Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

The accumulation of small heritable changes within populations over time.

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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#21  Postby Mr.Samsa » Nov 24, 2010 11:22 pm

katja z wrote:^^ You mean just like we do with babies? ;)


:tehe:

Yes but I'm trying to keep the drama out of this thread!
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#22  Postby jez9999 » Nov 24, 2010 11:51 pm

Mr.Samsa wrote:No mathematics is a specific application of intelligence. That would be akin to testing the intelligence difference between you and I by using "knowledge of behavioral psychology" as the measure of intelligence - assuming that you have no formal qualifications in the area, then the test would conclusively demonstrate that I was far more intelligent than you.

How about 'ability to learn knowledge of behavioral psychology'?

jez9999 wrote:As for language skills, I'm saying that I struggle to see how our ability to use language could evolve over small, incremental steps. I don't see why no other species - in the history of the world - would have developed language as advanced as ours if that were something that evolution was even rarely capable of.


Well I think the problem is with how you're thinking about it. We haven't evolved the complex language that you see us using, we've evolved to be capable of using language - that is, understanding abstract symbols and make sounds with our vocal chords. The complexity of language, like grammar, metaphors, humour, etc, is largely a product of the cultural effects on language. We don't evolve these advanced aspects of language through evolution, we create them ourselves through learning and experience. In other words, it's like saying you can't understand how tool-use could evolve because building rockets is so amazing. We didn't evolve to build rockets, we evolved the capability to manipulate things with our hands.

So did chimps, but they can't build rockets. Or anything remotely as advanced. You can say that they didn't need to, but why did humans need to? Couldn't we have hunted and gathered largely on instinct and a handful of grunting and hand signals?

The reason no other species has reached this advanced stage of language is because they don't have all of the right conditions that we have. One of the key features for the development of language as advanced as ours is bipedalism and opposable thumbs - this automatically rules out large sections of the animal kingdom. Then we need advanced control of our vocal chords, and a sufficiently intelligent brain to process language.

The sufficiently large brain is the humdinger for me. There have been animals (even if you give it a massively unfair bias to creatures which are similar to us, namely chimps) who have been brought up in similar conditions to deaf children (gets past the problem of their not having human vocal chords) such as Washoe, with humans attempting to teach them sign language; the best they ever muster is a few dozen gestures. This would seem to be putting them on a level playing field with (deaf) human children in every respect apart from their brains. It is somethnig very unique to the human brain that allows very complex language to be learnt, and I'm just wondering how we got from something like where the chimps are now, to where we are now.
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#23  Postby Mr.Samsa » Nov 25, 2010 1:49 am

jez9999 wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:No mathematics is a specific application of intelligence. That would be akin to testing the intelligence difference between you and I by using "knowledge of behavioral psychology" as the measure of intelligence - assuming that you have no formal qualifications in the area, then the test would conclusively demonstrate that I was far more intelligent than you.

How about 'ability to learn knowledge of behavioral psychology'?


The "ability to learn" would be a better measure, since it removes anthropocentric biases and advantages.

jez9999 wrote:
Well I think the problem is with how you're thinking about it. We haven't evolved the complex language that you see us using, we've evolved to be capable of using language - that is, understanding abstract symbols and make sounds with our vocal chords. The complexity of language, like grammar, metaphors, humour, etc, is largely a product of the cultural effects on language. We don't evolve these advanced aspects of language through evolution, we create them ourselves through learning and experience. In other words, it's like saying you can't understand how tool-use could evolve because building rockets is so amazing. We didn't evolve to build rockets, we evolved the capability to manipulate things with our hands.

So did chimps, but they can't build rockets. Or anything remotely as advanced. You can say that they didn't need to, but why did humans need to? Couldn't we have hunted and gathered largely on instinct and a handful of grunting and hand signals?


You're ignoring the fact that we've had thousands of years of hugely impressive cultural advances that chimps don't have.. Stick a human baby in with a group of gorillas and see if he comes up with a neat idea for a rocket. Why was there a split between humans and other apes that produced this change in us? I'm not sure, it could have been anything relatively minor. The discovery of fire, for example, that improved our nutrition, and thus brain functioning, which added back to our cultural progress and pushed it further forwards.

The point, anyway, is that we did not evolve the complex language that you are looking at. Our language is too advanced to have come about through evolution alone, that's why we can be reasonably sure that it didn't evolve. We evolved the ability to use language, which enabled us to develop it to such an advanced level. Keep in mind that our language has been changed and improved upon for thousands and thousands of years...

jez9999 wrote:
The reason no other species has reached this advanced stage of language is because they don't have all of the right conditions that we have. One of the key features for the development of language as advanced as ours is bipedalism and opposable thumbs - this automatically rules out large sections of the animal kingdom. Then we need advanced control of our vocal chords, and a sufficiently intelligent brain to process language.

