23. Language

[MUSIC PLAYING] Stanford University. Let’s get started. We switch to our next subject,
where the overall plan could be summarized
like that, as you well know by now– looking
at the language, looking at the biological
roots of the interactions with the environment,
all the deal that we have under
our belts by now. Same strategy as usual,
starting off with the behavior, and then working our way back. First off, two announcements
before I forget. One is we’re not going to
have a lecture on depression. The remaining lectures will
be Wednesday schizophrenia, Friday is biology of religion,
and the following Wednesday is the final lecture
personality disorders individual differences. And apropos of that, not
positive at the moment, but I’m leaning towards
the last two lectures not being taped for
a number of reasons. OK, also one final
point from Wednesday, from Friday’s lecture,
the complexity one, back to that business, swarm
intelligence, and being able to solve the traveling
salesman problem for you with remarkable efficiency,
that business again about how the cortex wires
up that two generation business of cells,
the first cells being those radial glia
that established sort of a super structure,
the second generation then being the neurons that
do the random laundering, hit and grow up there, and then
wire up in these optimal nodes. What you also get is a version
intrinsic in that it is solving the traveling salesman problem. If you think about
it, if you’ve got 20, 30 billion cortical
neurons there, and all of them are wiring up to
10,000 other neurons, depending on how
efficiently you pack it, you could have a hundred
gazillion miles of axons that you have to grow, or just
a couple of kilometers worth. And, again, the pressure is
to come up with the traveling salesman efficiency to be
able to pull off the wiring that you want with the minimal
amount of expenditure of axons. And what you see when
you look at the way the cortex does wire
up people working on this showing remarkably
efficient solutions coming out of that brain’s equivalent
of doing swarm intelligence. So language, starting off with
our usual strategy– starting off with what the
behaviors look like. And the place to
begin is with some of the universals of language. Across all the different human
languages, approximately 6,000 of them, and all sorts
of depressing news about that to come. First off, something that
they all have in common is semanticity– the
notion that there is an endless array,
an infinite array, of sounds that could
be generated by voices. And what all languages do is
bucket them, as per usual, break up this continuum of
sounds into units of meaning, and where meaning corresponds
to the unit itself. The notion of that
being a pair of people we’ll more about later–
Marc Hauser, Noam Chomsky, pointing out that even
though you could generate an infinite number of words, you
could never generate 6.5 words. That’s part of what
semanticity is about. Not only do you break
continuum of sounds into buckets of meaning. But they are discrete buckets. You cannot have partial words. Also, what else is
universal to languages? The possibility of
embedded clauses. And ones that get
considerably more complicated, all languages not
only have a can do b. But they all have a
under this condition, but not under that condition,
and sometimes on Tuesdays but never on Thursdays can do b. All of them will
have embedded clauses like that, that
being a universal. What else? All of them show
recursion, which is a really important property. Old term for it would be
something like generativity, which is all languages have
a finite number of words. And all languages
have the potential to generate an infinite
number of combinations. And all you have to
do see that is come up with what you believe
is the longest sentence in all of history. And all you have to do is put
at the beginning of it Bill said that, blah, blah. And once that’s
there, then you have to have Jane said
that Bill said that. And, thus, you have an
infinite generativity. All languages, finite
number of words, infinite number of combinations. What else? Very important feature
of human language when we get to comparing it
with animal communication– displacement. We can talk about
stuff from the past. We can talk about
stuff from the future. We can talk about stuff on
the other side of the planet. We can talk about
things that are emotionally distant from us. And as we’ll see with animals,
the overwhelming majority of animal communication
is about emotion. I am upset. I am angry. I am afraid. I am horny. I am hungry. I am whatever it is. Humans, instead, can talk
about chess strategies– displacement,
displacement from emotion. Related to that, there’s
arbitrariness of language. What do I mean by this? In virtually any
animal species that is communicating, for example,
I am terrified out of my mind, it’s going to involve something
resembling that species’ equivalent of screaming and
emoting loudly, and saying, ah, or some equivalent of that. We are able to say, I am
feeling a deeply corrosive sense of disquietude at the moment. We don’t have the actual
words being tied inextricably into their meaning. You cannot look
at a word and say, whoa that word has an awful lot
of right angles in the letters there. It must be a word that
tells you something about this type of philosophy. It’s arbitrary relationship
between the signal and the message. And that is universal
to human languages. What else is universal? The ability to have this
lecture, meta communication, to communicate
about communication, to be able to step
back from language and discuss it in and of itself. And one extreme version
of it is to have people who devote their
times to inventing language. Two examples– one is the French
have some national institution which is meant to save
the French language from the sullying
effects of words from all sorts of
other languages. And they make all
sorts of rulings as to what words are now
allowed to become French. And I don’t know what they
decided about le Big Mac, whether that came in. But this is a body that
studies and decides what words should be part of its language. Similarly, there is a
college in Washington DC called Gallaudet College,
which is for deaf individuals. And it’s ground zero for
American Sign Language. It’s the place where some band
of sign language elder poobahs sit around and decide on
new words in that language. As we’ll see, that’s not
a very effective strategy. But nonetheless, that
is meta communication. Every single language has the
ability to talk about language. Every single language
and its practitioners use motherese, use baby talk. Baby talk where typically the
mother, but not exclusively so, will speak to a child
in a high-pitched voice emphasizing melodic and
vowel aspects of it, repeating phrases, focusing very
closely in on the baby’s face. All of these languages
have motherese. And the question becomes,
is motherese about emotion, or is it about instruction? And what you see is some real
similarities between motherese and how people often
talk to their pets. And you’re usually not
trying to teach your pets how to speak your native language. One difference,
though, with speaking to pets you get the repetitive,
high-pitched voice stuff. You don’t get the close clarity. You do not make a point
of making the sound slowly and clearly. You are not teaching
your dog language there. So that is a difference. Nonetheless, in every single
language, you get motherese. Next, you have
what’s going to be an issue throughout
when trying to make sense of the biology of this. When we’re looking
at what’s going on in the brain in
that sort of thing, is language in those
cases what you’re doing with your lips,
your larynx, your throat? Is the language mostly
about the motoric aspects? This is a system involving
the generation of sound and the reception of sound. Or is it more about cognition? Is it more about the
conceptual structure? And the general
view in the field is it’s overwhelmingly
about the latter. And some of the strongest
evidence for that comes from sign languages–
American Sign Language. American Sign Language, which
shows all sorts of very subtle, deep properties that are
similar to spoken language amid it not being
a spoken language, and amid using completely
different systems in the brain. One example of this– you
look at babies who are born deaf and will be learning
American Sign Language. And right around the age
that hearing infants begin to babble with their
spoken language, deaf babies begin to babble
in American Sign Language, and are starting to
make signs with that. Just like hearing babies, they
tend to babble that most people before going to sleep. It’s the same property. There is not a rule
that says, somewhere around nine months
of age, begin making sounds that are fragments of
stuff you’ve been hearing. Somewhere around
nine months of age, begin to practice fragments of
whatever communicative system you are being exposed to. Similar evidence
that language is about the cognitive
structure and not about lips and tongue–
when older individuals who are native speakers of
American Sign Language happen to have a stroke, they
can get the exact same sort of communication
disorders in sign language that speaking individuals do. And we’ll see that in
more detail, what some of these pathologies look like. It’s coded for in very
similar parts of the brain. Both spoken language
and sign language have something called prosody,
which we will hear more about. Prosody is not the
words in a language. Prosody is the tone, what you’re
doing with your face, what you’re doing with your hands,
the gestures, your body posture, all the things
that are communicated through those routes
there, all the things which virtually by
definition– email, you can’t do prosody with,
beyond little smiley face things. That’s about the
limits of prosody. You find prosody in
American Sign Language, people doing very different
facial expressions. One classic example
of sign language prosody is if somebody
in American Sign Language is describing a conversation
between two people they will subtly shift their body as
they’re going from one person to the other there. This is prosody. This is reinforcing
the information. This is a dialogue that this
is exactly what spoken language people do in terms
of that prosody, the same thing in
American Sign Language. Next, amazing bit of evidence
from ASL– American Sign Language– that this is about
cognition, not about lips and tongue of what makes
it a language, which is you look at someone
who is born deaf, and where ASL is
their native language. And when you are
signing to them, their auditory cortex
activates, the same regions that do some of the initial
processing of hearing language. Again, it’s about the
deep concepts within. It More evidence– you get accents
in American Sign Language. And, apparently, this
consists of different speeds, slurring, that sort of thing. And there’s regional
accents in ASL. And I have no idea if
it matches in some ways the accents of the
spoken English there. My guess is no, but
you have accents there. You have poetry in American
Sign Language, where you will have a sign that
is some movement followed by this movement. And I’m obviously
just making this up. And then you can
have this movement followed by the same movement. That counts as rhyming words. You get poetry in
American Sign Language. And you get storage of
American Sign Language when it is a second language in
the same sorts of regions of the cortex as when people
get a second spoken language. This is not merely
about languages what you do with sounds and hearing. Language is, instead, about
the underlying cognitive structures. OK, cool thing, if you ever
start learning American Sign Language, almost certainly
somewhere on the first day they’re going to show you what a
cool language it is by teaching you the following word. This is always
the first word you need to learn in
American Sign Language. OK just to show you
building blocks of it, this is the word for milk. OK, you can kind of see some
iconic stuff going on there, as to this means milk. So what does this word mean
in American Sign Language? Pasteurized milk. Who said that? How do you know? Do you know it already? It’s his favorite joke. Oh my God. How’s that– identical
twins separated at birth. Do you flush the
toilet before you go? OK, yes, giving it away,
past your eyes milk, oh, oh. Can you believe that? You better guess the folks
at that Gallaudet College went out and celebrated
the rest of the day when somebody came up with that one. Yes, you can have puns in
American Sign Language. Yeah, it’s you and me there
with the pasteurized milk sign. Yes, the very first thing
you learn in most cases. This is a real language. You have emotion. You have physical prosody. You have accents. You have puns. You have a poetry. And it’s got nothing to
do with lips and tongue. And as we’ll see
more and more here about the neurobiology of it, it
will be more and more evidence for that. Thus, we now shift over
to the neurobiology. What’s going on in the brain,
in terms of language production, language comprehension? Right off the bat, there is
this sort of irritating debate that goes on in the field, which
is how modular of a function is language in the brain? Which is another way of
saying neurobiologically, how fancy and
separate is language from the rest of the cognitive
stuff that the cortex does? And what we
certainly just argued with ASL is insofar as
language might be a relatively isolated module, it’s
sure not a module that’s very concerned
about tongues and ears. It’s about the
cognitive elements. How different are
the cortical devices devoted to making
sense of language, different from the
other cortical regions? And at one extreme,
there’s a view that talks about the cortex, the
brain, as a Swiss army knife, that it has all these separate
little functions, language being one of the most
isolated, identifiable ones. My sense– and I
know next to nothing about it– is that this
argument doesn’t stand up. Here’s the two things
that people always cite when discussing
how much is language a cortically modular function. First one is the disease we
heard about the other week, that Williams Syndrome. And that’s that strange
genetic disorder of you have these kids who are
wildly verbal, and expressive, and warm, and affectionate,
and have that weird vasopressin oxytocin world
going on with them. They’re extremely
adept with language. Yet, they typically have IQs in
the borderline retarded range, around 70 or so. Whoa, how can you have
functional language amid everything
else being a mess? This is an argument for
language as a distinct module. Conversely, you have things
called specific language impairments, which are also
heritable disorders where you have individuals, where you
have pedigrees, where people have a huge amount
of time producing language,
comprehending language. And this is not
sensory problems. This is people having
perfectly normal IQs– oo, separate module. The arguments that both Williams
and the selective language impairment disorders
argue for a module breaks down with
the fact that when you look at language
and the Williams kids, they’re very fluent, and
very generative of words. But there’s not a huge
amount of meaning in there. And, likewise, the people
with the specific language impairments, it’s
turning out it’s usually not in the normal IQ
range in these individuals. So I think, generally, there’s
this pretty strong argument against language
being a strict module. Nonetheless, people who actually
