Cognitive Science: An Introduction/Kinds of Language

Language and Communication


Language is a complex process, which can be discussed in an array of manners. In an expansive sense, language is structurally describable as a set of symbols that are arrangeable in a certain number of fixed ways. In combining symbols together, in certain manners, such can denote comprehensible communication. A functional description is utilized to describe what such is for. Under such, language is a complex code, which permits agents to communicate information. Language is a ‘complex code,’ which is unique to rational human beings. Such does not extend to animal communications, such as bird calls. Linguists consider humans to possess the only real languages. [1]

Natural Language


Natural language denotes that which has been created by cultural human beings. Linguists study language in various manners, through various specific subclasses of language. Such can include verbal language and non-verbal languages such as sign-language and behavioral communication. Prior to the conception of a structured form of verbal language, which respects the organization of syllables and intonations, all humans are born with the capacity to communicate through their behaviors and their randomized sounds. Such intrinsic, instinctual forms of communication denote ‘natural’ language, in that one needs not learn them necessarily.[2] A baby will cry when they’re hungry, without ever learning that such a sound would enable their mother to feed them. As such, they are performing a type of natural language. In this sense, natural denotes the opposite of artificial. Artificial language was designed by rational beings, collectively over time. No established language (i.e., English) was designed by one individual, at one point in time. Instead, every language was developed over extended periods of time throughout history. Even today, languages continue to be refined, as individuals contribute new words into the dictionary. [3] English is a universal language, which is quite interesting to study – particularly from a historical standpoint. [4]

Artificial Language


Created by individuals or small teams. A good example of a spoken artificial language is called "Esperanto." Artificial language was designed as a straightforward and easy language to learn, that was similar to other European languages. The intent was for it to be an international auxiliary language. It was meant to facilitate travel and international business. However, It did not work out like that; as there are very few groups and communities that are interested in such.[5].Another example of spoken artificial language is ‘Klingon’ from Star Trek, which started with a collection of a few words, which were continuously added to over time. Today, many fans have fleshed it out as a real language. One can go to Star Trek conventions, wherein they can speak Klingon. [6] Looking at the Game of Thrones trilogy, "Dothraki" has become an artificial language. The television network hired linguists to come in and create a memorable language. As the show turned out to be quite popular, the language they developed gained great prominence over time.[7] Most artificial languages are designed for computer use. Computers at their base are transistors- very small on and off switches of electricity. One does not speak binary, so humans have to create computer programming languages that allow humans to communicate with computers. It is a one-way communication, which consists of a user telling the computer what to do. It’s different from Natural languages because the idea is that it’s clear and unambiguous. For example, when asked ‘would you like cream or sugar?’ you know that you can have ‘both.’ However, if you win the lottery and they ask you if you would like ‘ten thousand dollars,’ or a ‘car,’ then you typically can't say both. You understand that terms such as ‘or’ can have different meanings, in different situations – namely that it can be inclusive or exclusive. In computer languages, one cannot leave any ambiguity. Otherwise, errors would ensue. Computers necessitate precision. [8]

Animal Communication


Also referred to as "Zoosemiotics," animals use all kinds of processes (sounds and behaviors) for communication. They use gesture, expression, gaze following, vocalization, olfactory communication, and electric coloration. Communication generally falls into these categories, namely, dominance, courtship, ownership, food alert, alarm, and metacommunication. Dominance is one animal showing another animal who's in charge. Apes will show deference by lowering their head and dogs will roll onto their back to show their inferiority. Animals will do certain things to communicate with other animals’ intention to courtship, some birds will build structures, and other will sing. The reason is to show ownership or territory. However, they will only listen to other birds of their species. Studies found that birds in the jungle will adjust their pitch, to be heard more easily. [9] Due to noise pollution in the ocean from boat motors, whales have also been found to change their call to a improve the rate at which others hear it. [10] Metacommunication consists of communicating about communicating, namely, looking for others to pay attention to oneself. [11] Interestingly, vervet monkeys and honeybees possess unique communication methods. Amongst vervet monkeys, different calls mean different things. For example, the call to let the other monkeys know an eagle is coming, was different from the one letting them know there was a snake.Invalid parameter in <ref> tag Honeybees communicate by dancing in the beehive to communicate where food is. The other bees use their antennas to feel the vibrations from the bee, to learn where the food is, according to the dance and the position of the sun.[12] Although animals have very interesting means of communication, generally anyone who studies language can come to the same conclusion. It's very challenging to understand human language since it’s ultimately much more complex than anything another animal can do. Human rationality enables such. Animal communication is much simpler since they lack reason. Many individuals question how anyone can be certain that animals don't have real languages, and rightfully so, as such has been an important topic of debate amongst linguists. [13]