The sufficiently large brain is the humdinger for me. There have been animals (even if you give it a massively unfair bias to creatures which are similar to us, namely chimps) who have been brought up in similar conditions to deaf children (gets past the problem of their not having human vocal chords) such as Washoe, with humans attempting to teach them sign language; the best they ever muster is a few dozen gestures. This would seem to be putting them on a level playing field with (deaf) human children in every respect apart from their brains. It is somethnig very unique to the human brain that allows very complex language to be learnt, and I'm just wondering how we got from something like where the chimps are now, to where we are now.


No animal has been brought up in similar conditions to deaf children - the fact of the matter is that it is impossible to give the same level of training that we give to children, to experimental animals. This is because language requires almost 24/7 training for decades to get people to use it at an adequate level and nobody is really willing to do the same for animals. The closest we have to this is Viki, who was a chimpanzee raised by a suburban family in the 50s. Unfortunately they tried to teach her spoken language, and since chimps have different vocal structures to us, she was only able to form 4 words.

However, we have had some great success with animal language. Washoe you mention learnt 250 signs, which is a decent effort - but this is outdone by Kanzi who can reliably use 360 signs on a lexigram, as well as combining them with sign language to form novel words and sentence structures. The most interesting part of Kanzi's progress is that he wasn't taught how to learn a lexigram board, he picked it up by watching his mother.

We have to remember that the critical period for chimps also occurs at a different stage than in humans, and it occurs in a much smaller window, so for chimps to reach the same level as humans in language, we are expecting them to pick it up at a younger age than humans and at a faster rate. It's like expecting a 1 year old to be able to understand and read out loud a Dr Suess book. Since this is a huge ask, chimps brains don't develop to the same degree as humans - their Broca's and Wernicke's areas remain underdeveloped, like a human child's would if they aren't taught language to a sufficient level within the critical period.

As for how humans got to this point, well Cali's post describes the process by which our brain developed to this level. The jump from chimps to humans is only a small one, they have most of the equipment necessary but they are just missing a couple of things; firstly a massive culture which gives them intensive and continuous language training from the moment they're born, and slightly more developed language centres in the brain.
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#24  Postby katja z » Nov 25, 2010 8:49 am

Mr. Samsa, what you say about the critical period for the chimpanzee is intriguing. I wonder how developped is the chimp brain at birth compared to the human brain, and if any differences there are could be related to how much language they can pick up. As far as phonology is concerned, I've read how in babies the brain not just programmes but "hardwires" itself somewhat differently depending on the language they hear around them, not developing new neural connections but pruning the existing ones to retain only those needed for the recognition of phonemes of the language of their environment (that's why it can be so damn hard to learn to correctly pronounce a foreign language as an adult). I'm wondering if something like this happens for other aspects of language during the critical period, so that linguistic environment is instrumental in putting the final touches to brain development? (Maybe a silly question, but I don't know much about brain other than that I have one. :tongue:)
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#25  Postby Mr.Samsa » Nov 27, 2010 1:12 am

katja z wrote:Mr. Samsa, what you say about the critical period for the chimpanzee is intriguing. I wonder how developped is the chimp brain at birth compared to the human brain, and if any differences there are could be related to how much language they can pick up. As far as phonology is concerned, I've read how in babies the brain not just programmes but "hardwires" itself somewhat differently depending on the language they hear around them, not developing new neural connections but pruning the existing ones to retain only those needed for the recognition of phonemes of the language of their environment (that's why it can be so damn hard to learn to correctly pronounce a foreign language as an adult). I'm wondering if something like this happens for other aspects of language during the critical period, so that linguistic environment is instrumental in putting the final touches to brain development? (Maybe a silly question, but I don't know much about brain other than that I have one. :tongue:)


Yeah phonemes are very interesting, but I haven't read up on other aspects of language in this respect. It's an interesting question though and I wonder if there are sort of "grammar-like phonemes" where it's easier to pick up the grammar of what you grow up with and it's harder to understand other grammar structures. I imagine this would be more flexible though as grammars are a bit more widespread aren't they? As in, similar languages from related backgrounds will probably share a lot of the main grammatical aspects right?

I imagine that the McGurk effect would have something to do with what we learn during this time too.
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#26  Postby rEvolutionist » Nov 27, 2010 1:12 pm

:popcorn:
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Carrots exist.
Therefore God exists (and is a carrot).
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#27  Postby katja z » Nov 27, 2010 4:19 pm

Mr.Samsa wrote:
katja z wrote:Mr. Samsa, what you say about the critical period for the chimpanzee is intriguing. I wonder how developped is the chimp brain at birth compared to the human brain, and if any differences there are could be related to how much language they can pick up. As far as phonology is concerned, I've read how in babies the brain not just programmes but "hardwires" itself somewhat differently depending on the language they hear around them, not developing new neural connections but pruning the existing ones to retain only those needed for the recognition of phonemes of the language of their environment (that's why it can be so damn hard to learn to correctly pronounce a foreign language as an adult). I'm wondering if something like this happens for other aspects of language during the critical period, so that linguistic environment is instrumental in putting the final touches to brain development? (Maybe a silly question, but I don't know much about brain other than that I have one. :tongue:)


Yeah phonemes are very interesting, but I haven't read up on other aspects of language in this respect. It's an interesting question though and I wonder if there are sort of "grammar-like phonemes" where it's easier to pick up the grammar of what you grow up with and it's harder to understand other grammar structures. I imagine this would be more flexible though as grammars are a bit more widespread aren't they? As in, similar languages from related backgrounds will probably share a lot of the main grammatical aspects right?


