LINGUIST List 22.559|
Wed Feb 02 2011
Review: Cognitive Science; Language Acquisition: Byrd & Mintz (2010)
Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons
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1. Katya Pertsova ,
Discovering Speech, Words, and Mind
Message 1: Discovering Speech, Words, and Mind
From: Katya Pertsova <pertsovaemail.unc.edu>
Subject: Discovering Speech, Words, and Mind
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Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/21/21-1897.html
AUTHORS: Dany Byrd and Toben H. Mintz
TITLE: Discovering Speech, Words, and Mind
Katya Pertsova, Department of Linguistics, University of North Carolina at
''Discovering speech, words, and mind'' provides a psycholinguistic perspective on
the study of language focusing mainly on the issues of speech organization and
perception, morphological processing, as well as issues of language and mind. It
is written as a textbook for students with little to no experience in
linguistics or psychology and it seeks to situate the study of language below
the word level within the main findings of psycholinguistics and cognitive
neuroscience. Each chapter includes a summary, a short list of suggested
readings, boxes with additional information and exercises, and liberal
illustrations. There is also an on-line component to the textbook containing
supplementary charts, videos, links to YouTube clips, articles, etc.
The volume's first chapter (Human Language as a Scientific Phenomenon)
introduces novices to the study of language as a scientific enterprise and as an
integral part of cognitive science. This chapter is divided into two parts. In
part 1, the authors explain basic standard notions in linguistics such as
linguistic competence and mental grammar. They address some preconceptions
people have about language and discuss how language is different from and
similar to other communication systems. Part 2 focuses on the cognitive science
aspect of language models. Here the authors draw important distinctions among
the different levels of analysis emphasized by Marr, that is the computational,
algorithmic and the implementation levels.
Chapter 2 (Speaking, Sound, and Hearing) reads like a crash-course in
introductory phonetics complete with information on the anatomy and acoustics of
speech and hearing as well as information on phonetic transcription. This
chapter goes into fair detail on topics including the explanation of the
source-filter model and the use of sound-waves and spectrograms to analyze sound.
Chapter 3 (Phonetic Diversity in the World's Languages and Diversity Among
Dialects of English) is a natural extension of the previous chapter. It focuses
on dimensions of phonetic contrast in the world's languages and takes a closer
look at phonetic variation across dialects of English. The authors emphasize how
everyone speaks a dialect, and that dialectal variation is valuable and
informative for language scientists.
Chapter 4 (The Scientific Method and Experimental Design) explains basics of
experimental design and analysis. The topics covered here include distinctions
between dependent and independent variables, the organizational components of
experiments such as conditions, trials, and groups, as well as a discussion of
how statistics is used to analyze experimental results.
Chapter 5 (Speech Perception) begins by describing variability in the acoustic
signal and how it presents a difficulty for explaining how humans can accurately
perceive speech. A motor-theory of speech perception and a cue theory are
invoked as possible answers to the variability problem. Next, the authors
discuss the phenomenon of categorical perception as it applies to adults,
infants, animals and non-speech stimuli such as face recognition. The reader
also learns about related psycholinguistic findings such as bottom-up and
top-down influences on category boundary shifts and duplex perception. The third
section treats word segmentation, summarizing state of the art proposals for how
we segment the continuous stream of speech into words and morphemes.
Chapter 6 (Word Recognition) is about accessing the mental lexicon to retrieve
words. The authors discuss the top-down influences on word-recognition, such as
effects of context and effects coming from speakers' word knowledge (e.g.,
frequency and neighborhood density effects). In this chapter we also learn about
how word recognition can be modeled computationally using an example of the
connectionist model TRACE. Predictions of this model and of a rival
psycholinguistic model of word recognition, the cohort model, are evaluated
based on empirical findings.
Chapter 7 (Phonological Units and Phonological patterning) has a more linguistic
bend and discusses the aspect of language generally referred to as phonology.
Here, the absence of the standard notion ''phoneme'' is notable. The units of
phonological patterning are gestures and features which yield segments,
corresponding to the units of phonetic transcription. Other phonological units
discussed are syllables and stress feet.
Chapter 8 (Word Form and Function) covers morphological structure, beginning
with the notion ''morpheme'' and morphological contrasts. The authors make
standard distinctions between open-class and closed-class lexical items as well
as bound and free morphemes. They discuss the hierarchical structure of words
and ways in which morphological contrasts can be marked cross-linguistically.
Chapter 9 (Sign Languages) briefly surveys sign languages -- more specifically,
their history, linguistic structure, and significance for the study of the mind.
One of the goals of this chapter is to dispel misconceptions about sign
languages still prevalent among the linguistically naïve. Another goal is to
show how these languages provide unique insight into the human mind, in
particular with respect to questions of innateness (or in authors' words
''internal constraints of the language learner'').
