First Language Acquisition

What is Language Acquisition?
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Single page view for printing. Please refer to the specific study period for contact information. This subject is an overview of some principal issues in first language acquisition, including children's language development from pre-speech onwards , grammatical, semantic and pragmatic development, and the continued development of language through the school years. The variability and individual differences in relation to current theoretical models of language acquisition and cognitive and social development will also be examined.

Focus is on the acquisition of English, but cross-cultural material will be included for comparison.

Stephen Krashen's Theory of Second Language Acquisition

The as-yet unresolved question is the extent to which the specific cognitive capacities in the "nature" component are also used outside of language. Emergentist theories, such as MacWhinney's competition model , posit that language acquisition is a cognitive process that emerges from the interaction of biological pressures and the environment. According to these theories, neither nature nor nurture alone is sufficient to trigger language learning; both of these influences must work together in order to allow children to acquire a language.

The proponents of these theories argue that general cognitive processes subserve language acquisition and that the end result of these processes is language-specific phenomena, such as word learning and grammar acquisition.

How Are L1s Learned?

The findings of many empirical studies support the predictions of these theories, suggesting that language acquisition is a more complex process than many believe. Although Chomsky's theory of a generative grammar has been enormously influential in the field of linguistics since the s, many criticisms of the basic assumptions of generative theory have been put forth by cognitive-functional linguistics, who argue that language structure is created through language use. Binary parameters are common to digital computers, but may not be applicable to neurological systems such as the human brain.

Further, the generative theory has several constructs such as movement, empty categories, complex underlying structures, and strict binary branching that cannot possibly be acquired from any amount of linguistic input. It is unclear that human language is actually anything like the generative conception of it.

Since language, as imagined by nativists, is unlearnably complex, [ citation needed ] subscribers to this theory argue that it must, therefore, be innate. While all theories of language acquisition posit some degree of innateness, they vary in how much value they place on this innate capacity to acquire language. Empiricism places less value on the innate knowledge, arguing instead that the input, combined with both general and language-specific learning capacities, is sufficient for acquisition.

Cracking the Language Code: Processing Strategies in First Language Acquisition

Since , linguists studying children, such as Melissa Bowerman , [23] and psychologists following Jean Piaget , like Elizabeth Bates [24] and Jean Mandler, came to suspect that there may indeed be many learning processes involved in the acquisition process, and that ignoring the role of learning may have been a mistake. In recent years, the debate surrounding the nativist position has centered on whether the inborn capabilities are language-specific or domain-general, such as those that enable the infant to visually make sense of the world in terms of objects and actions.

The anti-nativist view has many strands, but a frequent theme is that language emerges from usage in social contexts, using learning mechanisms that are a part of a general cognitive learning apparatus which is what is innate. This position has been championed by David M. Philosophers, such as Fiona Cowie [29] and Barbara Scholz with Geoffrey Pullum [30] have also argued against certain nativist claims in support of empiricism. The new field of cognitive linguistics has emerged as a specific counter to Chomskian Generative Grammar and Nativism. Some language acquisition researchers, such as Elissa Newport , Richard Aslin, and Jenny Saffran , emphasize the possible roles of general learning mechanisms, especially statistical learning, in language acquisition.

The development of connectionist models that are able to successfully learn words and syntactical conventions [31] supports the predictions of statistical learning theories of language acquisition, as do empirical studies of children's detection of word boundaries. Statistical learning theory suggests that, when learning language, a learner would use the natural statistical properties of language to deduce its structure, including sound patterns, words, and the beginnings of grammar.

These findings suggest that early experience listening to language is critical to vocabulary acquisition. The statistical abilities are effective, but also limited by what qualifies as input, what is done with that input, and by the structure of the resulting output. From the perspective of that debate, an important question is whether statistical learning can, by itself, serve as an alternative to nativist explanations for the grammatical constraints of human language. The central idea of these theories is that language development occurs through the incremental acquisition of meaningful chunks of elementary constituents , which can be words, phonemes , or syllables.