think about this for a living as opposed to spout off, this
is a very, very controversial issue. More, the next most
characteristic thing about the neurobiology of
language is it’s lateralized. Lateralization of brain
function– the notion that somewhere in your
cortex, your cortex could be doing
something or other, and it turns out that it will
only do that something or other on one side of your brain. There will be specializations
on different sides of the brain. That goes back to last Friday. That’s one of the ways you gotta
solve the traveling salesman problem. If you have these massive
numbers of neurons in the cortex, you gotta
start inventing lateralization to save yourself some axons. And it’s not until you
get to monkeys and apes that you see substantial
amounts of lateralization. Human brain lateralization
for language is probably the most
distinctive lateralization we’ve got other than handedness. And for that, we begin to
look at the relevant brain regions going on here. How, first, do you see that
brain regions, that language production, language
comprehension, is carried out by only
one side of the brain? Our usual, ever-reliable
research technique, which is getting people whose
heads are damaged in accidents or warfare and seeing, you get
damage on one side of the head and people are far more likely
to get language problems afterward than the other. What turns out to be the
case is about 90% of people have language lateralization to
the left side of their brain. As we’ll see, not so
fast, it’s not that clean. But nonetheless, you
begin to see that. Another test,
another way of seeing that which is considerably
more subtle than somebody getting their head bashed in, is
something called the WADA test. The WADA test where,
weirdly enough, you anesthetize one half
of somebody’s brain. You infuse anesthetic
into one of the carotids. And you put one
hemisphere to sleep. And what you see is you
do it on the left side. And most people, they lose
their language production. And you do it on the other side,
and other stuff disappears. Whoa, that must be a fun
thing to do at parties. When does this happen? First off, it is very brief. It lasts for only a few minutes
or so until the anesthetic clears. But what you do that for is in
circumstances where somebody has intractable epilepsy. And they’re good to
go in and cut out part of the cortex
in cases where it is cortically localized. And if it’s near what might
be the language center of the brain, they go in. And they do a WADA
test first to see, is this person doing language
on left side or right side? If it’s the side where
we’re doing the surgery, we’ve got to be that
much more conservative in terms of getting this
out, getting the tumor out, whatever. It gives you a sense
of whether that’s going for the language center. And what you do is the
person is sitting there. And they’re supposed
to be reading. Or you’re reciting
something to them. And they’re supposed
to be writing it down, or some such a language-y thing. And you infuse a barbiturate
into one carotid. And, suddenly, 10 seconds
later, they can’t speak. Or they’re not
understanding language. And you’ve now
identified that that’s the side with the
language lateralization. I’m not sure. But my guess would
be that the WADA test is going to disappear soon
because you could do it just with brain imaging. You look at someone. You give them some sort of
linguistic something or other. And if one side of the cortex
activates preferentially in the areas we’re
about to hear about, you’ve just identified the side. So the relevant
areas– very broadly, there are three regions in
the brain, the cortex, that are most pertinent to language. First one is called
Broca’s area. Broca’s area, which is sitting
on the cortex in a region called the parietal lobe. And simply what it is is
it’s the bottommost part of the strip of the cortex
that does motoric stuff, moving your body. And by the time you’re
getting down here, what this is about
is moving your lips, moving your larynx,
language production. We’ve already seen it’s not
just going to be about that. If people with American Sign
Language get a stroke here, and they get problems
producing this. But, nonetheless, on
the first crude pass, it’s the part of the cortex
devoted to motoric regulation of lips, tongues, throat,
larynx, et cetera. So what happens when
you get damage there? General term, an aphasia. Aphasia is the broad
neurological term for being unable to
communicate effectively because of a neurological hit. You get a Broca’s aphasia,
a production aphasia. This is someone who now
has a great deal of trouble generating meaningful
words, meaningful messages. It comes out haltingly. The actual content
can be quite impaired. Amid them, being relatively
good at comprehending. Then just south of
there, you’ve got this area called Wernicke’s
area, again named for famous poo-ba in that area. And this is right near some
primary auditory cortex. What’s Wernicke’s about? Of course, obviously it’s
about language comprehension. And you get someone with
stroke damage to there, you get a Wernicke’s aphasia. And you get someone who just is
fluidly generating of language they can’t comprehend. They can’t comprehend
directions. Put your right
hand on your left, whatever, that sort of thing. But what you also see
is they’re very fluidly generating language that often
makes no sense whatsoever because they are
not comprehending anything spoken around them. They produce what is
often called a vegetable salad, a language salad. Somebody knows? Word salad, yes. OK, you guys come
down teach this. I’m going to go back
there and check my emails. OK, so word salad– so you got
Wernicke’s, you got Broca’s. You got Wernicke’s
aphasias, Broca’s aphasias. And then you’ve got this
area, the arcuate fasciculus, which was not named for somebody
named arcuate fasciculus. But it’s the bundle, it’s the
set, of projections, the axons, connecting Wernicke’s
with Broca’s. So what’s that about? It’s about connecting
comprehension to language production. In theory, if you had an
absolutely pure wiping out of the arcuate fasciculus, and
both these guys were completely intact, you would get
somebody who could completely understand language. You could give them complex
instructions, what to do. They would be able to follow it. This would be somebody who could
produce language perfectly, say anything they want to. This would be someone
who is incapable of going from Wernicke’s
comprehension to production. You could not successfully
say to the person, say the word cat. They could not connect this
auditory command to production there. So that would be a pure
arcuate fasciculus damage. Not surprisingly, you
hardly ever see anybody with stroke damage causing
an aphasia where it’s cleanly only in one of these areas. Almost everyone
who gets an aphasia has some sort of a mixed
Broca’s, Wernicke’s connection conduction aphasia there. It’s always a mess. And in the past, but I don’t
think we have time for it this year, I would bring in a tape to
listen to a number of different types of individuals with
aphasias post-stroke, hearing a relatively pure
Broca’s, a relatively pure Wernicke’s. But those are quite rare. OK, so those are some of
the relevant brain regions. Production, what you’ve
got there is motoric stuff. OK, so back to–
we’ve just defined that this is the
part of the brain having to do with your lips and
tongues, and this deal again. This is about hearing. So what about
people who are deaf, born deaf, with
American Sign Language? These are the
areas that light up when they are
hearing, when they are seeing, when they are being
spoken to in American Sign Language. This is the area,
Broca’s, that activates when they are communicating. What you’ve done here
is hijacked– you know, this is traditionally
about tongues, and lips, and all of that. But we can hijack it for a
very symbolic way of doing the same sort of cognitions. Yeah, this part of the
brain is for somebody sticking a pin in your finger. But it’s been hijacked to
feeling the world’s pain. It’s making use of new ways that
we’re doing stuff here, just jamming it into old sites. You’re going to try to
communicate using your hands. And, suddenly,
you’re going to have to make use of some of
these spoken regions there if you don’t speak
a language, so that. More examples of how ASL is
about the content rather than the motoric aspects– take
someone who is speaking. And they’re having to recite
a bunch of words quickly. And you’re checking
them for accuracy. And you give them a
distractor that they have to do at the same time. They have to tap their feet,
their left foot, three times, and once on the right,
three times, once– and your performance gets
screwed up at that point. It’s not as accurate, because
you’re also paying attention to this. Now do the same thing with
someone with American Sign Language. Give them the same
foot distractor. If American Sign
Language is heavily about it’s just stuff you’re
doing with your hands, it’s just another way of
communicating spoken language, all it’s really about is
tongues, and lips, and throat. American Sign Language, what
it’s about is motoric stuff. If it’s motoric, it should
be screwed up by this task to a greater extent than people
that are messed up when they’re using a spoken language. It’s messed up to the
exact same extent. The pertinent thing
about this is not what you’re doing
with your muscles. It’s the same
cognitive structures that you’re tapping into
with the spoken language. Finally, in that realm, there is
some weirdo whistling language that’s used on some island
in the Canary Islands that people have been
whistling at each other and at their sheep for
centuries and centuries. And, apparently,
it actually fits some of the profiles of
what a true language is. There’s a very complex
structure to it. And what you’ve
seen in one study so far is when people
are producing it, they’re lighting up here. When they were hearing it,
they’re lighting up Wernicke’s. Again, basic off the
rack hominid for a long, long time, this is about
ears, this is about tongues. And, instead, it’s about
the abstract, the symbolic, elements of language. Demonstrating that
further, depending on where you get
the stroke damage, there’s this whole world
of bizarre aphasias, or disorders of communication. You get alexias. You get agraphias– people
who can speak, can comprehend, can read. They simply cannot
write anymore. People who can do
all those things, they simply can’t read anymore. People who lose the capacity
to recognize certain letters, certain types of words, gerunds. There’s some gerund
aphasia out there, whatever a gerund is,
which I once knew. You get all these sorts
of specializations by having far smaller strokes,
all these subroutines. Apparently, there has
been at least one case of an elderly sailor
who had a stroke, who had learned semaphores,
which I guess was some big thing in
World War II or something, and had a semaphore aphasia. This is not a very common
hominid event to have happened. This is all the different ways. This is lips, ears. It’s reading. it’s writing. It’s semaphores. It’s pantomime. It’s who knows what. It’s much, much more
abstract than that. OK, so you’ve got
the left cortex, with its specialization. In 90% of cases, you get
slightly different localization of Wernicke’s and Broca’s, in
particular the areas related to reading when you
have a language which instead of an alphabet
is a pictograph language. For example, Chinese,
a pictograph language, you get slightly different
areas of activation, and thus slightly different
areas of strokes will produce a Chinese
Broca’s aphasia, or an alexia, that sort of thing. Doing language as pictures,
as opposed to doing language of building blocks of
individual letters, slightly localized
differently in the brain. So the brain is completely
devoting its energy on the left side to
language in 90% of people. Lateralized, you don’t have
a Broca’s or a Wernicke’s on the right side. Destroy the equivalent areas,
you do nothing to language. Cut through the brain in cross
section, and on this side the cortex will be
a little bit thicker than the cortex on the right
side, the equivalent area. So language is all about
the left hemisphere. So, of course, this is
not true, because you get the prosody stuff
in the right hemisphere. That’s where you get the
coding for tone of voice. That’s the part of
the brain that’s telling you if the
person is having a sarcastic tone in their
voice when they’re saying that. That’s the area that’s picking
up on facial expressions, body language. All of that is right
hemisphere in 90% of people. And what you see
is stroke damage, you can get prosody
disorders as well. People are perfectly normal in
their auditory comprehension, their reading, writing,
their production, all that sort of stuff. But they can’t understand
context of spoken language from body posture, from tone
of voice, things of that sort. So you can have prosody
damage, right cortex. Next, more pertinent
areas in the brain– a subcortical region
called the basal ganglia. What’s the basal ganglia about? It tells a lot of your
muscles what to do. And, for example, when
your frontal cortex has finished wrestling with
all the limbic regions, a lot of what the outcome is, is
activation of the basal ganglia making you do something. Oh, go do the harder but right
thing, that sort of thing. Basal ganglia is
about motor stuff. OK, duh, this is not surprising. This is not terribly
interesting. Obviously, language
involves motoric stuff, whether it’s spoken, whether
it’s signed, whatever. So, obviously, the
parts of the brain that generate relevant
muscle movement, they’re going to get activated,
also they’re involved. Just a couple of things that
makes this basal ganglia more interesting, though, which
is the next time you’re talking on the phone or watching
somebody talk on the phone, see the frequency with which
they’re making hand gestures. You’re hand gesturing
under those circumstances. You’re hand gesturing
to your GPS system when it’s talking to you. You’re hand gesturing in
all sorts of circumstances where there is no visual
communication going on. Blind individuals, when they
are speaking to each other use the same sorts of hand gestures
as seeing individuals do. It’s not just, OK, we’ve got to
get the basal ganglia in here because we’ve got to
do something or other with our jaw and our lips. Something about the
emotiveness is centrally tied into the motoric output. Because it’s impossible
to talk on the phone and not to be gesturing
with your hands. If you’re talking
about anything that’s at all sort of activated,
or aroused, or emotional, your hands are going like crazy. And it makes no sense. The basal ganglia is really
central to all of this. Next, finally, in terms
of a brain structure, the rest of the limbic system. Totally clear what
that one’s going to be about, which is
the limbic system has nothing to do with language. The limbic system has to do
with screaming your head off if you’re terrified. The limbic system has
to do with singing. The limbic system,
it’s emotional. It’s got nothing to
do with, OK, let’s embed a clause here now in
order to express some emotion. And what you see is, initially,
a nice clean dichotomy with that. And a remarkable
thing you will see. So somebody has had a stroke. And they’ve got a
Broca’s aphasia, which is to say they’re
having a production aphasia. It is really next to
impossible for them to speak. It is halting. It is broken. They can’t get the words. It is insanely frustrating. And one of the things
