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Language and Memory Paper

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Language and Memory

Psych. 560
June 22, 2013
Prof. Pitt

Language and Memory Language is a very interesting topic of exploration. Humans are one of the only animals in the natural world that are capable of producing language. Although other animals are capable of communicating or even just producing vocalizations/sounds, they generally do not count as having language. Many scientists and psychologists have debated the reasons why language is unique to humans and have come up with very different interpretations. However, one major hypothesis relates to the relationship between semantic memory and language production. This paper explores the nature and function of semantic memory, the basic functions of language, and stages in its production. Ultimately, this paper connects the two, explaining how humans’ possession of semantic memory may be the reason humans can produce language
Nature and Function of Semantic Memory Semantic memory itself has been discussed extensively in the psychological literature. Specifically, it refers to particular memories that focus on meanings, understandings, and concepts. Unlike episodic memory, semantic memory focuses on things that are not specific to particular experiences. In other words, semantic memory would not include remembering what a person ate the previous day or what clothes someone was wearing. Instead, semantic memory would include things like remembering that dogs are animals and that desks are inanimate objects. These are both general, overarching concepts that people store in their semantic memory. On a larger scale, semantic memory is actually a subdivision of declarative memory and distinct from procedural or implicit memory. There are many functions of semantic memory. The main function is to allow people to put their experiences into perspective or into a context, so they know what is normal and what is strange. For example, semantic memory allows people to understand that it is logical to see animals move around but illogical to see chairs moving around by themselves. This perception of normal and abnormal enables people to make rational judgments about their surroundings so that they can stay safe and alive. For example, if a person sees a building falling down, he or she will know that this is abnormal and that he or she should take cover to stay safe. Moreover, semantic memory also functions to put things into an intellectual context. In essence, semantic memory allows people to remember particular facts that were learned previously and apply them to novel situations when necessary.
Functions of Language Language itself has been defined in many ways, and one of the most prominent theories is that of Roman Jakobson. He developed what is now called the “Jakobson’s functions of language,” which are six functions that he asserts language possesses (Waugh, 1980). The first function is the “referential function,” which refers to the use of language to describe a situation, object, or mental state. Next, there is the “expressive function,” which relates to the use of language to communicate the speaker’s internal state through the way something is said and not the words themselves. In contrast, the next use, the “co native function,” does not seek to articulate any factual information but rather engages the listener directly through imperatives. Additionally, the “poetic function” involves the use of language to convey a message for the message’s sake, for example, in poetry and in slogans. The “phatic function” is completely unlike any other of the other functions, as this one refers to the use of language in casual conversation. Finally, the “metalingual function” describes the use of language to describe itself. All in all, Jakobson’s functions propose the purpose of language is simply communication, although the forms and situations that demand communication are particularly diverse.
Language Production Stages
Given this complexity of language, language production must also be equally complex. Language production occurs in sequential stages. First, information moves from a person’s consciousness to the linguistic centers of the brain to be encoded into language-form. This usually occurs near what is called Broca’s area, which is located in the posterior inferior frontal gyrus of the brain (Dronkers et al., 2007). In this region of the brain, information derived from the person’s consciousness is made into a language form by a process that is still not yet understood. This process is called conceptualization. Broca’s area then sends out information through motor neurons to the face and vocal cords to set off the correct combination of events to produce language. The process of translating the concept or idea into the correct neuron instructions represents the formulation stage. Finally, the last stage is articulation, which describes the coordination of the appropriate motor events to produce the sound. This coordination is very precise and must be perfect to ensure proper production of the language. There are many different parts of the body involved with this step, including the lungs, glottis, tongue, lips, jaw, and larynx. Any interruption at any stage of the production pathway can result in problems with language production. For example, Broca’s aphasia – caused by damage to Broca’s area – leads to the inability to produce comprehensible language.
Relationship between Semantic Memory and Language Production The relationship between semantic memory and language production is clear and complex. First of all, semantic memory assists with the conceptualization process. Without semantic memory, thoughts and ideas could not be translated into their corresponding words for communication purposes. If this conceptualization process did not occur, then language production would cease because the thoughts and ideas would never be able to leave the brain. In this sense, language is fundamentally based on semantic memory. The whole system of words with meaning depends on humans’ ability to match words with their appropriate, semantic meaning. Moreover, semantic memory ensures that the words produced fit into a logical paradigm and make sense. Even after saying something, most people think again – hearing what they have said – to make sure that their own utterances are logical. This additional step is another check to ensure proper language production. Semantic memory functions in this situation by helping ensure that language production is appropriate and comprehensible.
Conclusion
Ultimately, language is a very interesting topic to study, as it is one of humans’ unique abilities compared to the rest of the animals in the natural world. Although there are many theories about why this is so, humans’ presence of semantic memory could very well be one of the factors involved. Psychologists will continue to conduct more research and, over time, will make significant progress toward elucidating these reasons. In the meantime, we, as humans, can only wait to find out what the newest advances in research will show.

References
Dronkers, N. F., Plaisant, O., Iba-Zizen, M. T., & Cabanis, E. A. (2007). Paul Broca's historic cases: High resolution MR imaging of the brains of Leborgne and Lelong. Brain, 130, 1432-1441.
Waugh, L. R. (1980). The poetic function in the theory of Roman Jakobson. Poetics Today, 2, 57-82.…...

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