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Language Acquisition The acquisition of language is doubtless the greatest linguistic feat any one of us is ever required to perform. Leonard Bloomfield.

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Presentation on theme: "Language Acquisition The acquisition of language is doubtless the greatest linguistic feat any one of us is ever required to perform. Leonard Bloomfield."— Presentation transcript:

1 Language Acquisition The acquisition of language is doubtless the greatest linguistic feat any one of us is ever required to perform. Leonard Bloomfield

2 Theories of language acquisition B. F. Skinner--Verbal Behavior, published in 1957 Founder of behaviorist psychology Children learn language through imitation, reinforcement and analogy

3 Noam Chomsky—Review of Verbal Behavior (1959) Language—a complex cognitive system Focus on the people’s mind—its ability to produce language

4 Do children learn though imitation? Children learn language by listening to the adult speech around them and reproducing what they hear.

5 Arguments for this explanation: 1. Learn many things by imitating. 2. Learn the language of our home and environment, vocabulary and accent.

6 Arguments against imitation: 1. Comprehension precedes production. David: [asks to ride the] mewy-go-wound 2nd child: David wants to go on the mewy-go- wound. David: you didn't say it wight. (Clark and Clark 1977, p. 385)

7 2. Mistakes are predictable and consistent Child: My teacher holded the baby rabbits and we patted them. Adult: Did you say your teacher held the baby rabbits? Child: yes. Adult: What did you say she did? Child: She holded the baby rabbits and we patted them. Adult: Did you say she held them tightly? Child: No, she holded them loosely.

8 These forms are not found in adult speech. hitted, goed, tooths

9 Do children learn language through reinforcement? Children learn through positive and negative reinforcement Correction of ‘bad grammar’ and reward for ‘good grammar’

10 Child: Nobody don't like me. Mother: No, say 'Nobody likes me.' Child: Nobody don't like me. [Eight repetitions of this dialog, then:] Mother: No, now listen carefully. Say, 'Nobody likes me.' Child: Oh! Nobody don't likes me.

11 Children do not know understand their mistakes and corrections Child: Want other one spoon, Daddy. Father: You mean, you want the other spoon. Child: Yes, I want other one spoon, please, Daddy. Father: Can you say “the other spoon”? Child: Other … one … spoon. Father: say … other Child: Other. Father: Spoon. Child: Spoon. Father: Other … spoon Child: Other … spoon. Now give me other one spoon?

12 Do children learn language though Analogy? Children put words together to form phrases and sentences by analogy. Use the sentences they hear as samples

13 Do children learn language through structured input? Children learn language because adults speak to them in simplified language Motherese Baby talk

14 Characteristics of caregiver talk (motherese): a. exaggerated intonation b. slow speech/careful pronunciation c. simple sentences d. proper nouns instead of pronouns e. questions and imperatives f. repetitions Are you hungry? or Is baby hungry?

15 Problems: In many cultures, adults do not speak special register In many cultures, adults do not speak to babies

16 Do children actively construct grammar? Children make the rules of grammar based on the speech they hear around them. I have rided a horse. I have feeded a horse. foot foots feets feetses feet

17 Noam Chomsky: We are designed to walk. … That we are taught to walk is impossible. And pretty much the same is true of language. Nobody is taught language. In fact you can’t prevent the child from learning it. Human Language Series 2

18 Children language learning has four characteristics: 1. All children all over the world learn language 2. Children in all speech communities learn language similarly: a. babbling: about 6 months b. First words: about 1 year c. First grammatical morphemes: about 2 years d. Basic mastery: about 4 years e. Continues learning, especially vocabulary

19 3. Children learn language without any formal instruction

20 The innateness of language: Children are equipped with an innate template or blueprint for language

21 The poverty of stimulus: Children are exposed to impoverished data However, they are able to construct a complex grammar of their language

22 Abstract principles/operating strategies not identified in the input Structure dependent rules: The cat who is playing is limping a lot. *Is the cat who playing is limping a lot? Is the cat who is playing limping a lot?

23 Jack went up the hill. Who went up the hill? Jack and Jill went up the hill. Who went up the hill? Jack and who went up the hill? *Who did Jack and go up the hill?

24 Stages in the learning of language (English) Phonological development: Babbling: begin at about six months of age Early babbling independent of language of exposure Deaf children babble with their hands Children practice the phones

25 Developmental order: Vowels before consonants Stops before other consonants Labials before other consonants

26 Typical consonants acquired by age two by English-speaking child: /p, b, m, t, d, n, k, g, f, s, w/ By age four: /p, b, m, t, d, n, k, g, ŋ, f, v, s, z, s, c, j, w, j, r, l/

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28 Syllable simplification: Stop[tap] Small[ma] Desk[d k] Try[taj] Bump[b p]

29 Substitution: Sing[t ] Sea[t ] Thing[t ] This[d t] Shoes[tud] Look[wuk] Rock[w k] Silly[siwi]

30 Morphological Development: Early stages: words of single roots No affixes The development of affixes 1. Case by case learning: man/menbag/bags 2. Overuse of general rule: man/mansbag/bags 3. Mastery of exceptions: man/menbag/bags

31 Acquisition order for English bound morphemes and functional words (based on the pioneering Harvard research of three children between the ages of 20 and 36 months): 1. –ing 2. plural –s 3. possessive –s 4. the, a 5. past tense –ed 6. third person singular –s 7. auxiliary be (page 547)

32 Note: The articles the and a are the most frequent words in adult speech. What does this tell about the imitation theory of language learning?

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34 The WUG test: nonsense words-provide plural or past forms Page 557

35 Syntactic Development: The One-word stage: (between ages 12 and 18 months) Dada“I see daddy”—called holophrastic stage Cookie “I want a cookie”

36 The two-word stage: Two-word mini sentences: Hi mommy Byebye boat It ball Dirty sock Jane sock

37 The telegraphic stage: longer and complex structures Doll like milk Car make noise. He good boy I good girl.

38 Later development: Yes/No questions and Wh-questions: Intonation: I ride train? I can go? See hole? Can I can go? Can I go? Did you did come home? Did you come home?

39 WH-questions Where that? Why you smiling? Where I can go? Why you are smiling? Where I should sleep? Where can I can go? Where can I go? Why are you sleeping Where should I sleep?

40 Semantic development: Overgeneralization/overextension Ball—for everything round Daddy—for all male Narrowing: Dog—pet dog

41 Tendencies: Morphemes--at the end of the utterance than anywhere else. A clear relation between form and meaning Few or no exceptions: singular nouns –s for plural Past tense on verbs-- irregular Allomorphic variation: -ing no variation -ed, -s and –s’ allomorphic variation clear meaning: -s plural marker has a clear meaning while –s third person has no such clear meaning.


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