that speech therapists do is get people to sing what
it is they’re trying to say, because if you make
sort of a running leap there and start singing it
before you think about, oh, here I am singing the
menu at the restaurant for the customers here,
before you start doing that, if you can jump quickly into it,
people with Broca’s production aphasias can sing, often,
what they want to communicate because they are sending it
down south subcortically, and looping it through
limbic language areas, sort of marinating it in
some emotional content– music in this case–
and out it comes. Not surprisingly,
accuracy is not so hot under those
circumstances. But it’s a lot better than when
you’ve got the Broca’s aphasia not being able to speak at all. So that’s pretty interesting. Next thing that suggests that
the limbic system has something central to do with
language, you look at people with
Tourette’s disease, which we’re going to hear a
lot about on Wednesday. And Tourette’s
disease, everybody knows what Tourette’s
disease is about. It’s the disease where
you curse uncontrollably. As we’ll see, there’s much
more going on than that. But cursing, it’s all
about limbic stuff. Tourette’s is
involving not problems with Broca’s cortical
regions generating cursing. It’s about limbic hyperactivity,
and all sorts of other realms. So limbic system
having all sorts of access to your
language production. Another realm in which
there is clearly, the second you think
about it, an intersection between your cold, machine-like,
analytical cortical regions doing symbolic language
production comprehension for you, and your
emotional limbic world, this remarkable
phenomenon of you can feel better
when you are upset about something as a result
of talking to someone. Psychotherapy is
completely built around the notion that
there are very deep, fundamental connections
between one’s language world and one’s limbic one. So, again, this is
doing in the notion not only that all
language is about is motoric aspects of generating
language, and auditory. It’s about the deep,
cognitive structures. It’s also not some cold,
cognitive task there. It is highly intertwined
with limbic structures. As you would thus
expect, studies showing that if you,
for example, stimulate some subcortical
regions in individuals as part of, again,
neurosurgery, trying to figure out where
a tumor is, stimulate some of those regions. And people will say
emotionally loaded things. They will say something
very emotionally expressive, positive, negative, whatever. Stimulate some of
the same regions, say, in a rhesus monkey, and
it will give a threat call. It will give an alarm call. It will give a solicitive call. It will express
something emotive. So the limbic
system has all sorts of ways in which it’s talking
to these cortical regions. And, not surprisingly,
it’s got lots of ways of talking
to the porosity areas in the right
hemisphere, since that’s where a lot of the
emotional expressivity is coming through–
not in the words, but in the tone of voice,
the facial expressions, all of that. So neurobiology, now looking
at it in a taxonomic context– other species. Everyone would have
guessed up until people actually went and
looked that we’re the only folks with a Broca,
with a Wernicke’s area, that this is a human
specialization. And what you see is that’s
pretty much the case. But you see the starts of it
in a number of primate species, a number of apes, and
chimps, and orangutans In rhesus monkeys, what you
see is the cortical thickening just on one side
corresponding to this area, not as thickened as in the human
brain in the left hemisphere. But nonetheless, you get
thickening like that. Moreover, how’s this
for interesting– OK, does everybody know
the factoid that it’s the left side of
your brain that’s telling the right side of
your body to do something, and it’s the right
side of your brain that’s crosswiring,
whatever it is it does? OK, get a monkey
who is vocalizing. And while it is vocalizing
something communicative, while it is doing
that, if it is doing any sort of facial
expressions, it’s more pronounced on the
right side of the face. If it’s doing something
with its arms, it’s more likely to
be the right arm. In other words, generating
the vocalization is preferentially coming
from the left hemisphere, and pulling in
more motoric stuff on the side of the brain that
operates this part of the body. It is lateralized communication. The same has now been seen
when you do imaging on monkeys. When they’re
communicating, there is a bias towards the left
hemisphere, the thickened area. It’s the start of
the specialization. Moreover, in both humans and
in other apes and monkeys, there is very, very close
connections between the Broca’s area, or the pre-proto
Broca’s area in a monkey, and all sorts of
muscle groups having to do with facial
expressions– intensely intertwined connectivity there. And that’s that prosody stuff. Seemingly, a monkey making
some of it’s emotionally loaded vocalizations, there’s
some facial prosody that goes along with it because
the wiring is very, very intertwined there. And it’s facial stuff that
tends to be lateralized to the right side of the face. Finally, when a monkey in
a brain imaging machine is hearing vocalization
of its own species, the left hemisphere
preferentially activates in the proto
equivalents of these areas. And then, finally
finally, what people are beginning to see in
skulls from ancient ancestors like australopithecus is
these really tough things to infer very indirectly
from endocasts of what would be the brain inside the skull. But australopithecus a
million years ago or so, already a little
bit of an asymmetry in the left hemisphere. So this has been
something that’s been developing in monkeys and
apes for a long, long time. Switching now from
neurobiology, moving back– there is hormones
that are relevant, and acute environmental
whatevers. But we’re going to
skip over those just because a huge
feature of the field is language acquisition,
language development early in life. And there, you have one
of the great debates in the field coming in
around the 1960s or so, which was between these
two silverbacks in this whole field, both of
whom you’ve heard of before. One, B.F. Skinner, the
king of behaviorism who probably was as most
influential by the 1960s 1970s or so, and Noam Chomsky,
a champion of a very different view of language. Chomsky, who is
still around, and who to the extent that
I can understand it, revolutionized linguistics
when he was about four and a half years old. And has been the dominant
figure in the field for 2/3 of a century since. OK, so here was
the basic matchup in their wrestling match. Behaviorist view–
you can already construct what the behaviorist
view of language acquisition is going to be, which is
you begin to make a sound, attempting to learn a word. And if you say it
right, you get rewarded. Oh, please feed me. Very well said, I’m
going to feed you now. And now you’ve
learned to say that. [MUMBLING], you don’t get fed. And you get severely
hypoglycemic. And you try to find other,
until you happen to stumble on the right way to say it. And, oh, I’ve been
negatively enforced when saying [MUMBLING]. And I’ve been positively–
and just do that all the time. And that’s how I learn language
in a classic behaviorist framework. Chomsky, meanwhile,
was taking a stance that this bears no resemblance
at all to what is going on. And what we’ll see is
more versions of his view have prevailed. Basically, the behaviorist
view was just sheer, raving gibberish. But this produced
these fireworks of debates between Skinner and
Chomsky in the ’60s and ’70s. Skinner was at Harvard. Chomsky was at MIT. And they were regularly lobbing
missiles across at each other, and shooting across
their bows and stuff. And this was this
huge debate, simply because behaviorism was
so totally dominating American psychology at the time
with a complete stranglehold that there was Skinner, and like
three and a half other people out there who had any
sort of academic training who would seriously argue
that you acquire language through standard
behaviorist rules. That was their extreme
view, and a behaviorist sort of standing in the sand on that
one, and virtually no evidence for it at all. So what’s the Chomskian
view about, instead? The very nature of
language acquisition shows that it is
not behaviorist, because of a very significant,
critical thing that kids do as they learn language. A landmark somewhere along the
way, 15 to 20 months of age, this major, major event,
the first time a child says a combination of words
that it’s never heard before. I like chocolate ice
cream, says the child. Now you say, oh, here, there’s
such a thing as Velcro ice cream. And the child after
tasting it, never before having heard the
sentence, I like Velcro ice cream, now says, I
like Velcro ice cream. It has just generated
a language construction that it has never heard. The generativity of
language, the possibility that kids not only that business
of a finite number of words, but an infinite number of
messages, but at some point kids do something
which is impossible by strict behaviorism. They generate examples of things
they have never heard before. And this is, in
the Chomskian view, this inflection point where
something explosive exponential occurs. That’s where it goes off. And there was a
Chomskyte disciple, a guy named Roger Brown, who
was a professor for many years at Harvard, who did this insane,
obsessive study to actually demonstrate what everybody
can infer, like, if they ever had kids, which was
having kids where he and his band of
researchers would keep track of every single
word kids would say during their first year of life. God knows how the parents
put up with these people hanging around in the
nursery and stuff. But what they showed
was, yes, suddenly you have kids generating
language constructions that they have
never heard before. And Chomsky has
advanced a whole view that there is an innate
structure to language. And this is one of the key
bits of his argument, that right around a certain
point of development kids are able to generalize
the rules of language into constructions
they have never heard. Moreover, kids are
able to generalize the rules of language when
they have only got an imperfect instruction by adults speaking
around them who may not be grammatically perfect. And one individual
may be off here or there in one word,
somebody off in another one– if nothing else, not producing
every possible combination. And out comes a sense
of the grammar from kids when constructing rules
out of imperfect examples, and constructing completely
novel combinations of words that they’ve never heard before. So the argument that
has always been sort of at the core of
the Chomskian view is when kids suddenly
explode into this language acquisition– to give you a
sense of this, there are long, long stretches where you are
learning about 10 words a day during development. By college, typical person has
a vocabulary of 60,000 words. You are not going to
have gotten those 60,000 from behaviorist reward
and punishment stuff. What is this explosion about? And what’s always been
an argument in favor of the Chomskian notion that
there is something innate, there is innate drive
towards language acquisition, is what’s called the poverty
of stimulus argument, which is stated quite simply,
kids are generating a lot more examples of
language then they’re hearing. They’re generating
all sorts of things that they have never heard. This whole example
here, kids have to be learning in some prepared
learning, ethological way. And that’s a term that
definitely comes into the field because they are
generating constructions they have never heard before. They cannot possibly
be taught to do that. And they are not being sat down
and being explicitly taught the structure of grammar. They are constructing rules out
of imperfect, partial examples. So that’s always been
a very strong argument. And there’s always
been a counter argument saying that you
don’t have to have strict instruction of every
single type of construction of words that you generate. You can have
statistical learning. You can pick up the rules
from statistical patterns. And you can do that with
artificial intelligence programs. And you can do that with adults
who could pick up patterns. And a number of years
ago, extremely cool study showing that kids
way before they start using language–
six months of age or so– can actually pick up statistical
patterns in language. How would they show this? They would have a whole bunch
of nonsense syllables, which they would play
long strings of them at these kids where there
would be combinations. These two nonsense
syllables, the first one would be followed by the
second one 100% of the time. This combination would be
followed 90% of the time. This one 75, this one
10%, this one never, and long strings of
these, and showing that kids would begin to learn
the statistical associations. How do you know? Because you play
a novel pairing. You get one of these pairings
where 90% of the time you make this sound. And it’s followed
by this on the tape. Now, instead, you
make this sound. And it’s followed by something
it’s never associated with. And the kid’s heart rate
increases, because this is a novel combination. And it is not an all or none. It is merely a statistical
linking of the two. So really young kids can
do statistical learning, picking up statistical patterns
in language very different than people would have guessed. OK, so now let us take
a five minute break. And we will start
marching through some of the developmental landmarks
and what the biology is of it. What you see in terms of
child development language acquisition is one very
clear phenomenon, which is right at the
beginning of life, a kid could learn any
single language out there. There are hundreds and
hundreds of different vowel sounds in different languages,
even more consonant sounds. And any kid and can
learn any language. And what you see in a child
in one to three months of age is roughly equal
response to any phonemes, any sounds that are
building blocks of language. And what development is from
there is you lose that ability. As you begin to
acquire your own, you start being unable
to hear the difference between other sounds. And, suddenly, you’re back
to taking biopsies out of bears instead
of pairs, depending on what language you’re in. As you acquire your
own language, virtually by definition in
acquiring it, you are losing the capacity
to hear vast amounts of phonemic subtlety from
all the other languages. By three months of
age, kids are already beginning to preferentially
pay attention to a spoken language, rather
than nonsense syllables. They are already beginning
to note structure of language in terms of what
they pay attention. By three to six
months of age, they’re already preferentially paying
attention to vowel sounds. They’re beginning to learn
that sounds are broken up. They’re beginning to do that
statistical relationship stuff of combinations of sounds. Somewhere by about eight,
nine months of age, babbling starts, and, again, the business
about babbling during sign language showing that. What you also see is
when kids start babbling, they tend to have stronger
facial expressions on the right side
of their face– that same argument about the
left hemisphere beginning to take some control over stuff. What else? By nine months of age,
kids are beginning to recognize structures,
word combinations. In terms of responding
to them, they are beginning to have lost
an awful lot of their ability to pick up phonemes