I suppose that by »grammar-like phonemes« you mean basic structural features? Grammar had been my first thought as well, probably because we've been discussing it quite a lot lately, but I what I had in mind when I wrote this had more to do with concept formation. This is the basis really, you don't need a means to organise symbols if you don't have symbols in the first place. I don't mean that one way of cutting reality up into conceptual chunks gets »wired in« (in the strong sense of »the limits of my language are the limits of my world«). Languages do do that in very different ways and that certainly shapes to some extent how reality is perceived – although we can readily step over those boundaries, either when learning a new language or when extending the conceptual map available in our own culture. I mean that you need some way of chunking reality and slapping labels on the chunks to form symbols you can then manipulate and play around with, if you're to have a functional human brain, able to interact with the culture around it. And the question was, is there anything that has to happen to the brain hardware in order for you to be able to do that, something that requires linguistic input from the environment (like it happens with the tuning of the sensory apparatus to pick up the relevant bits of auditory input). (I'm probably making a mess of explaining myself. Sorry.)

Of course, this question is only relevant if the critical period hypothesis does, indeed, hold. But as far as I'm aware this is based on feral children's problems with language acquisition, and I don't think in these cases you can separate the effects of language deprivation from the overall effects of the lack of interaction with other humans on general cognitive development. :dunno:

Anyway, to answer your question on grammar – although this has to do with second-language acquisition (which means that you already know one, and are therefore adept at using symbols and structuring them in elaborate patterns in some way) –, of course it is easier to pick up the grammar of a language closely related to your own, OR to another language you already know. But I would say this is simply because you don't have to start from scratch - transferring what you already know to the new language, maybe tweaking it slightly, takes a lot less time than learning new regularities. Funnily enough, although so much has been made of grammar, in my experience – warning: you're entering anecdotal territory – it can be more difficult to grasp differences in conceptualisation than those in structure (of course, the two often overlap: for example, how temporal relations between actions are conceptualised is directly linked to their grammatical expression). But even once people are fluent in every other aspect of a foreign language, they usually retain a foreign accent, producing some phonemes incorrectly and/or missing the correct intonation patterns. The grammar of a particular language, in short, is a relatively easy trick to master in comparison to all the other things you need to learn in order to use it correctly, including speech genres and social conventions and so on.

I imagine that the McGurk effect would have something to do with what we learn during this time too.

Can you explain? I don't understand and my telepathy module seems to be broken :waah:
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#28  Postby ElDiablo » Nov 27, 2010 4:49 pm

:popcorn:
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#29  Postby Mr.Samsa » Nov 28, 2010 12:58 am

katja z wrote:I suppose that by »grammar-like phonemes« you mean basic structural features?


:nod:

katja z wrote:Grammar had been my first thought as well, probably because we've been discussing it quite a lot lately, but I what I had in mind when I wrote this had more to do with concept formation. This is the basis really, you don't need a means to organise symbols if you don't have symbols in the first place. I don't mean that one way of cutting reality up into conceptual chunks gets »wired in« (in the strong sense of »the limits of my language are the limits of my world«). Languages do do that in very different ways and that certainly shapes to some extent how reality is perceived – although we can readily step over those boundaries, either when learning a new language or when extending the conceptual map available in our own culture. I mean that you need some way of chunking reality and slapping labels on the chunks to form symbols you can then manipulate and play around with, if you're to have a functional human brain, able to interact with the culture around it. And the question was, is there anything that has to happen to the brain hardware in order for you to be able to do that, something that requires linguistic input from the environment (like it happens with the tuning of the sensory apparatus to pick up the relevant bits of auditory input). (I'm probably making a mess of explaining myself. Sorry.)


