Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Getting Ready for Experiments

This morning I woke up on time (luckily), and went down to breakfast, where I met up with Esin and Sheila. Esin is taking Green Business and sustainability with Oyin, and Sheila is taking the Physics of Stars. We know each other because we have the same RA. After a quick breakfast, I went to class. 

Today in class we discussed more about language and Cassie asked us some basic questions about languages that were surprisingly difficult to answer simply. These were questions like, "Who has language?", and "When does someone have a language?” 

Before we could start answering these questions, she told us to put everything on our desks away because we were about to start our first pop quiz. This is the first of three that we have been promised. I did not think the test was too hard, but we will get the results tomorrow. It was quick, about fifteen questions in ten minutes about for everybody to finish. Some were multiple choice, and others were short answer, but all of the questions were on subjects that we had definitely learned in class. Some of the harder questions for me were putting a name to an experiment because that is more memorization than anything. Hopefully I did well, and I will find out tomorrow.

Alex the African Grey Parrot
 We discussed much more about language today, and what constitutes language. A lot of the first half of the day was spent speculating about special cases where animals seem to be able to speak (in the case on an African Grey Parrot), or sign (in the case of an orangutan). These animals were able to answer simple questions and communicate to some extent with humans, which was just amazing to me. Later though, we discussed if what these animals were doing could be considered language. In the end, one of the stronger arguments I came up with for why it should not be considered language is because while these animals can use it to communicate with humans, they do not use sign, or human language to communicate with their own kind. They already have their own species-specific form of communication that we do not consider language. They have no need to communicate with each other with what humans consider language if they already have their own system. Some of the things we use to define language are syntax and grammar. 

Chantek the signing orangutan

 After this language discussion, we broke for lunch. Instead of going to the dining hall like usual, Eugenia, Catherine and I went to a cafe in the quad. I bought pad Thai and tea, and we ate on the grass. Back in class again, we spent the rest of our time in our research groups, finalizing our scripts, questionnaires, consent forms, etc., for the experiments. We were told that we would probably have about six participants to work with for our study. Since we are all very knew to this experience in our group, less kids is probably better and more controlled. I feel nervous to start the experiment, but also excited because it allows us as students to become much more involved in what we are learning. We are also writing a research paper on our study, so it is like a mini version of an actual study with a research paper that gets published. 

We were allowed to leave at around four, and I walked back to the dorms to Dani's room where the four girls in the cohort worked on homework together. Soon, it was six o'clock and time to head into the city to get some deep dish pizza with Alie for dinner. We ate at a restaurant called Gio's Pizza, and we ordered Veggie pizza, which I ate, and a pizza with meat in it. It was really good and very filling, but with the six of us, we nearly finished both pizzas.

 After our dinner, we headed back to campus to work on our homework and to blog. Tomorrow is the last day of class before we start our experiments with the kids.

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