from other languages. By about 11 months
of age, they are beginning to generate the
typical vowels, consonants of their language. And out of that pops
language soon afterward. OK, so a feature of
language acquisition in humans which
is pretty bizarre is that adult members
of our species sit around and invest
huge amounts of energy in a one on one level to in an
intentional premeditated matter help young ones acquire the
communication of the species. We do directed
teaching of language. And this is unique. And it turns out, this is not
what is found in most cultures on this planet. In most of them, kids
pick up language purely by observation, by hearing,
by being witness to. It is a relatively recent,
Westernized invention– I don’t know maybe in
the last 1,000 years or so– where you
sit down children. And you generate simple
examples of the language, which you present in a repetitive
way, simple versions of words, of grammar, were you
direct it towards them, and were you then correct
their attempts at repeating it. That’s a relatively
new invention. And bizarrely enough,
it’s not entirely clear if that accelerates
language acquisition, which would be a real
drag after everyone being tortured with phonics
back when or some such thing. This is a relatively
new hominid invention. It is relatively
rare culturally. And it’s not so
clear if it actually accomplishes a whole lot. Now, part of what you also
find with kids beginning to not be able to discriminate between
two different sounds in what will prove to be another
language other than the one they’re learning, that begins
to be when you’re doing imaging there, that Wernicke’s is not
distinguishing between the two sounds in terms of its
activation pattern. That’s where you’re
beginning to lose the ability to hear universality
of language sounds, and instead begin to
focus in on your own. What else do you see? Second languages– where
do second languages fit in with this? And there are all sorts
of critical periods of development with it,
as to when it comes in. One of the ones
that everybody knows is if you learn a language
any time after roughly age 12 or so, most typically
you will never be able to speak it
without an accent for the rest of your life. That seems to be one of the
landmarks, exceptions, blah, blah, the usual. Nonetheless, that seems to
be, generally, the pattern. What about brain coding
for a second language? What is found is if you get a
second language before roughly six years of age, essentially if
you were growing up bilingual, both languages are coded
in very overlapping regions of Wernicke’s and Broca’s. How can you see that? Because you get individuals
when they have a stroke will get, for example, a
comprehension aphasia in both of the languages that they
are native speakers of, that they grew up with. Learn a language after six,
and what you typically see is the Wernicke’s area that
does the second language tends to be a more peripheral area. And likewise, what’s
activating a Broca’s, you’re not getting the center seats. You’re not getting
the orchestra seats for where you’re doing a second
language if it’s coming in later. And, thus, you can get
the truly bizarre cases of people who get a
very selective stroke and will lose language
and not the other. So you begin to get that there. What accents are about, what the
critical period is on accents, God knows. But you have that coming in
there by around age 12 or so. Next, acquisition invention
of new languages– and this is relevant in terms of
child acquisition of language because of what’s a
truism in the field, which is new languages are
invented by kids. Adults do not invent
new languages. Adults may be able to go
to the office each day and decide whether
this or that word should be protected from
the French language. But languages are
invented by kids. And what you see with that
is a standard pattern of age distribution, of novelty,
which is not only do languages tend to
be invented by kids. But nobody a whole lot
older than them ever learns the new language. New languages are
invented by the young and have lateral and
downward transfer. This is what you see. Great example of this– about
20 years ago in Nicaragua, where for the first time
after the revolution there, for the first
time there was anything done in the country in
the way of education for deaf children, who
otherwise were just left to sort of languish
in villages, and ignored, and not educated,
and all of that– the first attempts
to have schools explicitly for deaf children. And people there
teaching them were beginning to grow for
OK, how are we going to communicate with these kids? What’s going to be
an efficient way? And worth noting, in addition
to American Sign Language, there’s British Sign Language. And there’s French
Sign Language. There’s all different ones. And what began to emerge
after the first year or so in the school
was the kids came up with their own language. They began to generate their
own sign language, which over the subsequent generations
became more and more mature and sophisticated. And we’ll see ways in
which that occurred. And this is now
Nicaraguan Sign Language. This is the sign language that
is taught to deaf individuals there. And this was invented by kids. This emerged from
the students there while the adults were
trying to figure out, and having conferences,
and meetings, about what sort of sign to use for this. And there are the kids
in the dorms generating their own language. 10-year-old kids was
the average age there where this was happening. Language was
invented by new kids. And what you saw with the
Nicaraguan Sign Language was it took about three generations
worth of school kids to have a fully-formed
grammar in the language as complex of a grammar capacity
for embedded clauses, all that sort of thing, as you
would find in any other sign language. It took about three generations. And with each new
elaboration, it was whichever kids had come up
with it, and everybody younger. Even after a while,
the original generation who had invented
Nicaraguan Sign Language, that first generation,
they weren’t very good at the later,
fancier versions. That same deal– languages
are invented by the young. And languages are greatly
shaped, and changed, and modified by
the young as well. And there’s not a
whole lot of people older than them who
ever pick up on it. So that’s a pattern
again and again. So acquisition of language,
what’s going on in the brain there? Prenatally, you already begin to
get– OK, let’s cut the brain. There you have it. There’s the brain
in cross-section, cutting right through there. And what we have,
this is the left side, is thickening of what would
be Broca’s, thickening of Wernicke’s. It’s around 12 to 16
weeks of age in a fetus that you begin to see different
patterns of gene expression around here versus there. And a couple of these are
genes that have already been identified
to have mutations in families with language
production disorders. So around then, begin to have
differential gene expression. By around 30 weeks, this part is
now thicker than on this side. You’re beginning to get
the structural asymmetry. Interestingly, during the
first few years of language, you don’t see
enhanced metabolism on this side relevant to that
side when kids are talking. Even amid the right
side of their face being more expressive,
it’s not until a few years that you lateralize all the
metabolic activation there. Next bit of development
that’s pertinent is that stuff about myelin. Myelin, you remember the axons. And you wrap them
up with myelin. And your frontal cortexes,
which are not myelinated fully yet in most of you guys. What you see developmentally
with language is something not terribly
Earth shattering, which is kids tend to
myelinate their Wernicke’s area about three months before
they myelinate their Broca’s area. Kids are starting to
comprehend language before they are producing it. So Wernicke’s is
beginning to wire up around nine months of age. Typically, Broca’s takes
a few months past that. That’s the time course. OK, so intrinsic neurobiology
of language acquisition– how about social aspects,
environmental aspects? And right off the
bat, we pick up on something we heard,
a couple of weeks ago, that whole business
about the importance of peer socialization rather
than parental influences. And that’s the work of that
psychologist Judith Rich Harris arguing that peer
influences are far more important than the literature
has usually given credence to. And the area where it
is most clearly the case is language acquisition. And that was her whole
point as to why kids grow up with accents of the
community around them, rather than the absence
of their parents if the parents were not native
speakers of that language. Why do you pick up the accents
of your peers around you and those a little bit older? Because peers are
pretty important. And back to that
issue of it being a relatively new
invention for humans to try to have somebody
acquire language by sitting them
down, and instructing them, and correcting
their errors, what most of
language acquisition has been about for a
gazillion years in humans is you learn from your older
sibling, and your cousins who are a little bit older than you. And they learn
from their cousins who are a little bit older. And that’s where
language is attained. And you watch the adults,
and listen to them. We’re very wired to pick
up our language influences from peer groups, and
slightly older ones. So her emphasizing right off
the bat that remarkable deal. When you think about it,
it’s totally amazing. Nobody winds up with the
accent of their home language. They wind up with the accent
of the community around them. For the rest of
their life, they may be incredibly good at imitating
their parents in the home accent. And, surprisingly
early, as I mentioned, they do not want to answer their
parents in the home language. They start preferring
the outside language– all this evidence of the
strong peer socialization. What’s intrinsic in that
is language acquisition also involves a huge
amount of inculcation into the values of the society
that uses that language. And intrinsic in that is
kids at very young ages already getting embarrassed
about their parents’ accent, and wanting to answer them
not in the home language, values built into that. Examples– one that
we heard already back in the aggression lecture, that
whole business of languages that have a formal you class,
and an informal to and who in French, for example. And that business
that after revolutions as a value statement in terms
of that pseudo kinship stuff, everyone is supposed to use
the informal structures there. Everyone is supposed to use
the informal conjugations. Great thing in
Tolstoy’s autobiography back when he was a
kid– apparently, at one point, the family nurse,
who adored him and had raised him and all of that, one
day sort of spoke to him and used the informal
verb tense in Russian. And he threw a fit because she
was not of his social class. And how dare she
use the informal. She should be addressing
him as the young master, or whatever the
Russian conjugation equivalent was– that one
laden, laden with social values. More examples of this–
different languages, very different notions
about relationships expressed between people. For example, in English you
can be talking to a relative and say something like
my aunt, your mother. Or you could be saying,
my aunt, your grandmother. And that’s how you
communicate it. In certain languages– for
example one in the Malayan peninsula– what you find
is if you were saying my aunt, your mother, is a
completely different word then my aunt, your grandmother. It is not possible
to state a kinship word without it reflecting
also the person you’re speaking with. You cannot talk about kinship
terms outside of the context of it being a conversation
and interaction much, much more indicative of
intertwined relations there. How is this? Here’s another example. Here, you have in what would
be termed egocentric languages, like English, you refer
to directions with respect to your body. It’s over there, you
say, indicating where it is with respect to your body. Where is that person standing? Just behind him. What you see in a lot
of other languages, less egocentric
ones, is directions are entirely a function
of external landmarks. And, thus, in a bunch
of aboriginal languages in Australia, you
can’t say something like, oh, my right
foot is on fire. You can only say,
oh, my foot that’s to the Northwest is on fire. The world is based by external
landmarks, rather than ones that are internal. Great example I heard
of this from [? Leah ?] [? Burdinksi– ?] oh no, I
just mispronounced her name, I’m sure. And that’s shameful, given that
it’s a Russian name like mine. But in any case, in the
psychology department, and telling me this
great example that you get in some of these
non-ego language ones. OK, we tend to think of stories
going from left to right. If you give somebody
a bunch of tiles, which is part of frequent
IQ tests for kids, and they make a story. If you put them in
the right sequence, in English, what we do is we
put the first scene on the left. And it moves to the
right from there. Stories progress
from left to right. What you see in
these languages that are based by external cues,
is stories begin in the east, because that’s
where the sun rises. So if you were
sitting facing south, and you were given
the tiles, you would put the story
starting over here, because that’s where
the sun comes up. And if you were sitting,
instead, facing north, you would place
the tiles starting from the right to left, because
the only pertinent direction is nothing with respect
to where your body is, where your arms are. Directions, things,
start in the east. And that determines
things far more than your body’s orientation–
classic, very non-ego-centered directionality in a language. So that is very frequent. So what begins to be
intrinsic in all of this is the notion that language
shapes the way you think. And this harks back to a grand
old theory in linguistics and language acquisition. And two guys, early in the
20th century, Sapir and Whorf. And the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
being that language constrains thought, that your
capacity for thinking, the way in which you think,
is constrained by the language that you have been taught,
the language you speak. And that has been
debated endlessly in terms of just how
much evidence is there for that, versus how
much the style of thought shaped what the language is. This has endlessly been debated. And it’s one of the hallmarks
of what linguistics is about. In the last decade, two
traditional populations in the Amazon that
were studied that are viewed as giving
really major support for a strict Sapir-Whorf notion
that your capacity for thought, the nature of your thought,
is deeply shaped, potentially deeply constrained, by language. So these two trials– the
first is called the Paraha. And the other is called
the Murdruku, I believe. And what you have
in both of them is a very different number
system than we have, than virtually every
Western society does. In the first group, the
Paraha, their number system consists of three
numbers– one, two, and something bigger than two. In Murdruku, it’s
essentially the same thing. But it’s five terms. It goes up to– six terms, 1, 2,
3, 4, 5, and all other numbers that are bigger than five. And I don’t know
completely what you suggests about how often you
have to count stuff down there. But what it suggests
is this is going to be a very different
