Sentence Processing and Psychological Reality

Posting by Ade Tuty Anggriany | 5:07 PM

1. Meaning, Sound, and Syntax Relations in Chomsky’s Grammar
In relating sound and meaning, Chomsky does not begin with the meaning of the sentence nor the sound pattern of the sentence; he begins with the syntax of the sentence. In fact, he starts with the letter S, which, although one might be tempted to interpret it as meaning ‘sentence’. The structures that represent the sound or Phonetic Form (PF) and the meaning or Logical Form (LF) of a sentence are first generated from the syntax, which is activated by the vacuous S. syntax functions independently (‘autonomously’) of meaning and sound. The meaning and sound pattern of a sentence is defined by the function of syntax. In this conception, only syntax is ‘generative’.

2. Why Chomsky’s Grammar is not a Performance Model
For speaker production the true process would involve the ideas of what a person wants to express, and it must end with speech sounds.

In Chomsky’s terminology, this process would begin with something like Logical Form (LF) and end with the Phonetic Form (PF). While, for speaker understanding the true process would involve a reverse ordering. In Chomsky’s terminology, the process would begin with the PF and end with the LF. Chomsky’s grammar could not be used directly as either a model of production or of understanding. Chomsky is aware of this and has long cautioned readers not to interpret his grammar as a kind of performance process. Even though it is neither a model of production nor of understanding, Chomsky has made it an essential part of the performance process. He asserts that his grammar will be used in both the processes of sentence production and understanding. In this regard, the speaker must develop some sort of use rules, heuristics, or strategies so that the grammar can be used for such performance processes.

3. Types of Performance Models
There are two possible basic performance conceptions; the first conception is Resource Grammar Approach, it is also as a ‘componential’ model. Here, the grammar is used as a sort of resource in order that a speaker may engage in the process of producing or understanding sentences. The second conception is Process Grammar Approach. Here, a grammar (or grammars) is itself a process in the production or understanding of sentences.
a. Chomsky’s resource grammar performance model
There are two performance processes to be explained, two sets of use rules are required: one set for production, the other for understanding. Essentially, production performance involves meaning or ideas as input, and speech as output, while understanding involves speech as input and meaning as output. When given input, one of the sets of use rules will interact with the grammar to provide an output.
b. A process grammar performance model
There are type of grammars that are part of the process itself - for example, the semantic-based grammars (Functional Grammar, mainly derived from Generative Semantics Grammar) and psychological process grammars (Cognitive Grammar). The semantic-based grammars could serve directly as models of sentence production since they take the meaning of the sentence as input and provide the sound pattern of the sentence as output. However, to suppose that a speaker would actually go step by step through such a grammar to produce a sentence is doubtful.
c. No workable performance model yet with Chomsky’s grammar
There are two distinct possibilities why Chomsky’s grammar is no workable performance model. Either psycholinguists are not smart enough to create a workable model, or, there is something wrong with Chomsky’s conception of grammar such that a performance model cannot be devised.

4. Some Features of Sentence Production and Understanding
a. Explaining the speed of conversations
Speed is made possible by a speaker or hearer having knowledge and strategies that often enable one to jump directly from meaning to sound and vice versa without the mediation of syntax in the process of understanding and producing sentence. For example, in production, because the production of a sentence involves the output of words in a linier order. In this respect, familiar phrases and sentence are especially useful.
b. Some features of sentence production
The aim of the production process is to provide a set of sounds for the thought that the speaker wishes to convey. There are some features of sentence production:
• Thought Process: this universal process use knowledge and a stock of concepts to create thoughts. It is stimulated by various mental and environmental influences.
• Purpose + proposition: this is the essential thought which a person wishes to communicate to someone. The purpose of a thought involves such intentions as questioning, asserting, denying, and warning with respect to a proposition. The proposition consists of two basic types of concepts: arguments and predicates.
• Pragmatics and Semantic Structure: politeness, persuasions, and other pragmatic factors will influence what the final meaning of sentence will be.
• Basic Strategies: this component identifies certain properties of the Semantic Structure and assigns searches to be done of the Stored Items and Transformational rules.
• Phonetic Structure and Acoustic signal: the phonetic Structure is a psychological level which represents the pronunciation of the sentence. It consists of the discrete speech sounds and prosodic features (pitch, stress, etc.).
c. Some features of sentence understanding
Fodor, Bever, and Garret have postulated that a string of incoming words are first identified in terms of their grammatical class (noun, verb, etc) so that for English a syntactic strategy like