Chapter 10 (Language and the Brain) overviews key phenomena in the cognitive
neuroscience of language, such as hemisphere specialization, language areas in
the brain, aphasia, and neuroimaging techniques. The authors describe
experiments with split-brain patients and dichotic listening studies in support
of language lateralization to the left hemisphere. The chapter concludes with a
look at how neuroimaging techniques can help us test and revise
cognitive/functional models of language processing.
Chapters 11 (Language, Speech, and Hearing Disorders) covers the following
disorders: SLI, deafness and hearing loss, voice disorders, apraxia, and
stuttering. Discussion of hearing loss takes up most of this chapter, covering
the anatomy of hearing loss, reasons for hearing loss, and technology used to
overcome it. These themes are not tightly connected to the book's other
chapters. What the authors want the reader to take away is that ''research on
communication disorders and their treatment and/or management is a compelling
area of study.''
Finally, Chapter 12 (Reading and Dyslexia) deals with the human ability to read.
The authors begin by exploring possible ways of reading: using the direct access
route (direct mapping of written words to meaning) or the orthographic route
(the mapping that goes from orthography to phonology first). An overview of some
psychological studies suggests that skilled readers use both routes, and that
the orthographic route plays an important role for all systems of writing that
encode phonology in some way (even in very limited form). Learning how to read
crucially depends on the ability to map orthography to phonology. Disruptions in
one of these reading routes lead to a reading disorder, dyslexia.
Overall, this book successfully accomplishes its goal of providing a compelling
introduction to the body of scientific knowledge on how language (below the
word-level) is organized and encoded in the mind. What's most impressive for an
introductory text such as this one is the range and sophistication of topics
covered. The authors manage to explain complex concepts and experimental studies
without making the book too technical or boring. The strength of this textbook
is its dual nature: connecting the theoretical and psychological aspects of
scientific analysis of language. The tone is serious and expository, but the
language is accessible and very clear. One really appealing aspect is that upon
introducing a new abstract unit of structure, the authors are quick to explain
empirical evidence supporting its existence, or show how it makes the analysis
easy or more revealing. This way the student is not asked to just trust the
experts (because the actual explanation is too complex, for instance), but
rather is given concrete reasons behind why researchers come to the conclusions
This book would make a great supplemental reader for a psycholinguistics course
or an introduction to linguistics as a cognitive science course. The
introductory chapter and the chapter on experimental design provide a nice
framework for understanding how the scientific method is applied in linguistics.
These chapters will prove useful to students not only for better understanding
the material in the book, but also for doing outside readings and for thinking
how to design their own experimental studies. One suggestion I can offer that
could encourage students to dig a little deeper would be to include the
references to the cited studies at the end of each chapter in addition to
further readings. This would also be helpful for the instructor who wanted a
quick access to the original literature.
Louis Goldstein writes, in praising this book on the jacket, that it is unique
among similar introductory textbooks in providing a detailed look into speech
articulation and acoustics. This is true, and the ''speech'' part of the book is
arguably most detailed and most strongly linked to the other chapters. It
dovetails nicely with the discussion of dialects, problems in speech perception,
phonological patterning and hearing disorders. This however creates an
impression of a slight imbalance: some chapters seem disjointed while others are
connected, some are written at a more introductory level while others cover more
advanced material, some of the earlier chapters seem at first to serve as a
set-up for later discussions, but this expectation is not fully confirmed
throughout the book. Thus, the overall organization of the book could be
improved in my opinion. Perhaps a quick fix would be to include an introductory
note about the book's purpose and organization to help the reader navigate the
text and be prepared for what to expect.
The absence of the notion ''phoneme'' and the focus on segment is surprising in
the phonology chapter. It makes one wonder whether the status of a phoneme as a
legitimate unit of linguistic analysis is being questioned. Given the author's
excellent examples of motivating the existence of mental abstractions, one
wonders why they would choose to omit the mental category of sound. After all,
the knowledge of a word entails knowledge of what phonemes it consists of, while
the segmental and gestural makeup of the word will vary depending on prosodic
context, style of pronunciation, and other factors.
My final wish for the book is perhaps not a fair one, given that the authors
explicitly restrict their content to ''speech, words, and mind'', however, I can't
help but regret the absence of any mention of syntax and semantics in an
introductory text that includes a mind-component and that is embedded within a
general discussion of language as a critical part of cognitive science.
All in all however, I recommend this textbook for its cogent exposition of
important and foundational findings in psycholinguistics and for connecting
theoretical and empirical aspects in the study of language in a compelling
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Katya Pertsova is as Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the University
of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her interests include morphological theory,
the Mental Lexicon, and computational models of language acquisition.
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