Resources for Communication Problems

Monday, March 31, 2008




Language and cognition


The general problem to be considered in this chapter may be called the problem of reference; that is, the relationship between words and things, and the role that our capacity for naming may play in man’s organization of cognition.




That the capacity for naming has a biological dimension may be seen from the difficulties that animals experience in this respect. For instance, it is possible to train a hunting dog to “point,” and it may be quite possible to teach him to point to a specific set of objects in a specific environment upon appropriate command in a natural language. But it does not appear to be possible to teach a dog to do the “name-specific stimulus generalization” that every child does automatically. The hound who has learned to “point to the tree, the gate, the house” in the trainer’s yard will perform quite erratically when given the same command with respect to similar but physically different object in an unfamiliar environment. The correctness of the animal’s responses may even vary with such extralinguistic cues as the geographical position, posture, and bodily movements of his master, the time of day, or the clothes that people are wearing while he is being exercised. There is no convincing evidence that any animal below man has ever learned to that word in common language-usage. So-called proof to the contrary always lacks proper controls on interpretation. For instance, there is a report on a parrot who could say good-by (in German) and who supposedly knew what this word meant or when it is properly used. Once the bird was also heard to say good-by upon the arrival of some friends of the family; the proud owner judged this to be a sign that his pet did not merely know the meaning of the word but was even using it to produce a desired effect: to send the just-arrived friends away, presumably because he had taken a dislike to them.

命名能力有一個生物向度可從有關動物經驗的爭議看見。例如有可能訓練一隻獵犬去也很有可能教牠以自然的語言作為根據的合適命令在特定的環境裡指一套特定的物體。但不可能教一隻狗每個小孩會自動去做的"特定命名刺激類化"。在訓練者的庭院學會"指向樹、門、房子"的獵犬當在一個不相似的環境裡收到一個相同的命令[S1] 相關但實際上不同的物體會表現相當怪異。動物的反應的正確性甚至會隨著語言以外的線索改變,像是地理位置、姿勢、主人的身體、時間或者是和牠一起練習的人衣服的顏色。沒有具說服力的證據指出在人之下的任何動物曾經以一般的語言使用學會單字。所謂相對的證明在解釋上總是缺乏合適的控制。例如,有一個報告說一隻鸚鵡會說再見(用德語)而且大概知道這單字的意思或這何時該被適當地使用。一旦鳥在家人的朋友到來後立即說再見,得意的主人便判斷這訊號不僅表示他的寵物知道這字的含義也用它來產生一個期望的事件:送剛到達的朋友離開,大概是因為他不喜歡他們。

It may be well to stress once more that our concern is with the capacity for (natural, human) language which, ordinarily, leads to the understanding of a definably structured type of utterance; or, in other words, with knowing a language. The infant who has a repertoire of three tricks (wave by-by, show me your tongue, show me how tall you are) which he can perform upon the appropriate commands but who can understand no other sentence of the same grammatical, structural type has not yet begun to acquire language. The essence of language is its productivity; in the realm of perception and understanding of sentences, it is the capacity to recognize structural similarities between familiar and entirely novel word patterns. Thus our criterion for knowing language is not dependent upon demonstrations that an individual can talk or that he goes through some stereotyped performance upon hearing certain words, but upon evidence that he can analyze novel utterances through the application of structural principles. It is the purpose of this chapter to show that the understanding of the word-object relationship, the learning and acquisition of reference, is also dependent upon certain cognitive, analytic skills, much the way understanding sentence is. The problem of reference cannot be discussed without simultaneous considerations of the relationship between language and cognition.


Evidence for understanding language may be supplied by different kinds of response. It is not necessary that the subject has the anatomical and physiological prerequisites for actual speech production. In the case of man, we may cite children who have learned to understand language but who cannot speak; compare this to children who have the anatomical equipment for speech production but whose cognitive apparatus is so poorly developed that only the primordial for language are detectable but not fullfledged comprehension. In the case of animals, we have birds who can talk but who give no evidence of language understanding and we have famous case of Clever Hans, the horse, who had a nonacoustic response repertoire (stamping of hoofs) that, unfortunately, gave the erroneous impression of a coding system for the German language. Had the horse actually had the cognitive capacity for acquiring a natural language, his motor response limitations would have been no obstacle to his giving evidence for language comprehension. A similar argument could be made for the physical nature of the input data. Language acquisition is not dependent in man upon processing of acoustic patterns. There are many instances today of Deaf-and blind people who have built up language capacities on tactually perceived stimulus configuration.

了解語言的證據藉由不同種類的反應提供。主題有解剖和生理物質條件前提對於實際說話的產出是不必要的。就人類而言,我們會引學會了解語言但不會說話的孩子為證;比較孩子有說話產出的解剖設備但其認知設備是極貧乏發展所以只能偵測到最根本的語言但沒有足夠的理解力。就動物而言 我們有會說話的鳥但沒有語言理解的證據,我們有Clever Hans有名的案例,有匹馬有非聲學反映的技能(跺馬蹄)不幸地對於德語給編碼系統錯誤的印象。馬確實有習得自然語言的認知能力,他侷限的動作反應對於他所理解語言的證據沒有障礙。一個相似的論據能被做為輸入資料的物理性質。人類語言習得不是取決於聲音樣本的處理。現今有許多聾人和盲人的例子其語言能力是建立在觸覺感知的刺激形態。

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