Recently, this approach has been highly successful in simulating several phenomena in the acquisition of syntactic categories [39] and the acquisition of phonological knowledge. Chunking theories of language acquisition constitute a group of theories related to statistical learning theories, in that they assume the input from the environment plays an essential role; however, they postulate different learning mechanisms.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have developed a computer model analyzing early toddler conversations to predict the structure of later conversations. They showed that toddlers develop their own individual rules for speaking with slots, into which they could put certain kinds of words.

  • Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (3rd edition).
  • Stages of language acquisition in children.
  • Language Acquisition in Children.

A significant outcome of the research was that rules inferred from toddler speech were better predictors of subsequent speech than traditional grammars. The approach has several features that make it unique: the models are implemented as computer programs, which enables clear-cut and quantitative predictions to be made; they learn from naturalistic input, made of actual child-directed utterances; they produce actual utterances, which can be compared with children's utterances; and they have simulated phenomena in several languages, including English, Spanish, and German.

Based upon the principles of Skinnerian behaviorism , RFT posits that children acquire language purely through interacting with the environment. RFT theorists introduced the concept of functional contextualism in language learning, which emphasizes the importance of predicting and influencing psychological events, such as thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, by focusing on manipulable variables in their context.

RFT distinguishes itself from Skinner's work by identifying and defining a particular type of operant conditioning known as derived relational responding, a learning process that, to date, appears to occur only in humans possessing a capacity for language. Empirical studies supporting the predictions of RFT suggest that children learn language via a system of inherent reinforcements, challenging the view that language acquisition is based upon innate, language-specific cognitive capacities.

Social interactionist theory is an explanation of language development emphasizing the role of social interaction between the developing child and linguistically knowledgeable adults. It is based largely on the socio-cultural theories of Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky , and made prominent in the Western world by Jerome Bruner. Unlike other approaches, it emphasizes the role of feedback and reinforcement in language acquisition.

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  • The Routledge Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology.
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Specifically, it asserts that much of a child's linguistic growth stems from modeling of and interaction with parents and other adults, who very frequently provide instructive correction. Another key idea within the theory of social interactionism is that of the zone of proximal development. Briefly, this is a theoretical construct denoting the set of tasks a child is capable of performing with guidance, but not alone. As syntax began to be studied more closely in the early 20th century, in relation to language learning, it became apparent to linguists, psychologists, and philosophers that knowing a language was not merely a matter of associating words with concepts, but that a critical aspect of language involves knowledge of how to put words together—sentences are usually needed in order to communicate successfully, not just isolated words. In the s within the Principles and Parameters framework, this hypothesis was extended into a maturation-based Structure building model of child language regarding the acquisition of functional categories. In this model, children are seen as gradually building up more and more complex structures, with Lexical categories like noun and verb being acquired before Functional- syntactic categories like determiner and complementiser. One influential proposal to the origin of these errors is as follows: the adult state of grammar stores each irregular verb form in memory as well as a "block" on the use of the regular rule for forming that type of verb.

In the developing child's mind, retrieval of that "block" may fail, causing the child to erroneously apply the regular rule instead of retrieving the irregular. A Merge linguistics -based Theory. In Bare-Phrase structure Minimalist Program , since theory-internal considerations define the specifier position of an internal-merge projection phases vP and CP as the only type of host which could serve as potential landing-sites for move-based elements displaced from lower down within the base-generated VP structure — e.

Internal-merge second-merge establishes more formal aspects related to edge-properties of scope and discourse-related material pegged to CP. See Roeper for a full discussion of recursion in child language acquisition. Generative grammar , associated especially with the work of Noam Chomsky , is currently one of the approaches to children's acquisition of syntax.

In the principles and parameters framework, which has dominated generative syntax since Chomsky's Lectures on Government and Binding: The Pisa Lectures , the acquisition of syntax resembles ordering from a menu: the human brain comes equipped with a limited set of choices, from which the child selects the correct options by using the parents' speech, in combination with the context.