Hmm.. grammar obviously does rely on concept formation, but I would imagine that it's a particular instance of it that would be affected by a critical period, rather than concept formation in general. I think grammar (and phonemes, or language in general) is so complex that you have to learn the basics to the extent that they become concrete in your head and you can start to understand the rest of language from there. So as soon as you learn the fundamental phonemes of your mother language, the rest becomes a whole lot easier to learn, and obviously the more you learn then the more cemented the phonemes become.

katja z wrote:Of course, this question is only relevant if the critical period hypothesis does, indeed, hold. But as far as I'm aware this is based on feral children's problems with language acquisition, and I don't think in these cases you can separate the effects of language deprivation from the overall effects of the lack of interaction with other humans on general cognitive development. :dunno:


That's a good point about feral children, but I think that if a critical period doesn't exist in the traditional sense, then there is some other process which operates in a similar way as we need to explain why people who learn one language misinterpret the sounds of phonemes from other languages. For example, I think those who learn Asian languages tend to hear the letter "L" as an "R" sound.

katja z wrote:Anyway, to answer your question on grammar – although this has to do with second-language acquisition (which means that you already know one, and are therefore adept at using symbols and structuring them in elaborate patterns in some way) –, of course it is easier to pick up the grammar of a language closely related to your own, OR to another language you already know. But I would say this is simply because you don't have to start from scratch - transferring what you already know to the new language, maybe tweaking it slightly, takes a lot less time than learning new regularities. Funnily enough, although so much has been made of grammar, in my experience – warning: you're entering anecdotal territory – it can be more difficult to grasp differences in conceptualisation than those in structure (of course, the two often overlap: for example, how temporal relations between actions are conceptualised is directly linked to their grammatical expression). But even once people are fluent in every other aspect of a foreign language, they usually retain a foreign accent, producing some phonemes incorrectly and/or missing the correct intonation patterns. The grammar of a particular language, in short, is a relatively easy trick to master in comparison to all the other things you need to learn in order to use it correctly, including speech genres and social conventions and so on.


Indeed, I get that but what I meant by grammatical similarities was that whilst phonemes seem to be fairly language-specific, grammatical structures seem to be present in much broader groups, so spotting gramenes ( :grin: ) might be harder (or impossible?) as they won't be as obvious or as salient as difficulties understanding phonemes from other languages.

I don't know, just speculating :dunno:

katja z wrote:
I imagine that the McGurk effect would have something to do with what we learn during this time too.

Can you explain? I don't understand and my telepathy module seems to be broken :waah:


Sorry I thought you commented in the McGurk thread?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-lN8vWm3m0[/youtube]

Basically, when we transpose the audio from a person saying a word like "Bar" on top of the video of someone making an "F" gesture with his mouth, the audio that we physically hear changes from "bar" to "far" (as the result of a poorly resolved sensory conflict). My point was simply that during the time we're learning phonemes, and/or gramenes, we probably also learn these visual cues which permanently alter how we hear sounds and learn language.
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#30  Postby jez9999 » Nov 28, 2010 12:44 pm

Boy oh boy, that Horizon video was irritating. ALmost every time they switched to the video of him saying 'far', the fucking commentator woman started talking. How am I meant to concentrate on the test if you're talking over the top of it, bitch?!
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#31  Postby katja z » Nov 28, 2010 1:25 pm

Mr.Samsa wrote:
Hmm.. grammar obviously does rely on concept formation,

Uh, yes. What I was getting at (very ineffectively :tongue:) was that the ability for symbolic thought comes first, and provides the basis for the ability to string symbols together into regular patterns (grammar). You could have the first without the second, but not vice versa.

but I would imagine that it's a particular instance of it that would be affected by a critical period, rather than concept formation in general. I think grammar (and phonemes, or language in general) is so complex that you have to learn the basics to the extent that they become concrete in your head and you can start to understand the rest of language from there. So as soon as you learn the fundamental phonemes of your mother language, the rest becomes a whole lot easier to learn, and obviously the more you learn then the more cemented the phonemes become.

That would be about right. In fact, I'd argue that after you've learned the basics of one language, this helps you with any other language, because you are already able to "do language". So you're able to learn a completely different language even without a mediator (or else where did Cortes' interpreters come from?), starting from the scratch of nonlinguistic clues all over again like a baby, something feral children seem unable to do.

katja z wrote:Of course, this question is only relevant if the critical period hypothesis does, indeed, hold. But as far as I'm aware this is based on feral children's problems with language acquisition, and I don't think in these cases you can separate the effects of language deprivation from the overall effects of the lack of interaction with other humans on general cognitive development. :dunno:


That's a good point about feral children, but I think that if a critical period doesn't exist in the traditional sense, then there is some other process which operates in a similar way as we need to explain why people who learn one language misinterpret the sounds of phonemes from other languages. For example, I think those who learn Asian languages tend to hear the letter "L" as an "R" sound.

I was speaking about the validity of the critical periods for other aspects of language. In the case of phonemes, we know what and how it happens. It isn't an irreversible process though. It takes a lot of practice but it is perfectly possible to learn to hear new distinctions - and once you hear them, to produce them correctly enough to be functional, even though you'll probably realise the individual phonemes slightly differently from native speakers. Interestingly, there are vast individual differences here, with some people just having "the ear" for languages - I don't know what the reason is.

