳥的鳴叫、黑猩猩(WashoeSarahLanaNim ChimpskyShermanAustinMatata)、馬及海豚(BuzzDoris)等等的溝通系統,及類人類動物(黑猩猩)學習人類語言的過程紀錄。大致上而言,其他物種的傳訊系統多少都具有「語言」的特性,但其精密度仍不及人類的語言系統。就正如語言學家Noam Chomsky 認為語言是人類的一種天賦,而且為人類所獨有,即使人猿再聰明也學不會人類語言。

個體發展:兒童語言習得Language Acquisition in Child




       語言病理學Language Pathology

       聽語學Speech and Hearing Science




當我們談到生物語言學時,其所強調的是生物語言學應該有三個最基本的面向(dimension):第一個是,從物種演化的面向來看,從最低等的生物到最高等的生物,他們在認知過程,特別是在跟語言有關的認知過程的比較,對於我們暸解語言學會不會有什麼幫助;第二個向量,是從個體的發展過程,從胚胎、成長到死亡這整個過程當中,來看語言的相對發展,而我們語言學也常會談到語言習得(Language Acquisition)的問題,我們也都知道這是屬於心理語言學(Psycholinguistics)的範圍,但是在我的看法中,嚴格的來說,心理語言學也是屬於生物語言學(Biolinguistics)的範圍,而且在這裡我們不應當只談語言習得,還應該包括在成長之後、在老化的過程當中,人對於語言訊息的處理;第三個向量,是介於生理和病理之間的語言認知過程的比較。

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  另外書上亦有提到腦容積,原來它是指我們可以透過腦容積(cranial capacity) 知道在生物界裡,心智的發展是個什麼樣的情形?亦即同樣是靈長類腦容積的比較,也可當成觀察心智的一個指標。有些精通多國語言的人,他的語言處理中樞(language center)通常會比較膨脹,腦皮脂(cortex)皺褶比較多。所謂皺褶多就是指表面比較大,和裡面的神經細胞(neuron)彼此間的連結會比較多一點,也是某種程度的神經可塑性(neuro plasticity)


課本--Neuroscience for the Study of Communicative Disorders

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