relationship with numbers. And what they show,
studies with these folks, is doing mathematical
computations, doing estimates,
doing everything, in the second tribe
with numbers up to five, the exact same level of
accuracy as would a Westernized individual. But get above five, and
accuracy goes down the drain. Somebody in that society has a
huge amount of trouble telling the difference
between six objects and eight objects, eight
objects and 10 objects, because they all get bucketed
as, how many are there? It’s the number that
means more than five. And in the first group, you
see the same exact thing for any number above three. There’s a lot of trouble being
accurate distinguishing three, from four, from five, and
so on, because they all have the same term. They are that number
that is bigger than two. All of that occurring once
you get above those numbers, guesses essentially
at the chance level. So that’s kind of impressive,
and very interesting. But maybe there’s always
this potential counter interpretation as to
what’s happening there, which is maybe these are not
terribly sharp folks there, and maybe have had
all sorts of issues with protein malnutrition,
or cerebral malaria, or God knows what. No, because in each of
these populations, each of these cultures,
they know thousands of different types of edible
plants and medicinal plants. These are enormously
sophisticated people in those realms. Numbers just aren’t a big deal. And what you see is somebody
growing up in that society who has not invented the language,
but are instead acquiring it, it constrains their
ability to tell the difference
between the numbers three and four– very
shaping in that regard. So all sorts of people
debating endlessly how much does language
shape the way you think? How much does thinking
shape the sort of language you come up with? But at the end of
the day, there’s this whole
philosophical business that no matter how similar
the language is that you’re using with someone else,
it’s going to mean something slightly different to you. And, thus, you have the flipside
to our ethology sound bite. Ethology is
interviewing the animal, but it’s its own language. Sort of the flip side, a
quote once to the effect of, if you could interview
a lion in its own language, you wouldn’t have a
clue what it was talking about because communication
is so intertwined with mind, with values, with meaning,
all of that, that it would essentially be inaccessible. And you hear about people
who are multilingual. How many of you are pretty
adept at a second language? Third language? Any hands up there? Whoa, OK. So those of you who
are really comfortable in multiple
languages, do you find you have different
emotional emotive styles of communicating when
you’re switching languages? Do you tend to have more
expressivity in one of them? Do you tend to be more
analytical, whatever? OK, I’m going to pretend
that there was just hundreds of faces going up and
down agreeing with that stance, because that’s a
well-known fact based on years of teaching BIO150. Yeah, languages
serve different , functions and
different emotions, and different cognitions,
very intertwined. And at a true extreme,
interviewing somebody in their own language, even
if it is the same language that you ostensibly
share with them, you’re not quite going to be
speaking the same language. Shifting now over to animals–
animal communication, and in what ways
is it completely distinct from what we do? And in what ways are
there major overlaps? It’s going to be the
same sort of themes as with the sex lectures,
the aggression lectures, all sorts of things that
people used to think were unique to humans
turn out to be less so. For example, other species
show the building blocks of semanticity. Semanticity, the fact
that a discrete sound can have meaning, and meaning
distinctive enough that it is separate from emotion. We’ve already heard
a great example of this with the
vervet monkeys who could tell the difference
between a vocalization saying, something scary up
in the air, get down, and something scary down on
the ground, get up in the tree. These are in common in terms
of the emotional content. But in terms of the semanticity,
the factual information transmitted, they’re
diametrically opposite. This is what a word is. It is communicating
a stable concept that is independent of emotion. Vervet monkeys have
the starts of that. It turns out chickens
do that as well. I have no idea what
chickens emote about. But they have
different types of ones that communicate
information about what they are being menaced
by– again, predator stuff. Vervets, not only do they have
a vocalization for scary raptor up in the sky versus scary
snake down on the ground, but they have two
vocalizations for one of them. And I forget which,
they have a synonym. They have the building
blocks of synonyms. What else? Animals and their
communication systems somehow have
incorporated the fact that facial expressions
and auditory communication go hand in hand. How can you show this? Take a rhesus monkey. And show it a film clip
of another monkey making some vocalization with
the facial expression over and over, and then
some other facial expression and emotion where they tend
to go together vocalization. Now pop one up there where
the monkey that is watching is giving an alarm
vocalization, and a come groom me sort of smiley face. And the monkey is
immediately oriented. And heart rate increases. It knows that facial
expression doesn’t go with that vocalization. It’s incorporated multi-modal
pathways of communication like that. Something else that
used to be thought to be unique to
humans– intentionality of communication. I am making this sound not
because I am terrified, because I am happy, because
I am hungry, whatever, where I would be making
that regardless of who else is around. I am going to communicate
something only if this person is around, but
not that one– intentionality. And it turns out, you find
that in other species as well. You see that in
vervets, for example. Vervets will give alarm
calls much more readily when their relatives
are around, then when non-relatives are around. Squirrels will do the same
thing with alarm calls. And if squirrels have been
having aggressive interactions with some other
squirrel, they are less likely to give an alarm
call when a predator is around than if it was
somebody they liked. There is intentionality
in that realm. What’s implicit in that,
at least some proto building block steps
of theory of mind. So what else? What things remain
unique in human language? Dramatic displacement–
that ability to talk about things on the
other side of the globe, and things that never happened,
and imaginary whatevers, and philosophy,
the arbitrariness, the embedded clauses,
the recursiveness. And a very important thing
about human language, pretty uniquely–
the capacity to lie. And that has to do
with the arbitrariness. You are human. And you are in some
confrontational situation. And you are terrified
out of your wits. And the last thing you
would do is say, oh my, I am terrified out of my
wits, because you do not want to have the
other individual know that you are terrified. What do you do? You suppress the expression of
emotionally revealing language. Or you can even do something
like start chest thumping, and say all sorts of things
implying anything but fear– and, in fact, sort of
bullying pugnacity. And they’re you’re
lying as well. Humans have the
capacity to do that. A dog who is terrified
is going to be terrified. An animal that has
a strong emotion is going to give off pheromonal
signals, for example, depending on the species, that
communicates it, no matter how much that is
not the thing they want to be doing at the time. And here’s a great
example of it. You take a dog,
one that’s scared. And it doesn’t want to
let an opponent know that it’s scared if this
is some sort of dominance confrontation. And what it’s doing
if it’s scared is it’s pumping out scared
pheromones– pheromones with high levels of breakdown
products, of stress hormones. We know this already. It’s pumping them out. And that’s the last thing
it wants to be doing. It would love to be able
to lie and say, no, I’m not scared at all. But it can’t do it
because there is not an arbitrary relationship
between being scared and how it’s communicated. They are intertwined. The same phenomenon of the
scaredness is the signal of it. They can’t prevent the
pheromones from coming out, in terms of shutting
down the glands. So what does a dog
do when it’s scared and it’s giving off all
these scared pheromones from its anal glands? It tries to shut
down the glands. It tucks its tail
between its legs. It tries to cover up
the pheromone release. And what does a dog
do when its perfectly content, and perfectly willing
to let the rest of the world know how its feeling
about things? It wants to spread those
pheromones around it. It rags its tail. Dogs can’t lie. All they can do is try to put
their hand over their mouth. When they’re about to
say something revealing, they tuck their tail
between their legs. So humans retain
this capacity to lie. Now, in terms of other
species and what they can do, what we transition to is a
really interesting subfield of this whole subject,
which is attempts to teach human languages
to other species– attempts to teach language
to other primates. And that has a long
and storied past, with all sorts of
disastrous outcomes and huge controversies
getting at this issue of, what sort of cognitive
aspects of language do we potentially share
with another species? OK, all of this has
been with chimps up until the last
20 years or so. And it started off
with a poor chimp named Vicki who belonged to send
researchers back in the 1930s. And I forget who and where. And what they
decided was they were going to teach Vicki to
speak English, naturally, and to speak. And how were they
going to do it? Using the then cutting edge,
just emerging principles of behaviorism, Vicki was
subject to behaviorist rules. If she wanted water,
she would have to make a sound
that vaguely sort of sounded like the word cup. She’d have to make this sort of
exhaling, barky sort of thing, which if your imagination
really ran away with you, would sound like the word cup. There were a few other
one syllable words were they wouldn’t
feed her unless she made whatever sound they said
was close to the word food. This was one screwed
up chimp, in terms of seeing films of this chimp. This was one incredibly
neurotic animal. And thank God, after
only a few years, the researchers decided, you
know, this isn’t working. And this poor animal
was allowed not to have to go through this anymore. Oh, this doesn’t work. Soon after that, there
was another chimp that had one of these
sorts of upbringings. And this was raised by a
psychologist named Kellogg at, I believe, Yale. And what this person
was oriented to was Judith Rich Harris’
work on peer influences, even though she wasn’t born yet,
the notion of peer influences. Why couldn’t Vicki
learn English? Because she didn’t have a peer. You need to have a chimp
grow up with a human. The two of them
growing up together with the exact same
environment and same treatment, and the human who’s really
good at acquiring language, the chimp then will
have a peer, will have a role model, all of
that, and we’ll pick up English as well. And, thus, the Kelloggs
raised their child, Donald. Donald was raised
with this chimp. And I’m forgetting
the chimp’s name. But Donald fared almost
as poorly as Vicki. And they did this whole
study on the acquisition, and studies of the two,
and these whole books written about Donald and
his chimp brother there. And what was supposed
to be happening was the chimp was going to
learn English from Donald. And what you saw
developmentally, the chimp, of course,
was miles ahead of him. The chimp was climbing trees
while Donald was still cruising on the couch kind of thing. But in terms of language stuff,
it never went that direction. What wound up
happening was Donald started making vocalizations
of the chimp, at which point his parents stopped
the experiment. But this was totally nutty. They were doing
things– like, they did this experiment on auditory
acuity in the two of them. You could see this in the book. They filmed them. There’s Donald, and I believe
the chimp’s name was Gua. And the two of them were
sitting there being perfectly happy sitting on the lawn. And they’re were being
filmed, high speed film. And what does the
damn father do? He sneaks up behind them
with a starter’s pistol and shoots it so that they can
get on film which one of them has the faster reaction time of
being scared out of their wits by their father shooting
this thing behind them. And what do you know? Gua had slightly faster
panic reaction stuff. So this was something that,
fortunately, hit a wall. And Donald, I believe, wound up
having a very interesting life. And I don’t think it
was urban legends. I wish I remembered. But it made perfect
sense, given what a bizarre childhood he had. OK, soon people realized
they, or not so soon, then in the 1960s some
researchers finally realized what the
problem was with this, which is it is absurd thinking
that a chimp is going to learn how to speak a language
because they simply do not have the larynx that can do it. They do not have the
larynx that could produce discrete sounds like that. It’s impossible. Not because they’re
not smart enough, but they simply don’t
have the anatomy to do it. And, thus, this was
a couple, University of Nevada named the
Gardeners, who came up with the brilliantly creative
idea of teaching a chimp American Sign Language to
bypass the vocal limitations, and just get at a system. Chimps have great
manual dexterity. Tap at the cognitive
aspects of language. Bypass the sound
vocals business. And, thus, came the
first sign language ape, a chimp named Washoe. Washoe was the
darling of linguists, psycholinguists a while,
because there was something so, so cool about a chimpanzee
sitting there being able to sign in sign language. Washoe, by the time she was
about a half dozen years old, had acquired about 150
different signs in English. And she could communicate
with the Gardeners with it. And people were producing
these glowing sorts of articles about them. I remember this one
guy, a science writer, who happened to
have deaf parents. So he was raised bilingual with
both English and American Sign Language. And this article about
going to visit Washoe, and the bizarrity of
speaking to a chimpanzee in his native language. And how cool is that? And Washoe was being
reported to do a hallmark feature of language
use, which is to begin to invent words,
where she combined the word water and the sign
language for bird, put them together,
to water bird. And that’s what
she called ducks. Oh my God. She’s made a new term. She babbled. Before going to sleep, she
would do her favorite signs to herself, and babble
herself to sleep. She used sign language to lie,
and to do all sorts of stuff she shouldn’t have been doing. And Washoe lived in this
trailer on the campus there. And they often had this video
camera up at night filming her. And they would have
a low light there. And every now and then
you would see things like, there was a refrigerator there. And Washoe was not supposed
to open up the refrigerator and steal food out
of it at night. And, suddenly, the
camera is there. And the trailer is
absolutely quiet and empty. And, suddenly, you see Washoe
walking across, signing, saying, quiet, Washoe,
quiet, Washoe, and raiding the refrigerator that
way– totally cool stuff. They brought in a second