An important argument, which favors the generative approach, is the poverty of the stimulus argument. The child's input a finite number of sentences encountered by the child, together with information about the context in which they were uttered is, in principle, compatible with an infinite number of conceivable grammars. Moreover, few, if any, children can rely on corrective feedback from adults when they make a grammatical error, due to the fact that adults generally provide feedback regardless of whether a child's utterance was grammatical or not, and children have no way of discerning if a response was intended to be a correction.

Additionally, when children do understand that they are being corrected, they don't always reproduce accurate restatements. An especially dramatic example is provided by children who, for medical reasons, are unable to produce speech and, therefore, can never be corrected for a grammatical error but nonetheless, converge on the same grammar as their typically developing peers, according to comprehension-based tests of grammar.

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Language acquisition is the process whereby children acquire their first languages. All humans (without exceptional physical or mental. Language acquisition is the process by which humans acquire the capacity to perceive and There are two main guiding principles in first-language acquisition: speech perception always precedes speech production and the gradually.

Considerations such as those have led Chomsky, Jerry Fodor , Eric Lenneberg and others to argue that the types of grammar the child needs to consider must be narrowly constrained by human biology the nativist position. Recent advances in functional neuroimaging technology have allowed for a better understanding of how language acquisition is manifested physically in the brain, Language acquisition almost always occurs in children during a period of rapid increase in brain volume.

At this point in development, a child has many more neural connections than he or she will have as an adult, allowing for the child to be more able to learn new things than he or she would be as an adult.

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Language acquisition has been studied from the perspective of developmental psychology and neuroscience , [63] which looks at learning to use and understand language parallel to a child's brain development. It has been determined, through empirical research on developmentally normal children, as well as through some extreme cases of language deprivation, that there is a " sensitive period " of language acquisition in which human infants have the ability to learn any language.

Several findings have observed that from birth until the age of six months, infants can discriminate the phonetic contrasts of all languages. Researchers believe that this gives infants the ability to acquire the language spoken around them.

Linguistics: 1- First language acquisition (How do people acquire their mother tongue?)

After such an age, the child is able to perceive only the phonemes specific to the language learned. The reduced phonemic sensitivity enables children to build phonemic categories and recognize stress patterns and sound combinations specific to the language they are acquiring.

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In the ensuing years much is written, and the writing is normally never erased. After the age of ten or twelve, the general functional connections have been established and fixed for the speech cortex. Deaf children who acquire their first language later in life show lower performance in complex aspects of grammar.

Assuming that children are exposed to language during the critical period, [68] it is almost never missed by cognitively normal children—humans are so well prepared to learn language that it becomes almost impossible not to. Researchers are unable to experimentally test the effects of the sensitive period of development on language acquisition, because it would be unethical to deprive children of language until this period is over.

However, case studies on abused, language deprived children show that they were extremely limited in their language skills, even after instruction.

First Language Acquisition

The outcome of language immersion is language learning, not language acquisition. Last, but perhaps most important, lessons should not be based on grammar points, but rather on the exchange of meaning. The field itself aims to examine the differences between acquiring a first foreign language and any subsequent foreign languages thereafter. Child: Other Journal of Child Language. Can we learn a second language like we learned our first?

At a very young age, children can already distinguish between different sounds but cannot produce them yet. However, during infancy, children begin to babble. Deaf babies babble in the same order when hearing sounds as non-deaf babies do, thus showing that babbling is not caused by babies simply imitating certain sounds, but is actually a natural part of the process of language development.

However, deaf babies do often babble less than non-deaf babies and they begin to babble later on in infancy begin babbling at 11 months as compared to 6 months when compared to non-deaf babies. Prelinguistic language abilities that are crucial for language acquisition have been seen even earlier than infancy.

There have been many different studies examining different modes of language acquisition prior to birth. The study of language acquisition in fetuses started back in the late s when different researchers discovered that very young infants could discriminate their native language from other languages. In Mehler et al. These results suggest there are mechanisms for fetal auditory learning, and other researchers have found further behavioral evidence to support this notion. Prosody is the property of speech that conveys an emotional state of the utterance, as well as intended form of speech whether it be a question, statement or command.

Some researchers in the field of developmental neuroscience would argue that fetal auditory learning mechanisms are solely due to discrimination in prosodic elements.