Monday, October 13, 2003
Interesting information from my Intro to Linguistics textbook:

Please count the number of F's in the following text:

FINISHED FILES ARE THE
RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC
STUDY COMBINED WITH THE
EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.

"If you are like most people, your answer will be 3. That answer is wrong. The correct answer is 6. Count again. This time pay attention to the function word OF.
What this test illustrates is that the brain treats content and function words differently. Indeed, there is a great deal of psychological and neurological evidence to support this claim. For example, the effect that we just illustrated with the OF test is much more pronounced in brain-damaged people. Some brain-damaged patients have greater difficulty in using, understanding, or reading function words like IN or WHICH, but can read the lexical content words INN and WITCH. Other patients do just the opposite. The two classes of words also seem to function differently in slips of the tongue produced by normal individuals. For example, a speaker may inadvertently switch words producing "the journal of the editor" instead of "the editor of the journal," but the switching or exchanging of function words has not been observed. There is also evidence for this distinction from language acquisition. In the early stages of development, children often omit function words from their speech, for example, "doggie barking." These two classes of words have different functions in language. Content words have semantic content (meaning). Function words play a grammatical role; they connect the content words to the larger grammatical context" (Fromkin, Victoria. An Introduction to Language, Heinle Corporation, 2003).

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