Streeeetch Your Mind!
Key to No. 14: Language Quiz
Question 1 was, “Which scientist argues that language is not an adaptation?”
Charles Darwin was the English naturalist who first thought of the concept of natural selection. Richard Dawkins is a well-known evolutionary theorist and critically acclaimed science writer. Leda Cosmides is one proponent of a new field called evolutionary psychology, which studies the adaptive nature of innate behaviors. Stephen Jay Gould, an American paleontologist, has long criticized the philosophy of “adaptationism” in evolutionary biology; he argues that the human language capacity is not an adaptation, but rather is the byproduct of other processes.
The correct answer is d: Stephen Jay Gould.
Question 2 was, “What is the hypothesized function of the grammar module?”
Storing lists of vocabulary words and remembering irregular words, idioms, expressions, etc. are both functions of the mental dictionary. Humans do not have an innate mechanism allowing them to learn foreign languages, though the grammar module can help in this if the process is started early enough. The main function of the grammar module is to identify and use grammatical rules present in a given language.
The correct answer is c: To recognize and apply normal grammatical rules.
Question 3 was, “What is the hypothesized function of the mental dictionary?”
Humans do not have an innate ability to detect the parts of speech of words, and many times people are unaware of the grammatical structures they use every day. Our mental dictionaries do indeed alert us when we know someone used a word incorrectly, but this is not their main function. The mental dictionary also does not preferentially record words in specific languages. The mental dictionary’s function is to keep a catalog of words, idioms, expressions, etc. and their meanings and usages.
The correct answer is a: To store vocabulary words and idioms.
Question 4 was, “Why do most people have difficulty learning a foreign language after puberty?”
Most people have trouble learning a language after puberty because their brains are no longer in the mode of extremely rapid learning present in children. Children are designed to take in as much information as possible from the environment, therefore, a period of linguistic plasticity exists during which the capacity for learning a language is at its height.
The answer is d: The period of “linguistic plasticity” has passed, and the brain’s language module is less receptive to new information.
Question 5 was, “What is Specific Language Impairment (SLI)?”
Specific Language Impairment (SLI) is a rare genetic disorder that causes people to have greater difficulty internalizing rules of grammar. People with SLI have to consciously recall ordinary grammatical rules and often fail simple linguistic tests passed by young children. However, their general intelligence is not usually impaired.
The correct answer is b: A genetic impairment of language acquisition ability.
Question 6 was, “In which example is language seen as an integral part of culture?”
The first three examples – no longer conducting church services in Latin, publishing information in two languages, and taking a language course to fulfill a requirement – are all examples of not seeing language as an integral part of culture. In these scenarios, language is seen as a dispensable part of the activity (the first example), or as a means to an end (the second two). In the final example – teaching Hebrew in Jewish schools – the Hebrew language is being seen as an important element of Jewish culture and tradition.
The answer is d: Hebrew is taught in private Jewish schools.
Question 7 was, “Which dialect has ignited controversy over its proper use in American schools?”
Yiddish and British English are not controversial languages in American school systems. Spanish bilingual education is sometimes controversial, but Spanish is not a dialect. Ebonics – the dialect of English spoken by many black Americans – has become an issue in American education because some teachers think its grammar and structure should be taught in place of or alongside standard American English.
The correct answer is a: Ebonics.
Question 8 was, “What is a logographic writing system?”
A logographic writing system uses symbols to depict words. A syllabary uses symbols to represent syllables, and an alphabetic system uses symbols to represent sounds. Many languages with differing systems supplement text with images.
The correct answer is a: A system that uses symbols to represent words.
Question 9 was, “Which type of writing system is generally most efficient and adaptable?”
There is no such thing as a logomorphic writing system. Logographic systems become cumbersome because new words cannot easily be invented, compound words and complex syntax are not easy to represent, and little indication of pronunciation is provided, and the characters take years to learn. Syllabaries are an efficient system only in a few languages with consistent sound combinations. Alphabetic systems are the least immediately intuitive but most adaptable, since new or compound words and complex syntax can be easily represented, spelling is (usually) keyed to pronunciation, and letters take relatively little time to learn.
The answer is d: Alphabetic.
Question 10 was, “Why is the alphabetic system vulnerable to regional variations in pronunciation?”
Alphabetic writing systems can but do not have to have standardized spellings. They are the most efficient writing system for most languages because they are adaptable and easy to learn. The spellings of words are keyed to their pronunciations and therefore variation in pronunciation can lead to variant spelling forms.
Thus the answer is b: Alphabetic systems use the sound of a word to determine its spelling.
Question 11 was, “How might illogical or inconsistent spelling flourish?”
Illogical or inconsistent spellings flourish for a variety of reasons. They can give status to the people who conform to the rules by indicating that these people are well-educated or have good memories. Dictionaries and other language authorities can keep a spelling alive that might otherwise have been discarded, and conformance to accepted practices (even if they are illogical) can indicate formality or authority.
Thus the correct answer is d: All of the above.
Question 12 was, “Which two languages are most closely related?”
English and German are quite closely related in grammar; English is classified as a Germanic language. Portuguese and Japanese are not related very closely at all; neither are Chinese and Sanskrit or Russian and Spanish.
The correct answer is a: English and German.