ETA: Just a thought, what about the critical period for sign language in deaf people? Has any work been done on that? I'll do some googling tomorrow, here in Mitteleuropa it's so late that it's already early ...

katja z wrote:
Indeed, I get that but what I meant by grammatical similarities was that whilst phonemes seem to be fairly language-specific, grammatical structures seem to be present in much broader groups, so spotting gramenes ( :grin: ) might be harder (or impossible?) as they won't be as obvious or as salient as difficulties understanding phonemes from other languages.

Hmm, it is with phonemes just as with grammatical features, some are widely distributed over a vast number of languages and some are more restricted to groups or even single languages (?). On the other hand, it is true that the phonetics of a language is probably the aspect that can change most rapidly (and at some point phonetic change will translate into a change in the phonemic system) so very often even two closely-related languages will be very similar in vocabulary and grammar but fairly different phonetically.

katja z wrote:
I imagine that the McGurk effect would have something to do with what we learn during this time too.

Can you explain? I don't understand and my telepathy module seems to be broken :waah:


Sorry I thought you commented in the McGurk thread?

(snip)

My point was simply that during the time we're learning phonemes, and/or gramenes, we probably also learn these visual cues which permanently alter how we hear sounds and learn language.

Thanks. I did comment there, I just didn't understand in what sense your remark was meant (that it was learnt during this time, or that it influenced learning, or ...).
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#32  Postby Mr.Samsa » Nov 29, 2010 4:03 am

jez9999 wrote:Boy oh boy, that Horizon video was irritating. ALmost every time they switched to the video of him saying 'far', the fucking commentator woman started talking. How am I meant to concentrate on the test if you're talking over the top of it, bitch?!


:lol: There are other videos on YouTube I think, I just picked that one as it goes on to explain what's happening.

katja z wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:
Hmm.. grammar obviously does rely on concept formation,

Uh, yes. What I was getting at (very ineffectively :tongue:) was that the ability for symbolic thought comes first, and provides the basis for the ability to string symbols together into regular patterns (grammar). You could have the first without the second, but not vice versa.


:nod: Agreed.

katja z wrote:That would be about right. In fact, I'd argue that after you've learned the basics of one language, this helps you with any other language, because you are already able to "do language". So you're able to learn a completely different language even without a mediator (or else where did Cortes' interpreters come from?), starting from the scratch of nonlinguistic clues all over again like a baby, something feral children seem unable to do.


True, to a degree, I think. On one hand, being able to use language effectively would be useful in learning a second language, but I also think it would make some aspects more difficult just as a result of having to forget old rules that don't apply to the new language and learn new ones. So I would probably think that it's easier to pick up a language from scratch, or your first language, than it is to pick up a second language.

katja z wrote:I was speaking about the validity of the critical periods for other aspects of language. In the case of phonemes, we know what and how it happens. It isn't an irreversible process though. It takes a lot of practice but it is perfectly possible to learn to hear new distinctions - and once you hear them, to produce them correctly enough to be functional, even though you'll probably realise the individual phonemes slightly differently from native speakers. Interestingly, there are vast individual differences here, with some people just having "the ear" for languages - I don't know what the reason is.


Yeah I've noticed the "ear for languages" thing too, and it's certainly interesting. I wonder if it's a result of a loosely formed concept class for their own language's phonemes (so phonemes from other languages can slip in easily), or whether they have exposure to other languages at a young age and so have the basic skills needed to pick it up..

katja z wrote:ETA: Just a thought, what about the critical period for sign language in deaf people? Has any work been done on that? I'll do some googling tomorrow, here in Mitteleuropa it's so late that it's already early ...


I'm sure that it is the case: http://www.unisci.com/stories/20021/0104026.htm

The basic rule of neuroscience is use it or lose it. If you don't use the areas of the brain set up for language use then it gets reappropriated by another function or deteriorates. (And obviously sign language uses the same brain structures as verbal language).

katja z wrote:Hmm, it is with phonemes just as with grammatical features, some are widely distributed over a vast number of languages and some are more restricted to groups or even single languages (?). On the other hand, it is true that the phonetics of a language is probably the aspect that can change most rapidly (and at some point phonetic change will translate into a change in the phonemic system) so very often even two closely-related languages will be very similar in vocabulary and grammar but fairly different phonetically.


Good points..
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#33  Postby katja z » Nov 29, 2010 11:01 pm

Mr.Samsa wrote:
katja z wrote:That would be about right. In fact, I'd argue that after you've learned the basics of one language, this helps you with any other language, because you are already able to "do language". So you're able to learn a completely different language even without a mediator (or else where did Cortes' interpreters come from?), starting from the scratch of nonlinguistic clues all over again like a baby, something feral children seem unable to do.


True, to a degree, I think. On one hand, being able to use language effectively would be useful in learning a second language, but I also think it would make some aspects more difficult just as a result of having to forget old rules that don't apply to the new language and learn new ones. So I would probably think that it's easier to pick up a language from scratch, or your first language, than it is to pick up a second language.

With the caveat that you shouldn't wait too long with your first one, or you might never learn any !