chimp, a second chimp, to have Washoe and the chimp
start learning sign language, and start talking to each other. And a couple of
months into it, they had the first conversation
in sign language ever by another species. The two chimps were
sitting there, and facing in opposite directions. And they both made use of what
in every one of these projects was the first word that
any chimp ever mastered, which was tickle, because
chimps love to be tickled. And the first sentence
they ever mastered would always be
tickle me, tickle me. So there’s the two of them,
sitting Washoe and Bowie I believe his name was. And Washoe says, tickle me. And Bowie says, tickle me. And Washoe, tickle
me, me, me, me, me. And Bowie says, tickle
me, tickle me, tickle me. And, finally, the two of
them get up and walk off in opposite directions. There you have failed detente
in the very first conversation there. So my God, they’re even
talking to each other. This is totally cool. Meanwhile, a guy at the
University of Pennsylvania named David Premack had
his chimp named Sarah. And he was very irritated
about the imprecision of sign language. He was teaching Sarah
a symbolic language pattern of different
shaped magnetic tiles, and showing very rigorously
that Sarah could do if-then type clauses, could begin
to do embedded clauses, saying things like,
he would put up the sign saying, if the
red ball is in the bucket, go hoot crazily in joy. And Sarah would be
able to do this, and be able to construct these as
well– nothing very much resembling the
fluidity of language, but nonetheless showing really
sophisticated structure to it. So these guys were
rolling along. And everybody loved this. And this was the
greatest stuff ever, chimps speaking
American Sign Language. And you could hang out
with them, and tickle them. And they’d never tickle
you back, apparently. But showing interviewing an
animal in its own language, none of that reciprocity of
tickling stuff with a human. But then, then,
along came the ape to end all apes
when it came to sign language, Koko,
Koko the gorilla. Koko the gorilla started off her
linguistic life here on campus. Koko was originally a gorilla
up in the San Francisco Zoo. And a graduate student, by
now I can’t remember how many decades ago, named Penny
Patterson in the psychology department decided that
for a bunch of reasons gorillas were going to
be a lot more focused. Compared to gorillas,
chimps all have ADD. And Koko was going
to be the one. And she managed to
get a loan of Koko from the San Francisco Zoo. And apparently during that
era, like half the days you could be going
around campus and there would be Koko going by
on a bicycle with Penny Patterson or some such thing. So Koko is this baby growing up
here on campus, totally cool. Koko begins to learn
American Sign Language. And that was clear was this
was the ape of all time when it came to learning
American Sign Language. Koko was amazing. Koko was learning stuff. Patterson was reporting the
most astonishing things. Koko could report dreams. Koko could gossip,
could gossip as in there would be two
people on the project who, like, had a fight in
front of her in the morning. And later in the day, she could
tell one of the other humans that the two of them were having
some fight thing or whatever. Koko could gossip in
American Sign Language. Koko could do anything. Koko could philosophize. Koko could lie like
crazy, of course, because all of these
chimps and apes immediately began
lying like crazy. Here’s one of the things
she was reported as doing. So Koko is left
alone in this room. And there’s a
potted plant there. And nobody’s around. And Koko being a gorilla,
what does she do? She looks around. There’s nobody there. So she eats the plant. So after a while, in
comes Patterson, and says, what happened, in sign
language, to the plant? Where’s the plant? And Koko, who has
been caught red-handed here, Koko says, Bill ate it. Bill, the poor bastard grad
student on the project, oh, blame the grad student. So Patterson says,
don’t tell me that. Bill’s not a gorilla. Humans don’t eat plants. Gorillas only eat plants. And Koko sits there and
says, some other gorilla, some other gorilla. So this was amazing. Koko was just the best. So, suddenly, Koko was like
double dating with Madonna, and endorsing [INAUDIBLE],
and aerobic exercises, and the Koko diet, and
things of that sort. And it was totally great. And this was the
best gorilla ever. And this was the best ape. And they brought
in this male who was supposed to,
like, knock up Koko so that she could have a
baby and teach her baby sign language, a multi-generational
gorilla teaching philosophy to their children. And all of this was great. And then around 1980
all of it got ruined. And it got ruined by a guy at
Columbia named Herb Terrace. Terrace had been another
one of the ones starting one of the sign
language chimp projects. And he started with
a chimp who was going to disprove Noam Chomsky,
who argued that there was no way anything that these
chimps and gorillas could do would actually
count as language. He was going to prove him wrong. With his chimp who,
he named Nim Chimpsky, to disprove Noam Chomsky. So there was Nim Chimpsky. And Nim Chimpsky starts
learning American Sign Language, like all the other ones. And Nim Chimpsky,
as opposed to, like, Washoe, who’s living out there
in the American West, and manifest destiny
and all of that, Nim Chimpsky lived in a
townhouse up on the west side of Manhattan, and was
a regular favorite at Lincoln Center, and
Zabar’s and all of that. And the person who
got the bagel probably knows what I’m referring
to, but nobody else does. And Nim was just
growing up there, and learning sign language. And Nim was great. And Nim was terrific,
and learning just as fast as the other ones. And, actually, the summer
after my freshman year, I spent the summer working with
Nim, which was incredible fun, and tickling him, and
him not tickling me back. And it was all so exciting,
and getting to do this all day long with a chimp. And moving on, and
then Terrace and crew beginning to expand on this. And then, suddenly,
about three years later, out comes this big
landmark paper in Science by Terrace and some
of the colleagues there basically
saying, you know what? Nim is totally cool. And he is a blast to
spend a long weekend with, and that sort of thing. But he’s not learning language. This really doesn’t count. And you know what? None of the other
ones are either. And what you had was the
first real hard-assed analysis of what these animals
were producing. And what Terrace demonstrated
in this paper in great detail was nothing Nim was doing fit
the criteria for language. Nim was not inventing words. Nim was not getting
word ordering correct. Word ordering was basically
at the random level. Me eat, and eat me,
50% chance of either when expressing the same notion. Nim was failing to
do something that was very fundamental
to language, which was the more words in your
string, the more meaning to it. And what I have on the
handout at the very top was some famous quote
from Nim who was just babbling on
something incoherent, suggesting like a
Broca’s aphasia, except that he was fine. As the utterances
got longer, they didn’t contain more information. Moreover, the utterances
were not spontaneous. Language is not about
answering questions. Language is about
choosing to communicate. Nim was not generating
any of this. He was responding to,
if you answer this, you will get a fruit loop,
which is what he mainly ate. And, thus, most of the
people on the project were constantly stealing
his fruit loops from him. So this looked pretty bad. And what Terrace
then proceeded to do was the same analysis on
all the other projects. And none of the chimps
were doing anything. All of them were failing
these same criteria of accurate word
ordering, expanded meaning with longer utterances,
spontaneous, all of that. Washoe, oh, coming up,
the duck is a water bird. Washoe was saying, water, bird. No, it had not just
neologistically come up– if that’s the word–
with a new word for duck in American Sign Language. It wasn’t doing that. The word ordering made no sense. It was completely random. Terrace rips apart
the whole literature. So out of that emerges the
great, bloodied prizefight of 1983 between Terrace
and Penny Patterson. Penny Patterson, who
had by that point had stolen Koko from
the San Francisco Zoo– and you think I’m kidding. She had been promised Koko for
only a certain number of years. And then, of course, she
was going to give him back. And when it was time for her
to give him back, she said, I’m not giving him back because
he has human values now. And it would be unfair for
him to live with a gorilla. So that was just on the edge
of being a lawsuit built around whether or not Koko
could be emancipated along the lines of
having human values, because she had
been, like, skating on Lake Lagunita when it was
frozen, or things like that. And the San Francisco Zoo,
seeing a public relations disaster on the horizon,
decided, what the hell? Let’s give Koko, let’s
give this $60,000 gorilla to Penny Patterson,
who by that point had pretty much had her
association with Stanford cut, and by then was
up in the Woodside Hills at a large estate paid
for by gorilla enthusiasts, and hanging out there with Koko. So Patterson winds up being
the strongest defender down to the end that this
is real language that Coco is doing. And Terrace, going completely
after it– and one problem at that point was there were
no actual data that had ever been published by Patterson. All there were, were some
several heartwarming films of Koko, Koko and
global warming, and Koko and the trade deficit,
and Koko and this or that. And there were no data. Scientists couldn’t
make any sense of it because there were no numbers. There was no anything
you can actually analyze. And when you look at the films. And they would be pitiful. They would be pitiful. Koko would be sitting
there, for one thing, would never be generating
spontaneous utterances. Koko would be sitting there
having the same word order randomness as all the chimps. Koko would be having–
and part of the problem was Patterson kept
enabling Koko. She would ask Koko, what
do you call this thing? And Koko would come up with
a completely wrong sign. And Patterson would say,
oh, stop kidding around. And then Patterson would
show her the next one. And Koko would get
it completely wrong. And Patterson would say,
oh, you funny gorilla. And then– I’m really serious. And I mean it this time. And so when she
gets it wrong again. And, oh, Koko, is
being so ironic. What? What are you talking about? She’s going on like that
in these films here. And as you look closely
using the sort of criteria that Terrace was using,
your socks new more American Sign Language
than this gorilla did. it’s showing none
of the spontaneity, none of the word ordering,
none of any of that stuff. So out came the knives. And here were the basic stances. Terrace’s stance was
Patterson wouldn’t know a controlled experiment
if it hit her over the head. Patterson’s response
was, Terrace was this cold, affectless
fish who had driven Nim into virtual autism. And this guy Terrace
was not someone who you would want to sort
of cozy up and on his lap and have him tell you
bedtime stories or whatever. And another feature that
Patterson pointed out very, very accurately was Nim had
no continuity of teachers. Nim had all sorts of people
who knew three and a half more words of sign language than
he did– like me, for example– who would show up for a
summer, and then disappear. He was going through 20, 30
different teachers a year. Oh, that’s not a very good
setting for learning stuff. That’s not ideal. Language is not
just about language. It’s about the
emotional relationships. And Nim ultimately wound up
being a pretty screwed up chimp in terms of like
nobody stable in his life except for this cold
fish Terrace who basically didn’t like him. So it’s going back and
forth, and these accusations. And Patterson coming out
with just incredible stuff, and Terrace going after her. And then things
got really dirty, Patterson beginning to
suggest that maybe Nim wasn’t playing with a full deck
compared to the other– oh, so Terrace got the stupidest
chimp in the entire literature there, and did the best
analysis on his inadequacies, and is trying to take down the
whole field– totally messy, messy sort of conflict there. And pretty much the
whole field collapsed in the aftermath of it. Patterson is still up in
the hills of Woodside. Although I hear rumors
she’s about to move to Hawaii with Koko
to a large estate that she’s gotten
somebody to give her. She sends out things like
newsletters talking about Koko sends greetings for world
peace, and things of that sort. I met her once. And she wanted to talk
about this gorilla Michael was brought in who was
supposed to mate with her. But they brought him in
when he was too young. And they did a kibbutz brother
and sister deal instead, and just did folk
songs together. And Michael wasn’t working. He wasn’t mating with her. So they eventually brought
in this big, larger male. And Michael promptly
died of heart disease, which I thought probably had
a major stress component. And that seemed
perfectly legitimate, and was talking with that. And then was
informed that October is going to be really tough,
because the end of October is Michael’s birthday. And Koko is going to have
a really hard– saying, is anybody else hearing this? Am I the only one
hearing this who thinks something is off here? They have continued there. And Terrace pretty much took
down the rest of the field. In the aftermath, and
the remnants of it, there remains one chimp
who I think legitimately qualifies as using
something beginning to resemble true language. And this is a bonobo
chimp named Kanzi. And Kanzi, they are
doing everything right. It is clear that Kanzi
is incredibly smart. They are doing all
sorts of data analysis. And Kanzi is learning stuff. Kanzi is doing embedded clauses. Kanzi does if-then stuff,
logical progressions. Kanzi is able to do a
whole bunch of things. Kanzi can do analogy. Small ball is to small
bucket, as big ball is to– and she will
indicate big bucket. She can do analogies like that. And most intriguingly,
not only is Kanzi generating language, and
spontaneous and all of that, is that when Kanzi makes
mistakes identifying things, they tend to be within
semantic categories. She accidentally comes up
with the sign for apple when she means to say orange. She doesn’t accidentally
come up with the sign for existentialism when
she means to say orange. It’s semantic categories,
exactly the sort of stuff you need. So at this stage, most of that
field went down in flames. At one point, people were making
a big deal out of the fact that there’s not a whole lot
of gorillas left on Earth. And when, supposedly,
Koko and Michael were able to be talking their
hearts out with each other, when you calculated those two
gorillas, and the total number of gorillas on Earth, and how
many people speak American Sign Language, and how many
people on Earth there are, a greater percentage
of Earth’s gorillas were speaking American Sign
Language than Earth’s humans. Like, that was stuff
coming out at that time. So the entire field
has collapsed. Kanzi remains
about the only hope for making sense of
anything going on with this– really appealing,
seductive stuff, not a whole lot of science. OK, so what we will
pick up on on Wednesday is the genetics evolution
of language, and then– For more, please visit
us at Stanford.edu.