NP + V + NP → Subject + Verb + Direct Object

can apply. This means that the first NP is identified as the Subject, while the NP that follows the V is identified as the Direct Object. Such as in the sentence ‘The cat chased the mouse.’
Basic strategies are better specified in terms of semantic aspects. Thus rather than the strategy of NP + V + NP → Subject, etc, the strategy would be a semantic strategy, something like

Living thing + Action + Thing → Agent + Action + Action’s object

Here, with the identification of the individual concepts of ‘living Thing’, ‘Action’ and ‘Thing’, the semantic roles of ‘Agent’ and ‘Action’s Object’ are assigned with respect to ‘Action’. Thus, given a sentence like ‘Mary pushed Sally’, the first word of ‘Mary’ (assuming for convenience a single word-by-word analysis) will be immediately identified in the Stored Items as the name of a person, person being an item that includes the meaning of living thing.

5. The Psychological Unreality of Chomsky’s Grammar
a. The psychological contradiction in Chomsky’s theorizing
The content of the rules of grammar are thus determined by the directional relationship which Chomsky postulated with respect to the levels of his grammar. But, he declares that it would be ‘absurd’ to propose that in producing a sentence a speaker would start from the initial letter S, construct a D-structure line by line, then insert lexical items and apply transformations to form a S-structure, etc. Thus, Chomsky asserts, the process of generating a linguistic derivation is not a process that a speaker would ever employ in producing a sentence. The same would be true for the understanding of sentences – a performance process that must begin with sound and not the letter S and a variety of syntactic principles.
Now, since the direction order in Chomsky’s grammar is psychologically unreal, and since the content of his grammatical principles and parameters are determined by this directional order, we can only conclude that Chomsky’s principle and parameters are as the psychologically unreal as the psychologically unreal order on which they were based. (see more Steinberg, 1976 and 1982, pp. 77-80)

6. The Anti-Mentalist Skeletons in Chomsky’s Closet
How is it that Chomsky’s theorizing has resulted in this internal psychological contradiction? The facts show that Chomsky was not always a Mentalist and that the psychological theorizing for his grammar came some years later.
We find that Chomsky supporting Bloomfield, a pro-Behaviorist linguist, in his attack on Mentalist, ideas and meanings (ideas and meanings are attacked because such abstract entities lead to a theory of mind). Chomsky, in his work 1955, devoted over a hundred pages to attacking the relevance of semantics to grammar. Even so, semantics was given only a secondary role. Syntax continued to be given the primary autonomous role in the grammar. Because Chomsky continued to give syntax a primary role, mentalistic claims about his grammar, that Chomsky fell into psychological self-contradiction. Not even his brilliant competence-performance solution was enough to save the theory, although it did serve to detract critics from focusing psychological attention on the grammar.

Children vs Adults in Second-Language Acquisition

Posting by Ade Tuty Anggriany | 5:00 PM

1. A Common Belief
Most people believe that children are better than adults when attempting to learn a second language. Factors involved in second-language acquisition can be divided into two kinds, the psychological and the social. Intellectual processing which is involved in the determination of grammatical structures and rules, memory which is essential for learning to occur, and motor skills which involve the use of articulators of speech, are the psychological factors that should be considered. While the type of situations, settings and interactions which affect our ability to learn a second language, in particular the natural and classroom situations, are the social factors that should be considered.