Although in the light of your remark about "use it or lose it", this critical period might be more about reserving a portion of your brain (metaphorically speaking)for tasks connected with language rather than about developing any positive linguistic skills as such. :think:

katja z wrote:
Yeah I've noticed the "ear for languages" thing too, and it's certainly interesting. I wonder if it's a result of a loosely formed concept class for their own language's phonemes (so phonemes from other languages can slip in easily), or whether they have exposure to other languages at a young age and so have the basic skills needed to pick it up..


Do you mean that this remarkable ability could be a consequence of a failure to streamline your neural connections? :lol: But, with all that we can learn, I'd be surprised if we couldn't (re)train the ear to hear new distinctions (again), just like painters get very good with colours, or oenologists with taste, etc - I don't think we need to assume early exposure to other languages as the determining factor.

katja z wrote:ETA: Just a thought, what about the critical period for sign language in deaf people? Has any work been done on that? I'll do some googling tomorrow, here in Mitteleuropa it's so late that it's already early ...


I'm sure that it is the case: http://www.unisci.com/stories/20021/0104026.htm

Thanks! :cheers: Interesting stuff. Of course, all of this is a bit indirect, but I imagine it would be difficult to get funding for a serious experiment on growing up wholly without language, with a reasonable sample size and everything. A modest proposal: Maybe there is a way to get test subjects. If more evil atheists went vegetarian ... ;)

I've found this bit especially interesting:
The new study shows consistent activation of the right angular gyrus among native signers and some, but not consistent, activation of that brain region among late signers.

So some late signers do manage to use precisely the same brain areas as native signers; the article doesn't say it explicitly, but presumably this is connected with reaching native-like fluency.

The basic rule of neuroscience is use it or lose it. If you don't use the areas of the brain set up for language use then it gets reappropriated by another function or deteriorates. (And obviously sign language uses the same brain structures as verbal language).


Well, except for the sensory apparatus, and that's quite a big "except", even though it "only" involves the usual material basis for language. But otherwise sign language has the same properties as verbal language, down to the duality of patterning, so it isn't suprising that it involves the same brain structures.
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#34  Postby Mr.Samsa » Nov 29, 2010 11:16 pm

katja z wrote:With the caveat that you shouldn't wait too long with your first one, or you might never learn any !


Nah, I'm super smart. I reckon I could pick up my first language at 40! :awesome:

Incidentally, I was a fairly late bloomer when it came to language, I didn't start speaking until I was 5. But me being able to pick it up fairly well was most likely due to luck than intelligence though :lol:

katja z wrote:Although in the light of your remark about "use it or lose it", this critical period might be more about reserving a portion of your brain (metaphorically speaking)for tasks connected with language rather than about developing any positive linguistic skills as such. :think:


:nod: Could be! I don't know enough about it to know, but I like lateral thinking like that.

katja z wrote:

Yeah I've noticed the "ear for languages" thing too, and it's certainly interesting. I wonder if it's a result of a loosely formed concept class for their own language's phonemes (so phonemes from other languages can slip in easily), or whether they have exposure to other languages at a young age and so have the basic skills needed to pick it up..


Do you mean that this remarkable ability could be a consequence of a failure to streamline your neural connections? :lol:


Yep, a lot of our creative and novel behaviors come about as a result of poor stimulus control, and the behavior can overgeneralise to other situations. Problem solving is an example of poor stimulus control, where we apply solutions from one situation to a completely novel problem. So I don't see why the same concept couldn't be applied to language.

katja z wrote:But, with all that we can learn, I'd be surprised if we couldn't (re)train the ear to hear new distinctions (again), just like painters get very good with colours, or oenologists with taste, etc - I don't think we need to assume early exposure to other languages as the determining factor.


Probably true, and I think I had this discussion with some a while back.. :think: Oh no, I think I was discussing teaching people perfect pitch. Same idea though, I imagine.

katja z wrote:
katja z wrote:ETA: Just a thought, what about the critical period for sign language in deaf people? Has any work been done on that? I'll do some googling tomorrow, here in Mitteleuropa it's so late that it's already early ...


I'm sure that it is the case: http://www.unisci.com/stories/20021/0104026.htm

Thanks! :cheers: Interesting stuff. Of course, all of this is a bit indirect, but I imagine it would be difficult to get funding for a serious experiment on growing up wholly without language, with a reasonable sample size and everything. A modest proposal: Maybe there is a way to get test subjects. If more evil atheists went vegetarian ... ;)


:lol: You don't know how much I'd love to enter an ethics approval submission that asked for 20 children taken from their mothers without socialisation, so I could raised them from birth in a controlled environment... Partly because it'd be funny to see what their reaction would be, but partly because if they approved it then I could carry out a really interesting experiment... :shifty:

katja z wrote:I've found this bit especially interesting:
The new study shows consistent activation of the right angular gyrus among native signers and some, but not consistent, activation of that brain region among late signers.

