Resources for Communication Problems

Monday, January 14, 2008



Biological Function of Language


concept-formation; but it is clear that there is no formal difference between man’s concept-formation and animal’s propensity for responding to categories of stimuli. There is, however, a substantive difference. The total possibilities for categorization are clearly not identical across species.

(1) Words as Labels for Categorization Process

The words that constitute the dictionary of a natural language are a sample of labels of categories natural to our species; they are not tags of specific objects. When names have unique referents, such as Michelangelo, Matterhorn, Waterloo, they may be incorporated into discourse but are not considered part of the lexicon. Thus most words may be said to label realms of concept rather than physical things. This must be true for otherwise we should have great difficulty in explaining why words refer to open classes. We cannot define the category labeled house by enumerating all objects that are given that name. Any new object that satisfies certain criteria (and there is an infinity of such objects) may be assigned that label. It is easier to say what such criteria are not than to say what they are. They are not a finite set of objectively measurable variables such as physical dimensions, texture, color, acidity, etc. (except for a few words, which constitute a special case; these will be discussed under the heading “The Language of Experience”). We cannot predict accurately which object might be named house and which not by looking only at the physical measurements of those objects. Therefore, categorization and the possibility of word word-assignment must usually be founded on something more abstract.

The infant who is given a word and has the task of finding the category labeled by this word does not seem to start with a working hypothesis that a specific, concrete object(his father) uniquely bears the name daddy; instead, initially the word appears to be used as the label of a general and open category, roughly corresponding to the adult category people or men. Thus categorization by a principle, or the formation of an(abstract) concept is apparently prior to and more primitive than the association of a sound pattern with a specific sensory experience. The same thing may be expressed in different words; stimulus generalization is prior to stimulus discrimination.

Let us consider more closely the process of categorization that underlies semantics. Is it possible to characterize this cognitive activity any further? For instance, if the classification criteria are not usually physical dimensions, what are they? The most outstanding feature of the “criteriality” is its great flexibility. Sometimes the criterion is primarily one of “use that man makes of the objects”; sometimes it is a given aspect ; sometimes a certain emotional state that all objects in that class may elicit in the viewer. Any one category is not definable by only one, consistently applied criterion. For instance, the word house is usually applicable to structures that serve as shelter for men, animals, or objects. But the criterion for categorizing is frequently changed by metaphorical or quasi-metaphorical extensions, as in House of Lords, house of cards, house of God, the house of David, etc. The ease with which the criterion for categorization may be changed and the naturalness with which we understand such extensions point to the fact that categorization is a creative process of cognitive organization rather than an arbitrary convention. It is precisely due to the absence of rigidly adhered to classification criteria that not only the physical world can be grouped and the groups named, but the classification criteria may be bent, stretched, and altered to include virtual figments, that is, physically nonexisting entities, resulting in words without reference(or obvious referents), but which label a concept(for example, the word ghost). The procedure also makes possible the development of the meaning of the word times in the phrase four times five.

The abstractness underlying meanings in general, which has been the focus of so much philosophizing since antiquity, may best be understood by considering concept-formation the primary cognitive process, and naming (as well as acquiring a name) the secondary cognitive process. Concepts are superimpositions upon the physically given; they are modes of ordering or dealing with sensory data. They are not so much the product of man’s cognition, but conceptualization is the cognitive process itself. Although this process is not peculiar to man (because it essentially results from the mode of operation of a mechanism that can only respond in limited ways to a wide variety of a inputs), man has developed the behavioral peculiarity of attaching words to certain types of concept formation. The words(which persist through time because they may be repeated) make the underlying conceptualization process look much more static than it actually is, as we shall demonstrate presently. Cognition must be the psychological manifestation of a physiological process. It does not appear to be a mosaic of static concept, or a storehouse of thoughts, or an archive of memorized sense-impressions. The task of cognitive organization never comes to an end and is never completed” in order to be used later.” Words are not the labels of a categorization process or family of such processes. Because of the dynamic nature of the underlying process, the referents









可以找到the definition of Atrophy
Atrophy: Wasting away or diminution. Muscle atrophy is wasting of muscle, decrease in muscle mass.

A nerve can also show atrophy. For example, atrophy of the optic nerve diminishes vision.

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