100 thoughts on “23. Language

  • I believe in the future dna can be found through spoken word based on the fact that no one can speak the same words the same exact way~

  • My dog opened his mouth like a human and said "I'm e-a-s-y" during the time of the sirens sounding…I knew he could do this because he had heightened perception and that he noticed my call…I put my belief in him that he could do it and he did so he got his reward when I took him for a walk…

  • I always thought that humans also have fear pheromones and also can't stop them from spreading fear smell when they want to lie. 

  • I've been looking all over for his lecture on signing primates! There used to be an upload of just that segment of the lecture. It would pop up on the "related videos" section of Koko videos, which I thought was pretty ironic. If anyone knows if that shortened clip still exists of just primates and language, please show me!

    It's amazing how many people can't see through Koko's owner's charade. (I think her name is Penny.) She has done a brilliant job of translating Koko's demands into elaborate and creative musings. I've seen her translate Koko several times saying something simple like, "Baby." or "Baby give me." when seeing a doll or a baby gorilla on T.V. into, "Koko's saying she wants to be a mommy." or "Koko wishes she could have kids.". Not very scientific. But tell anyone that the most famous signing ape is not practicing real language or not doing much more than communicating basic desires, which many animals can do, they'll get very upset.

    How has she fooled even some extremely sharp people? I think much of it has to do with the cuteness and sensationalism of it all. No one wants to think that this cute lady is being deceptive or that this cute chimp, which we've watched grow old, is not as miraculous as we thought. Not to mention the fact that the media has followed Penny and Koko off and on for the last few decades, and people expect that journalists would not focus so strongly on a story of biology-meets-linguistics that holds no water with the scientific community. Unfortunately, that's exactly the case, because true or false, a signing gorilla and her blonde owner made a great story.

    I don't really think Penny is trying to con people, but I do think her love and bond with Koko has made her far too obsessed and biased to see clearly. However, if you learn the circumstances on which she obtained the gorilla, watch her approach to teaching in that early French documentary, and see the absolute plateau of Koko's learning progress since those first few years, it's very hard to believe Koko has any real grasp of language. In fact, it's almost depressing to see her now. She's old, fat, lethargic, sad, spoiled, and yet totally deprived of what would be a natural fulfilling life for a gorilla. It's not that I think an ape can't learn language, I just think that Penny was more ambitious, smitten, and self centered to complete the task. I wonder how much money she makes in donations from gullible animal lovers.

    The newer experiments they're doing with bonobos are much more promising on every level, as Dr. Pulaski stated. Not only are they far more equipped resource-wise, they have much more knowledgeable scientists and a more social environment for their apes. It's a shame that not many people are taking notice. Thanks to Penny, the public thinks that an ape using language accurately is old news.

  • oh god, sapolsky this lecture is great but yet again you're completely wrong about everything about behaviorism.

  • i find this guy's lectures fascinating and im not even a scientist or a student, in fact i'm jobless and unskilled. 

  • Let's say that, one day in the future, we are able to convey meaning through a combination of virtual reality and some sort of international icon or picture language.  Would we still be using the same areas of the brain as we do now with "modern" languages?  I noticed he said that in Chinese, they use a "slightly different" area of the brain.  I was wondering if we would be using an area of the brain that would be near this Chinese area of the brain. I like how Terence McKenna put it…. "to SEE what we mean."

  • Sapolsky is a great lecturer and presenter, and I enjoyed this lecture.
    However, he really does misrepresent the behaviourist angle on language (and I don't think the behaviourists were correct). Firstly, the fact that he refers to 'negative reinforcement' when a child produces sounds that make no sense, shows that he is unfamiliar with the terminology and thus probably behaviourism. Sapolsky also fails to understand the behaviourist concept of 'generalisation' , and that generalisation could account for for unique utterances.

  • It's worth doing some research on Kanzi to get familiar with his capabilities. Koko is awful and it's important to know that, but she stole time that I wish this lecture had spent describing what really is possible.

  • As for the people who supposedly cant differentiate between 8 and 10 or other numbers, you have to consider that their mind can still conceptualize the number without being able to verbalize. For example, an individual could hold up 8 fingers and say "that many." The language has not limited the way they think. When they run out of fingers they could use sticks or rocks as counters to do the same for higher numbers.

  • I deeply enjoy these lectures. I would enjoy them even more at higher resolution and most of all a pop-filter used during the recordings, because every time this genius speaks towards the camera there is resonant noise. The content is, however, priceless. Thumbs up and thank you.

  • Regarding 1:16:15, and the inability of dogs to "Lie" via pheremones and their anal glands, I think that's not a fair measure. When Humans are nervous or anxious, they can't just decide not to sweat and smell either, but Humans can obviously still lie in spoken language. On the contrary, the act of covering their scent glands by lowering their tails seems like a pretty direct analog for a human "Lying" about their emotions by trying to suppress a smile or an anxious facial expression that they don't want to convey.

  • Cetaceans (some odontoceti so far) are able to transmit precise, perhaps symbolic representational information about performing complex skills and sequences. Since sound imaging differs from abstraction in important ways, and since emotional and arousal states cannot be hidden from their detection, we observe yet other species whose brains are not evolved to coevolve around deception, for which a certain symbolic verbal communicator's brain is designed.

    Numerous cetacean species have brains 5x human, with the now-surprising Physeter macrocephalus (Moby Dick, most of whom were genocidally slaughtered for two centuries, for lamp and machine oil) having the world's largest at 9x human, with new evidence of observational capacity and some kind of descriptive communication – teaching or learning skills through sonic observation and/or expression in water far too murky for visual learning.
    Neocortex, allocortex, and neuronal density differs in various brains; Since some modulation has been found through certain glial cells, the issue is still quite opaque and unknown to human research.

    Alliance Francaise limits their language to a smaller total vocabulary. Very top-down. Most other languages accept new words, especially scientific.

    Ravens and many other animals, like the human animal, can hold 7 objects in mind – above that counting is necessary. Oddly, Clark's Nutcracker remember some 3,000 locations. They perhaps use up space for spatial memory that downslope birds use for more social skills. Location and orientation skills are an ethological subject worthy of extensive discussion, having to do with cognitive choice.
    Dr. Irene Pepperberg at Purdue and other U's later, worked with a parrot, discovering an intentional and highly social communication capacity, able to vocalize pronouns and emotional responses in English.
    Other birds pass that self-recognition test in mirrors, pecking or grooming at dabbed-on objects – once used as an attempt to prove that humans and a few primates were the only animals with "consciousness."