So some late signers do manage to use precisely the same brain areas as native signers; the article doesn't say it explicitly, but presumably this is connected with reaching native-like fluency.


I think the comment there says that the late signers used the same areas of the brain, but the "some" refers to the activation rather than the amount of people who use it. That is, the difference between the two groups is that the late signers don't show consistent activation of that brain region (as opposed to some late signers using that brain region, and some not).
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#35  Postby katja z » Nov 30, 2010 9:36 am

Mr.Samsa wrote:
Yep, a lot of our creative and novel behaviors come about as a result of poor stimulus control, and the behavior can overgeneralise to other situations. Problem solving is an example of poor stimulus control, where we apply solutions from one situation to a completely novel problem. So I don't see why the same concept couldn't be applied to language.


:shock: Let me see if I've got this right. Problem solving comes about as a result of botched learning processes?? Now I'm thoroughly confused. Especially because I seem to remember you saying (on another thread) something to the effect that people can be trained to behave creatively. And because I thought humans were supposed to be excellent learners, but now you seem to be saying that we are great at not learning very effectively, which results in, well, effective behaviour in novel situations ... :scratch:

:nod: Could be! I don't know enough about it to know, but I like lateral thinking like that.

Yes, I like the results of poor stimulus control as well. :tongue:

katja z wrote:But, with all that we can learn, I'd be surprised if we couldn't (re)train the ear to hear new distinctions (again), just like painters get very good with colours, or oenologists with taste, etc - I don't think we need to assume early exposure to other languages as the determining factor.


Probably true, and I think I had this discussion with some a while back.. :think: Oh no, I think I was discussing teaching people perfect pitch. Same idea though, I imagine.

I've never thought of the two as connected, but it makes sense. Vowels, after all, are distinguished on the basis of signature frequencies (formants).

katja z wrote:I've found this bit especially interesting:
The new study shows consistent activation of the right angular gyrus among native signers and some, but not consistent, activation of that brain region among late signers.

So some late signers do manage to use precisely the same brain areas as native signers; the article doesn't say it explicitly, but presumably this is connected with reaching native-like fluency.


I think the comment there says that the late signers used the same areas of the brain, but the "some" refers to the activation rather than the amount of people who use it. That is, the difference between the two groups is that the late signers don't show consistent activation of that brain region (as opposed to some late signers using that brain region, and some not).


But if you're right, if these late signers can use this specific area sometimes, why not always? Doesn't make sense to me. On the other hand, we know that some (although rare) late learners do achieve native-like fluency in their second language (depending, however, on how you define "native-like fluency" - it isn't too clear a measure of language proficiency but what it certainly doesn't mean is "knowing the language inside out", because in this case many native speakers wouldn't fulfill the criteria!).
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#36  Postby Mr.Samsa » Nov 30, 2010 12:00 pm

katja z wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:
Yep, a lot of our creative and novel behaviors come about as a result of poor stimulus control, and the behavior can overgeneralise to other situations. Problem solving is an example of poor stimulus control, where we apply solutions from one situation to a completely novel problem. So I don't see why the same concept couldn't be applied to language.


:shock: Let me see if I've got this right. Problem solving comes about as a result of botched learning processes?? Now I'm thoroughly confused. Especially because I seem to remember you saying (on another thread) something to the effect that people can be trained to behave creatively. And because I thought humans were supposed to be excellent learners, but now you seem to be saying that we are great at not learning very effectively, which results in, well, effective behaviour in novel situations ... :scratch:


Yes, pretty much. The process by which learning operates on is a selectionist process, like natural selection. Think of the "botched" learning mechanism as a form of fidelity, like a mutation rate in evolution, it's necessary for there to be errors in order for variation to arise - but obviously this error rate can't be too high, otherwise there would be no order or structure and the whole thing would collapse.

If we were "perfect" learners, and say we learnt that a red light means press the lever 50 times or whatever, then the associations we make would be to that specific stimulus and that stimulus only, and every time we saw it we would respond 50 times. When presented with an almost identical red light, but not the original, we wouldn't know what to do with it. We'd have to learn all over again that we have to respond 50 times in order to get our reward or whatever.

To bypass this cumbersome and expensive process, there are errors in learning. For example, our learning "fails" to perfectly capture every feature of the red light, so when we're presented with a similar stimulus, we respond as if it were the original stimulus. In addition, we also respond to stimuli which are similar but not identical to the original, so we might respond, to a lesser degree, to an orange or yellow light. This is an "error" or "failure" in learning, but it's necessary in order for us to function successfully. These errors form generalisations and allow us to make associations with similar concepts without having to explicitly learn them - like language for example, instead of learning a generalised grammatical rule and overapplying it to concepts (like "runned" and "drinked"), a perfect learner would have to learn the grammatical rule every time we learn a new word.

katja z wrote:
:nod: Could be! I don't know enough about it to know, but I like lateral thinking like that.

