521-Class 22

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Cognitive Consequences of Literacy

Readings: Clark (1998); Cuninghman & Stanovich (2001); Optional: the McWhorter chapter The first reading by Clark synthesizes many of the ideas we've been talking about. The language is a bit convoluted in some parts, but give it a shot. Focus on sections 2 and 3. Don't get bogged down in who thinks what (Dennett, Carruthers, etc.).

Study Questions

Clark - Magic Words

  • Clark's examples of how language augments computation are quite general, applying to all forms of language. Which of the examples he gives are most relevant to written language?
  • In what ways is written more effective / less effective in augmenting
  • What does the word and mangroves metaphor getting at? What about the flies not knowing when they should flap their wings? (in the part titled "attention and resource allocation")
  • Think about Clark's points about what he calls "taming the path dependence" How do you think idea relates to people teaching things to one another?
  • Clark writes "as soon as we formulate a thought in words (or on paper), it becomes an object for both ourselves and for others." Can you think of some ways in which this argument applies especially to written language?

Cunningham & Stanovich

  • What are the authors getting at in mentioning the Matthew effect (“rich-get-richer and poor-get-poorer”)?
  • Does reading contribute more to individual differences in vocabulary than oral language? Why?
  • You should understand what’s being shown in the 3 tables.
  • What are some of the consequences the authors discuss of reading volume on verbal skills? declarative knowledge?
  • On what basis do the authors predict that positive cognitive consequences of reading volume?
  • What are some additional cognitive consequences of literacy might you predict based on Clark's chapter and what we’ve previously discussed in class about cognitive consequences of language more generally?

Take home points

  • Much of what we know, we learned through, especially written, language.
  • It's not just about learning facts. Many words only occur in written language. The more you read, the more likely you are to know these words.
  • But so what? Who cares about knowing some words? If words help us think (thinking back to previous classes and the idea of words as lenses), then knowing a word is having a particular lens.
  • practice with the more complex structure (specifically syntax) and more complex words of written language may help to stabilize more complex ideas.