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What Has Been Learned About The Language Faculty From Notes

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What has been learned about the language faculty from 'slips of the tongue'?

In the second half of the twentieth century, psycholinguists began to show interest in 'slips of the tongue' or speech errors, seemingly arbitrary deviations from the intended form of an utterance, especially since they could provide evidence for a separate language faculty in the brain. o It was Chomsky who, in 1965, defined linguistic competence as the system of knowledge a native speaker has of their language, but he contrasted competence with performance, stating that our knowledge is unaffected by 'grammatically irrelevant conditions' such as speech errors. o However, in 1971, Fromkin's article, 'The non-anomalous nature of anomalous utterances', viewed speech errors in a more systematic light. Her studies found a regularity of certain types of error, with particular constraints, and she concluded that errors are, in fact, significant for constructing performance models, which may reveal an underlying structure of linguistic competence. o Although Fromkin's model was quite abstract, it laid the foundations for more recent research which has gone further in suggesting errors provide evidence for a language faculty in the brain. We will explore both Fromkin's model and more recent studies, considering the implications of all research in order to assess whether speech errors are of an explanatory nature or can be dismissed as inconclusive.


From Fromkin's corpus of 600 errors, a number of conclusions were drawn that have pointed researchers in the right direction as regards the organisation of speech and its production processes in the brain. o Her key finding was that errors provide evidence for the existence of discrete linguistic units, including features, phonemes, morphemes and syllables. Stating that many of the segments that move and change in errors are those postulated by linguistic theories, these units would appear to be psychologically real, and are represented at an abstract level in a hierarchical structure based on their size.
 For example, the majority of the data showed segments the size of a phoneme being substituted, omitted, added or moved:
- Try and take  tie and take (elision)
- Also share  alsho share (anticipation) It is notable too that consonants and vowels are not confused, which would imply a classificatory structure of sounds. Units smaller than the segments above can be identified, implicating the reality of phonological features, which can constitute independent elements of speech production. Within sconsonant-vowel categories, it seems that phonetic similarity is a condition for confusion, e.g. tip down  dip town (transposition of dental stops).
 Speech errors appear to obey complex linguistic rules, including phonetic constraints on permissible sequences of sounds and morphophonemic constraints on pronunciation: plant the seeds  plan the seats ([dz]  [ts] since [tz] cannot occur as a final consonant cluster). Since errors affect units of the same order, or nature, Fromkin suggested this revealed a structured mental lexicon too. Lexical selection errors ('my thesis is too long'  'my thesis is too short')

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