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April D.

Adams EN 721
July 23, 2000
Altmann, G. T. M. (1999). The Ascent of Babel: An exploration of language, mind, and understanding. New York: Oxford University Press. How do infants (and fetuses) learn language? How do children learn words? When do we start producing grammatical sentences? How do we access words in our lexicon? Garry Altmann answers these and other burning questions about language in The Ascent of Babel. Unlike a typical textbook, this is a very reader-friendly, and lighthearted introduction to psycholinguistics that also covers current issues in the field. In it, Altmann examines the mental processes that underlie our use of language while tracing the origins and development of language from sound to meaning, and more. In many ways, he reminds me of Pinker in the way he makes the scientific aspects of psycholinguistics accessible. I highly recommend this book.

Contents
1. Looking towards Babel 2. Babies, birth, and language 3. Chinchillas do it too 4. Words, and what we learn to do with them 5. Organizing the dictionary 6. Words, and how we (eventually) find them 7. Time flies like an arrow 8. On the meaning of meaning 9. Exercising the vocal organs 10. The written word 11. When it all goes wrong 12. Wiring-up a brain 13. The descent from Babel Chapter One. Includes: the origins of psycholinguistics, Chomsky’s influence, how the field of linguistics provided psycholinguistics with a vocabulary to talk about language, the ways sounds, words, and sentences are constructed. Chapter Two. Includes: how a baby can make sense of sounds in utero, prenatal learning, how the baby learns to distinguish patterns in sounds, how it associates meaning with sounds, how it produces new patterns of sounds, nonnutritive sucking and priming sound experiments.

derivational affixes. sketching-out process. inflectional affixes. queuing and buffering. speech errors and word position changes. Chapter Four.” analysis of the earliest speech spoken to infants and young children. error-blending words. levels of meaning. words and their combinations. . conventions. conveying meaning. Chapter Six. sentence structure. chunking (one of my favorite chapters). introduction of phonetic symbols. Includes: how children learn about words. internal constituents of a language. Chapter Ten. Chapter Five. phoneme exchanges. Includes: neural activity and meaning. what constrains the child’s interpretation of each word it hears. syllabaries. Chapter Nine. questions and answers. end-of-turn cues. Chapter Seven. lexical entries and the meanings of words. meanings of combinations of words. individual word meanings. Includes: historical look at early writing. ambiguity. phoneme boundaries and fast talking. two-step process to conveying information. role assignments. prosodic characteristics. reading and listening to sentences. accessing and recognizing a word. pronouns. ambiguities. language constraints. children’s vocabulary development. Includes: speech production process. syllable monitoring. animal perception. Includes: grammatical conventions. children’s pretend play. neural circuitry. Chapter Eight. prosody and ambiguity. experiments with “puppet talk. what constitutes the access code. choosing words. knowledge of syntactic categories. sentences and mental models. age variables. first language acquisition. word exchanges. Includes: phonemes. Includes: how meaning is arrived at. McGurk study--what we hear is what we hear (or what we see). acoustic mismatching. process of accessing/activating the mental lexicon. acquisition of nouns and verbs. sentence processing. Includes: the mental lexicon. development of sound-based writing system. Includes: morphemes—stems. sentences processing and interpretations. the ability to tell one sound apart from another. conversation. priming studies to activate lexical entries. coarticulation of sounds and smallest details. prediction and experimentation in understanding language. how words are accessed. prediction and meaning. understanding a sentence. voice onset time. use of symbols to refer to words that referred to things.Chapter Three. evolution of writing systems. Chapter Eleven. critical period (one of my favorite chapters). Chomsky and Pinker’s theories of acquisition of grammar. ordering words in different stages of the production process. concept of meaning. understanding utterances.

left/right hemispheres. brain wiring. Includes: language evolution. methods of teaching reading. dyslexias. saccades (jumps) and fixation times. deficits—aphasias.modern alphabets. other impairments. how children learn to read. Includes: the brain. Indo-European languages. . neural networks and predictive information. reading process. Includes: neural networks. artificial network. Chapter Fourteen. Chapter Twelve. diversity of languages. eye movements. Chapter Thirteen. Greek and Roman alphabets.