Yes, I like the results of poor stimulus control as well. :tongue:


:tehe:

katja z wrote:
katja z wrote:But, with all that we can learn, I'd be surprised if we couldn't (re)train the ear to hear new distinctions (again), just like painters get very good with colours, or oenologists with taste, etc - I don't think we need to assume early exposure to other languages as the determining factor.


Probably true, and I think I had this discussion with some a while back.. :think: Oh no, I think I was discussing teaching people perfect pitch. Same idea though, I imagine.

I've never thought of the two as connected, but it makes sense. Vowels, after all, are distinguished on the basis of signature frequencies (formants).


And, as far as I'm aware, notes have a kind of "critical period" like phonemes do too. I think Oliver Sacks discusses this idea in one of his books.

katja z wrote:But if you're right, if these late signers can use this specific area sometimes, why not always? Doesn't make sense to me.


It's just imperfect control, I imagine. If you suddenly take up a sport that required hand-eye coordination, you'd probably light up the same parts of your brain as a professional athlete would, but there would be less activation.

katja z wrote:On the other hand, we know that some (although rare) late learners do achieve native-like fluency in their second language (depending, however, on how you define "native-like fluency" - it isn't too clear a measure of language proficiency but what it certainly doesn't mean is "knowing the language inside out", because in this case many native speakers wouldn't fulfill the criteria!).


True, and I imagine those speakers would have similar activation rates as native speakers.
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#37  Postby katja z » Nov 30, 2010 12:20 pm

Thanks for the explanations about learning. :cheers:

katja z wrote:On the other hand, we know that some (although rare) late learners do achieve native-like fluency in their second language (depending, however, on how you define "native-like fluency" - it isn't too clear a measure of language proficiency but what it certainly doesn't mean is "knowing the language inside out", because in this case many native speakers wouldn't fulfill the criteria!).


True, and I imagine those speakers would have similar activation rates as native speakers.

Wouldn't that mean that the "critical" period is not so critical after all and shouldn't be understood in absolute terms but rather as the optimal time window for learning?
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#38  Postby Mr.Samsa » Nov 30, 2010 12:31 pm

katja z wrote:
katja z wrote:On the other hand, we know that some (although rare) late learners do achieve native-like fluency in their second language (depending, however, on how you define "native-like fluency" - it isn't too clear a measure of language proficiency but what it certainly doesn't mean is "knowing the language inside out", because in this case many native speakers wouldn't fulfill the criteria!).


True, and I imagine those speakers would have similar activation rates as native speakers.

Wouldn't that mean that the "critical" period is not so critical after all and shouldn't be understood in absolute terms but rather as the optimal time window for learning?


It depends on what you mean by "late learners"? I thought you meant late learners, but still within the critical period time frame. It might be more accurate to view it as an "optimal time window" but I think it's been impossible for individuals to learn language after a certain age.
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#39  Postby katja z » Nov 30, 2010 12:52 pm

Mr.Samsa wrote:
katja z wrote:


True, and I imagine those speakers would have similar activation rates as native speakers.

Wouldn't that mean that the "critical" period is not so critical after all and shouldn't be understood in absolute terms but rather as the optimal time window for learning?


It depends on what you mean by "late learners"? I thought you meant late learners, but still within the critical period time frame. It might be more accurate to view it as an "optimal time window" but I think it's been impossible for individuals to learn language after a certain age.

No, I was going by the distinction made in the article you linked, between people who acquired ASL before puberty (early/native learners), and after. All of them were bilingual, however:
The study involved 27 bilingual subjects. Sixteen were hearing persons born to deaf parents. They learned ASL and English from birth as native languages. The remaining 11 were the late learners who had English as their native language and learned ASL after puberty, in early adulthood.


So this study is about native vs. late acquisition, not about early vs. late acquisition of the first language. That's why I said this was only indirect evidence. We can't really acquire hard data about the effects of late (post-puberty) acquisition of the first language short of the kind of experiment you suggested above :tongue:
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Re: Human Brain Evolution: ASPM and FOXP2

#40  Postby Mr.Samsa » Nov 30, 2010 1:01 pm

katja z wrote:No, I was going by the distinction made in the article you linked, between people who acquired ASL before puberty (early/native learners), and after. All of them were bilingual, however:
The study involved 27 bilingual subjects. Sixteen were hearing persons born to deaf parents. They learned ASL and English from birth as native languages. The remaining 11 were the late learners who had English as their native language and learned ASL after puberty, in early adulthood.


So this study is about native vs. late acquisition, not about early vs. late acquisition of the first language. That's why I said this was only indirect evidence. We can't really acquire hard data about the effects of late (post-puberty) acquisition of the first language short of the kind of experiment you suggested above :tongue:


True, I hadn't read that far down.. I don't think we could say much about what it suggests though, since they are effectively learning a second language and not "late-learners" in the sense of a critical period.
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