Language and Cognitive Psychology

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Language and cognitive psychology
Virginia Berling
University of Phoenix
Cognitive Psychology
Eric Tomlinson
September 06, 2010

Language and cognitive psychology
Language, like the air we breathe, is often taken for granted and the complexity of language is often overlooked. Cognitive psychology has opened our minds to the fact that language is uniquely human, thereby provoking a better understanding of language (Willingham, 2007). Language must meet five criteria; communicative, arbitrary, structured, generative, and dynamic, and language must have definable structure in its phonemes, words, sentences, and texts (STIR, (n..d.)) (Pati, 2000) (Willingham, 2007). Cognitive psychology seeks to understand and explain how human beings acquire, comprehend, and produce language (STIR, (n.d.)).

Definition of Language and Lexicon

The best way to understand and study language is to first define what language is, thereby eliminating such information as animal communication. There are five main points that language must meet are: communicative, arbitrary, structured, generative, and dynamic (Pati, 2000) (STIR, (n.d.)) (Willingham, 2007). Communicative means that the language allows at least two individuals to express themselves and understand the expressions thus are able to communicate (Pati, 2000) (STIR, (n.d)). Arbitrary means that there is no logical reason that any particular element of the language has a particular meaning, nor is there any reason that the meaning of one symbol preclude that the symbol of an opposing symbol have any similarities in its elements (Pati, 2000) (STIR, (n.d.)). Structured means that there must be rules that structure the way the symbols are put together to express meaning, and if the structure is not followed the meaning would either not have meaning, or not express the correct meaning (Pati, 2000) (STIR, (n.d.)). Generative means that that the symbols of the language can be put together in unlimited ways to express different meanings (Pati, 2000) (STIR, (n.d.)). Dynamic means that the language grows as new symbols are added and the structure is adapted to fit new rules (Pati, 2000) (STIR, (n.d.)). No definition of language would be complete without explaining lexicon, which is the knowledge of symbols, or words, an individual knows and uses (Lu and Dosher, 2007). A prime example of a lexicon for those who use the English language is a dictionary, which provides them with a list of symbols, or words, with the meaning of each symbol, and often with information regarding the structure rules associated with the symbol (Lu and Dosher, 2007).

Properties of Language

While it is easily understood that language makes it possible for individuals to communicate with each other, there are many properties of this communication, such as specialization, displacement, and culturally transmittable (Pati, 2000) (STIR, (n.d.)) (Willingham, 2007). Specialization is the property of communication which allows language to take the place of physical action, such as saying ‘Stop!’ to a child who is about to run into danger instead of having to physically stop the child (Pati, 2000) (STIR, (n.d.)). The property of displacement enables individuals to be able to use language to think about, and communicate about information from the past, present, and future even if that source of the information is not immediately present (Pati, 2000) (STIR, (n.d.)). Language is also culturally transmittable, which means that the younger generations learn through language the knowledge and experiences from the older generations (Pati, 2000) (STIR, (n.d.)). This transfer of knowledge enables the younger generation to learn from the mistakes of the older generation, and to increase the knowledge since they do not have to invent what has already been invented, but to make those inventions better (Pati, 2000) (STIR, (n.d.)). This communication from the older generation to the younger...
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