    I remember prosody as being emphasis, rhythm, and tone variation.

    A young adolescent Wolf who cannot understand human nuance, would become excited as I finally responded to a new intentional signal. A teacher, indeed!
    Since wolves wag tails in highly specific ways only in concordance with intent (unlike the very neotenous domestic canid), dominant and assertive wolves raise and flag their tails (yes, they mistake the obligate curled-up husky, UNTIL they realize that it is not offensively intended. They learn nearly immediately that gesture of domestics does not share their wild species' meaning). Tail wags of different speeds, styles, and heights have different distinct meaning to observers who share understanding of the signal.

    Hormonal signaling is highly important. Wolves have a great number of exocrine glands- even we retain differentially-smelling hand and feet exudations.
     A little evidence of hormonal reception as communicationevoking intentinoality: I've seen 2-day old passage of familiar canids immediately excite and promote social signaling and inquisitive tracking – different by far from prey-signaling and mere asocial curiosity; also seeing tracks washed away by waves evoke excited acceleration, gazing toward likely direction, pursuit – all with momentary stares toward companions to signal intent.

    Meanwhile the record for developmentally-arrested dog word understanding exceeds at least 400; while different breeds have lost some social attention for wolf language – gestural, postural, ears, facial, contextual.
     Familiaris retain recognition of some C. lupus vocalizations, but are mired in excessive usage. Wolves meanwhile, extremely quickly use the trope we call Theory of Mind in increasingly efficient glance/context intentional signaling. With long association in free and wild conditions, the Wolf would respond to my teasing pretension to not- or mis- understand with variable nips (hard! if it was urgent or his mood was short), up to the hilarious grasp of an entire thigh with a just-firm-enough alligator grip, dragging me toward the intended goal or action).
    Just as human babies learn meaningful sounds from adult interaction, so do wolf pups learn significance through resting in direct physical contact with elders.
    Species with separately mobile ears, from ungulates to social canids, appear to have the ability to monitor aurally in two channels. One ear attending to a bonded one, the other monitoring the environment, suggesting that differential stimulation of one side of the brain may very likely be occurring.
    Silent communication or signaling is important to most mammals. In addition to ASL, ESL, etc. another syntactic human language is Plains Indian sign, which is taught while speaking to youth and tale-telling, the best teaching method I've seen(!)

  • There also is a whistling language in some villages in Turkey. There must be videos online. It could be a 15,000 feet high equator situtation.

  • "New languages are invented by kids and nobody a whole lot older than them learns the new language." (Mind blown)

  • The "past your eyes"/pasteurise, is only a pun if you can hear "pasteurise" spoken in english. So it's not a sign language pun, i.e. people who only know sign language won't get the pun unless it is explicitly explained to them.

  • Despite this being a teacher-centered lecture, it was really fun to listen to, and quite educational.

    Correct me if I'm wrong though but I thought communicative aspects of language that were not related to speaking were called paralinguistics and prosody had to do with verbal/oral contours like pitch, rhythm and pausing and such.

  • The linguist's name is Lera Boroditsky. Here is one of her terrific lectures on language: longnow.org/seminars/02010/oct/26/how-language-shapes-thought/

  • combining this course while gaming is perhaps the best entertainment ive had in many years
    im going to try all the interesting ones from stanford and then move to mit

  • Half way through the video "I hope he talks about Koko"
    … Yes! He's talking about Koko, and debunks the whole thing, wow, did not expect that.

    Would love to hear his thoughts on Alex the african grey parrot.

  • I love Sapolsky and this lecture is great. A couple things he gets wrong though or doesn't go into all the nuances.
    1) Broca's area isn't just for language productions and mouth movement. Its most prominent role is in word order or "syntax" and more specifically in syntactic memory. But neuroscientists have moved away from models of Broca's region for syntax, Wernicke's for semantics and towards more complex models that focus on different pathways around the perisylvian fissure (the fold that splits the brain right there). Angela Friederici is one of the best researchers in terms of language in the brain if you're curious to read more.
    2) He dismisses B. F. Skinner's contributions to language research way too fast. The history of it's actually very interesting. Skinner wrote this book Verbal Behavior that adapted behaviorism to studying language. Chomsky wrote a review of it that not only decimated it but pretty much brought down behaviorism and started the "cognitive revolution." It's a brilliant take-down but the problem is that Chomsky basically just makes a lot of straw man arguments of ideas that Skinner never even held. Anyways, Chomsky's influence lasted for decades but there's been a resurgence of interest in Skinner's approach. In fact, the statistical methods that Sapolsky mentions where people learn language based on the probabilities of certain words being next to each other owes a lot to Skinner. Types of reinforcement that can be adapted from behaviorism can account for these probabilities. Statistical models are increasingly in favor and pushing out Chomsky's generative grammar. Especially since the computer models of language that have the most success (like Google translate) are based purely on statistical models. The types of learning behind these neural networks have close parallels to Skinner's operant conditioning. Anyways, Skinner's been laughed at in linguistic circles for decades but he's been gaining ground recently. It may go nowhere but he shouldn't be dismissed so fast.

  • Professor S completely misrepresents the behavioral view of language acquisiton. His lack of understanding this view makes it impossible for him to speak with authority on the subject…although he is confident in his ignorance.

  • What an amazing teacher !!!! Like some many I am fascinated by WHAT EVER he is teaching. in school I had only 2 teachers that
    got through my thick head, Miss Butts- 7th grade math, and Miss Sharp- 8th grade English. So few teachers that actually teach.

  • doctor Robert Beatles language genetic manipulation professional this and that type of red herring . five whores that changed history t(IHS) doctor Robert changed base it's all good god doctor Robert the Beatles.

  • Don't use motherese with babies or dogs or any life form. What a put down, grins. Consistency. Simplicity. Routine. Contact with your animals and learning THEIR language! They do not need to know our language! They need a language between their owner and themselves. One word or two syllables consistently used and they will love you and reward you with cognition.

  • Dear Students, Please be considerate toward your classmates and bring cough drops and water with you to class. The coughing is very distracting, making it difficult to stay focused on the sound of the professor's voice. It's also spreading germs to other students. No one needs to catch your cold. This has been a PSA. Thank you. 😊

  • I personaly don't agree with the statment at the 1:12:35 about feelings and multilanguages…
    I speack 4 languages (Portugues / French / English / Spanish) and I don't feel that my expressiveness changes when I switch the language in my brain.

  • Hey there, one thing about Brocca region, it's not primary motor cortex so it's not about moving lips (pyramidal path). Instead, it is secondary, cognitive-coordinative region that regulates function of the motor stripe. Connections are made during language learning process, so it's obvious it's not hard-wired to specific organ (like primary motor cortex neurons do), but more elastic one.

  • Yep. He's right on language shaping your behavior. In English I'm naturally critical, logical and blunt, but in Thai, a very polite and deferential language, I'm polite, tolerant and forgiving in the same situation. It's why I stay in Thailand. It calms the beast…;-)

  • Sapolsky perfected teaching with a trademark style to make it impossible not to grab and keep your attention to completely learn. Gifted like no other teacher can.

  • All ethology is, is anthropomorphization of animals. Instead of scientific observation and reasoning, you put the animals in a cage, confine them with human limits, wring them out, and compare the little bits of what they can do within those limits to what the limits are. Sad. Look at the nature of language; spontaneity, infinitely inventive, and compare that to your methods. Real sad.

  • 55:50 Only kids create languages? What about Tolkien? People who created Star Trek languages? Seems it's something adults can do.

  • Consider the following:
    If one were to take any language and put that language together in all the various ways that it could be put together, all the wisdom that could ever be expressed by that language would be in there, also all the greatest and most moving speeches. Now sure, there would be a huge amount of junk in there, so proper discernment would be needed.

    Consider also:
    Un-named concept -> Given a name (could be a sound, symbol, etc) -> With an attached meaning -> And maybe other meanings depending upon context -> And maybe even other names with the same meaning.

    One could have a lot of fun mixing up concepts, names and meanings, basically creating your own language, especially if it's different than common languages to really mess with people. (Of course those other people might shun you because they can't understand you and then might fear you and/or believe you to be delusional. But, it could still be sanely done. Future psychological experiment? Hmmm……….). oslojhjfdoewuwoijioej!!??

  • Love these lectures, but many languages don’t have a finite number of words. Agglutinative languages can create words on the fly.

  • Love the idea of Robert Sapolsky being suddenly so hungry he starts giving a lecture regardless of whether there's any relevant audience around

  • Judith Rich Harris' work which Robert Sapolsky loves to quote does not take into consideration the fact that 200 years ago and for a million years before, hominids grew up along side their parents. Peer relationships would have had far less of a developmental influence. Furthermore, intergenerational wisdom, which is unlikely as well developed amongst one's peers, is less well transmitted for the majority of children whose main role models may only be their peers. This may be the central reason why a deep sense of meaning or a "crisis of meaning" is more prevalent among today's youth besides the lack of a moral/ethical grounding from science that was integral to traditional institutions of belief.

  • It is known that while adult wildcats rarely vocalize, domestic cats do it constantly. Might this simply be because cats learn quickly that humans communicate that way and so they imitate what humans do as best they can? I did once have a black cat who was very good at giving "the look", so certainly domestic cats are adept at non-verbal communication as well.

  • Do male dog owners speak motherese to their pets?
    Let's find out. 'Rinka-chan! Who's a good dog? You are! good girl! Good dog! You are so good at being a dog. Rinka-chan you are the best at being at being Rinka-chan! that's what i like about you Rinka-chan!' Yup. higher pitched and i repeated 'good' 4 times. Holy Cow! how could i have graduated from UCSC class of 2000 without learning that.
    Rinka-chan is a 15 year old Shizu with glacoma. We rescued her and gave her a loving dog friendly home.

  • Stay in your lane.
    Just because you're a biologist, doesn't give you credibility in neuro-linguistics(NLP). The majority of language learning research has proven that adapting new phonemes is definitely possible regardless of the age of the learner and actually IS EASIER as an adult if you have the correct training.
    If what you're saying was true about phonemes then no one would ever be able to improve their singing skills, and there would no one on the planet who would be able to speak a new language without a foreign speaker accent. Which we know is not the case.


    Why is a biologist even talking about this? It makes me question everything he is saying. He clearly doesn't know where his knowledge begins and ends. Most Opera singers/Stage Actors etc. for instance are shaping their phonemes in many languages well into middle age.
    How dumb are you?
    If you are wondering why I'm pissed, it's because there are second language instructors who are citing this BIOLOGY professor as a credible source because he can hide behind Stanford branding.

  • I'm shocked more cultures didn't count in ways like 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 – than intervals of ten. 10,20,30,40,50 appose to 1,2, more than 3.. and 1,2,3,4, 5 or more than 5.

  • A useful distinction that is not mentioned, is the distinction between prescriptive and descriptive liguistics. Prescriptive linguistics is the "how to speak properly" taught in formal settings, descriptive linguistics (the area that most linguists study) is the study of how language is actually spoken. Descriptive lingustics includes the study of Patwas, slang, pidgins, and any other form of communication that exhibits syntax.

  • I've found this whole series fascinating but for pure entertainment value the whole story of Koko is a high point.

  • 23:30 wisdom of the crowd. Just get a big room full of every major and ask a question, someone will probably know.

  • whatcha mean we can't have partial words? (just used two in that sentence) Never heard of a ha penny (another partial IMO) May be texting wasn't as popular 10 yrs ago…..lots of partials used there or am I misunderstanding his definition of partial? I'm using this basic definition – existing only in part; incomplete.

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