2. Psychological Factors Affecting Second-Language Learning
a. Intellectual processing

There are two ways to learn the structure and rules of a second language: someone can explain them to you or you can figure them out for yourself. The first way may be termed ’explication’, the second ‘induction’.
Explication is the process whereby the rules and the structures of a second language are explained to the learner in his or her native language. No second language can be learned entirely by such means. Explication may even be a faster means of learning than induction, since induction requires that a learner be repeatedly exposed to words, phrases and sentences along with relevant situation that give some induction as to their meaning.
Learning by self discovery is the essence of the process of induction. The child who is exposed to second language speech and remembers what he or she has heard will be able to analyze and discover the generalization or rule that underlies the speech. Negation and the plural are learned by induction and become part of a young native speaker’s language knowledge quite early long before the child enters school.
b. Memory
Memory is crucial to learning. It is conceivable that a person with severe memory impairment could ever learn his or her native language, much less a second language. The learning of the simplest word requires memory. Memory is similarly crucial for the learning of grammatical structures and rules. It is only through memory that a child can accumulate the vast amount of speech and relevant situational data which serve as a basis for analyzing structures and formulating rules, processes which constitutes induction.
The kind of simple memorization where words, phrases and sentences are remembered just as they are is called ‘rote’ memorization by psycholinguist. While children at age 5 or 6 still display a phenomenal ability at rote memorization, it seems that older children do not, with some decline beginning around 8 years of age and with more of a decline from about 12 years of age. It seems that children’s age can be divided into two categories under 7 years and 7 to 12 years. By 50, for example there appears to be decrease of about 20 per cent in the number of the brain cells in the cortex; by 75 years of age that loss will have reached approximately 40 per cent. In the normally aging brain, long term memories seem relatively unaffected; with one’s knowledge of the world, built up over decades, remaining intact. On the other hand the ability to deal successfully with material such as list of new names and words is affected.
c. Motor skills
Good pronunciation, which is related to the ability to control the organs of speech, is clearly essential part of learning a foreign language. Jaws, lips, tongue; vocal chords are controlled by muscles, all of which are under the general control the brain. The particular motor skill of speech pronunciation is best developed at a younger age. Somewhere around the age of 10 and 12 years the ability to acquire new motor skills begins to decline. Children learning a second language typically learn to speak it with a pronunciation that is indistinguishable from that of native speaker. Children under the age of 7 years are rated ‘high’ on all psychological factors except ‘explicative’ processing, while, adults are rated ‘high’ on ‘inductive’ and ‘explicative’ processing but ‘low’ on ‘memory’ and ‘motor skills’.

3. Social Situations Affecting Second-Language Learning
a. The natural situation
A natural situation for second-language learning is one where the second language is experienced in a situation that is similar to that in which the native language is learned. Speaking as one gets older there is a decline in the kind of social interactions which promotes language learning. For adults, social interaction mainly occurs through the medium of language. Few native speakers’ adults are willing to devote time to interacting with someone who does not speak the language. The adult foreigner will have little opportunity to engage in meaningful language exchange except for picking up bits of language that are experienced in the workplace or in shopping. The older the child, the greater the role that language p[lays in social interaction and the more the person will experience difficult in being accepted.
b. The classroom situation
The classroom for second language learning is planned, or some might say, an artificially constructed, situation. In the natural situation, language is but one aspect of life, an aspect which accompanies other life events. In the classroom language it becomes the prime aspect of life around which all else revolves. There are characteristic of the planned classroom which distinguishes it from the natural situation. They are include social adjustment to group process, the need to attend class in order to learn, the need for long periods of concentration and having to do home study. Young children will do quite poor in comparison to older children and adults.

4. Who is better?
a. The natural situation
In the natural situation, younger children will do best. Natural situation is more favorable to children because adults undergo a marked decline in the quality and the quantity of the social interaction conductive to good language learning. In a natural situation, the social activities of children especially young children expose them to massive amounts of good, natural language. It will be easier for children to learn syntax than it will be for adults. Because adults undergo decline in memory and without remembered data there nothing to analyze.
Younger children will have an advantage of over adults in learning the grammar of second language. Older children can be expected to learn faster than adults because of a better memory. Children posse the flexibility in motor skills which adults do not have, children will do much better in acquiring native pronunciation in a second language. It can be conclude that in all respects of language learning, for the natural situation children will do better than adults with younger children doing better than older children.

b. The classroom situation
In the classroom situation adults will do better than young children because they know how to be students. They have sufficient maturity to meet the rigours of a formal learning environment, where concentration, attention and even the ability to sit still for a long time, all play a role in learning. The best age to learn a second language in a classroom situation is probably that age where the individual retains much of the memory and motor skills of the very young. But where the individual has begun to reason and understand like an adult. That age would probably be somewhere around 12 years.

5. Critical Age
It is safe to affirm the view that there is no critical age in terms of acquiring the syntax of a second language. One psycholinguist, Thomas Scovel claimed that no adult can ever be successful in that regard. The critical period for accent less speech simply means that adults will never learn to pass themselves off as native speakers phonologically.