Computer Language


Computer language is a code which humans develop and program into the software of a technological system, to enable it to read it, and thereon function accordingly. Overall, a computer is made to follow the human's instructions. A lot of computer programming is called debugging. Some time is spent writing the initial instructions; however. Programmers spend more time trying to figure out why the computer didn't do what they told it to do. Computers don't yet have the artificial intelligence necessary to figure out what humans mean – at least not perfectly, taking into account the various complex rules to language. One could make an elementary mistake, which would easily be understandable by a human, but hard to comprehend for a computer. A computer will do exactly what you instruct them to do – nothing less and nothing more. [14] Linguists do not study computer languages. The design of programming languages is in the field of computer science. It is one of the main branches in computer science. Programing language design is a human to computer interaction issue; you want to balance the complexity of what the computer can do with the simplicity of the language. [15]

Human Language


The human language has a structure, but that structure is implicit. This means that you don't have in your mind the explicit rules of how our language works. Implicitly you know how to do it the same way you can walk down a staircase. You can't describe all the muscles you used and how they work, but you can still walk down the staircase. [16]

Language is A Brain Interface


Like a computer programming language, natural languages allow interfacing between what might be two very different brains. We can think of human language as an interface between one human brain and another human brain. To communicate what is in your mind, you need some type of interface; one main way is language. [17] An example of this would be telling someone you don't have a middle name. You can say it in many different ways, but the meaning is still the same. Whether it is was written or spoken, the person takes what is heard or seen and turns that information into meaning. That's why it is considered an interface, turning their thoughts into your thoughts. This is where miscommunication can come into effect. Language is a human to human interface.[18]

Disciplines of Linguistics

  • phonology: how sounds are organized and used in language [19]
  • Morphology: how sound and meaning interact in words [20]
  • Syntax: how sentences may be put together in a language[21]
  • Semantics: meaning in language [22]
  • Pragmatics: How sentences interact with context to change the meaning [23]



Logic is relevant to how linguists understand language. Logic at its very basic is a formal normative system of reasoning. Formal meaning it is very well specified. Symbolic logic specifies ways that sentences can be represented unambiguously. Normative claims are about how you should reason. The idea of logic is how you should reason. Logic is limited in its semantics, but it allows you to do things like determine validity. Example) saying all pugs are cute. Mrs. Wiggle is a pug. Therefore, Mrs. Wiggles is cute. Before Aristotle, when someone would look at an argument like this, there would be a lot going on in their head. They might find all pugs are ugly or some pugs are ugly. They might dispute that Mrs. Wiggles is a pug. They might also criticize the logic of it. But Aristotle, one of the main founders of intellectual tradition in the western world. He came up with brilliant insight that you can analyze the quality of insight without even knowing what it's about. If x is y, then x is z. This is saying if x is a pug the x is cute. p is x, p is y, there for p is z. You can now look at this argument and tell whether it makes sense without even knowing what it means. You can analyze the validity of an argument. Validity means that it makes sense ignoring what it's about. Just the relationship between the ideas is an argument that makes sense. You can say the argument is valid even though you may not agree with it. These are called the assumptions or premises.[24] You may not agree that all pugs are cute. But you would agree that if all pugs are cute and Mrs. Wiggles is a pug then the third one must be true, Mrs. Wiggle is cute. That is validity. If it's valid and the term premises are true, we call it sound. It's a sound argument. You can have a valid argument that is unsound. People talk about logic in language and linguistics because it appears that a great way to describe how humans process language. When saying process language meaning both processing it and generating it is well described by logic.

Teaching Animals Human Language


The first attempt to show that chimps could speak human languages was sought by indicating that much like human children, they develop the skills over time, through constant exposure and practice. The experiment consisted of raising a baby chimp through the same nurturing process as a human child- by giving it to a family with a baby human. They tried their best to raise the two the same by three years into the rearing, the differences where astounding. The three-year-old child could barely walk but yet could string together sentences. While the chimp baby couldn't say a word but was leaping all over the house with incredible prowess and strength.[25] After sign language became an option, the chimp showed greater promise. However, it is hard to know when a chimp or great ape is using sign language. Interestingly when shown videos of the monkeys, linguists would see lots of sings; however, when deaf people were shown those same clips, they indicated that such signs weren’t noticeable. The problem is the apes never really learn grammar. They never quite get that there are subjects and objects and they need to be in a certain order.[26] Noam Chomsky, one of the founders of modern linguistics, says that trying to get non-humans to talk is like trying to get bees to build a beaver dam. Teaching apes language is very labor intensive. Animals require hundreds of trails. They have to use associative learning to associate a sound or picture with a concept. With humans, they do it naturally. Overall, humans are unique to any other animal, as they possess rationality; while animals are better suited to perform specific physical functions. Humans develop sustenance through their intellect, while animals do so through their physicality.[27]

Intra-Brain Communication: The Language of Thought


Jerry Fodor put forward the notion that our minds use "mentalese" or a language of thought. Sometimes you have a meaning in your head, and you try and turn it into words.[28]Part of the reason we know that's true is sometimes you don't know how to express what you mean. if that meaning were represented in words from the start in English for example, then there would never be an issue of how you would express it. That tells us that there is some kind of code that your mind uses that you then translate into words when you want to interface with another human. Sometimes calling it mentalese it can sometimes be controversial. Some people can lose their ability to use there language its called a facia. there are just some people who lose the ability to speak or understand language. there is still a lot they can do, think, make sense of stories, they can still understand a lot of things, just not linguistically. [29]


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