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Language. Early Years Lecture 8. Outline. What is language? How is language acquired/learned? How does it develop? - Nativist theory of language - Social learning theory of language - Interactionist theory of language. What is language?. A system of representations

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Language

Language

Early Years Lecture 8


Outline
Outline

  • What is language?

  • How is language acquired/learned?

  • How does it develop?

    - Nativist theory of language

    - Social learning theory of language

    - Interactionist theory of language


What is language
What is language?

  • A system of representations

    - a ‘code’ for understanding

    - a way of organizing the world

  • Not simply communication

    - communication = one aspect of language


Language perception
Language Perception

“one blooming, buzzing confusion”

(James, 1890: see Lecture 3)

neonates: prefer human voice to other sounds

(Cooper & Aslin, 1990)

2-3 days: prefer familiar to foreign language

(Moon, Cooper & Fifer, 1993)

3 days: prefer own mother’s voice to another mother’s voice

(DeCaspar & Fifer, 1980)

before birth?: encode mother’s speech patterns

(Spence & DeCaspar, 1982)


When does language emerge
When does language emerge?

cooing (i.e., the ‘ooh’ sound) @ 2 months

babbling (e.g., dadadadada) @ 4 months

‘jargon’ (intonation?) @ 7 months

Joint attention & turn-taking

point to objects

social referencing @ 9 months

....beginning of shared understanding


When does language emerge1
When does language emerge?

Lexical development:

(Lexicon = ‘store’ of words > vocabulary)

  • < 12 months = echolalia (babbling - jargon)

  • 12 months: 2-4 words

  • 18 months: 50 words

  • 24 months: >100 words

  • 30 months: > 2000 words


What do first words mean
What do first words mean?

  • Real words? - not easy to tell

    don’t refer to specific object/action

    (Barrett, Harris, Jones & Brookes, 1986)

    Consistent use of ‘word’ in particular context?

  • e.g., pointing at something and saying ‘da’

    but.....

    ...‘I want that thing!’

    ...‘Look at that thing!’

    ...‘What’s that thing?’


Combining words
Combining words

  • 18 months = 2-words together

  • ‘telegraphic speech’ - as in telegram (i.e., bare minimum words > sense of meaning)

    e.g., “Lucy milk” (Lucy wants some milk)

    meaning > demands interpretation

  • flexible shift e.g., if demand not met

    • > “Want it!”

      (Wilcox & Webster, 1980)


Combining words1
Combining words

  • > 2 years

    - 3 & 4 word ‘sentences’

    - gradual decontextualization (Barrett, 1986)

    - emergence of grammar

    = rule-based utterances

  • > 3 years

    - lexicon > 1000 words

    - more complex sentences


Word meaning
Word meaning?

How to identify object of reference?

That’s Mr. Snuggles

That’s a rabbit

That’s an ear

That’s an animal

That’s a bunny


Theories of language development
Theories of language development

  • Learning theory

  • Nativist or Biological theory


Social learning theory
(Social) Learning Theory

follows Skinner (1957)

Language result of conditioning (associations)

Infants imitate

Parents instruct & reinforce

e.g., “Say ‘Mummy’ - There’s a good girl!”

Example: the word ‘Chocolate’

Pair ‘Chocolate’ with experience

look

taste

form > hard

soft > melt


Support for social learning theory
Support for (Social) Learning theory

Parents touch or move objects as they refer to them

e.g., “Here is your bottle”

(Gogate et al., 2000).

Frequency of maternal responses...

e.g., mother imitates child’s verbalization

mother asks questions (What’s that?)

mother uses language as a prompt for action

...predicts rate of language acquisition over span of months

(Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2001)


Limitations in social learning theory
Limitations in (Social) Learning theory

1. Children say things they have never heard

- novel utterances

e.g., add ‘-ed’ to form past tense

(‘I breaked that’)

= over-regularization error (e.g., Marcus, 1996)

- obviously not imitation.


Limitations in social learning theory1
Limitations in (Social) Learning theory

2. Rate of lexical development

- 1-year-old = < 10 words

- 6-year-old ≈ 14,000 words

- 10-year-old ≈ 40,000 words (Anglin, 1993)

over span of 9 years = approx 10-12 words/day

but ‘learning’ = slow, gradual, process....?

Fast mapping of word to meaning


Nativist theory
Nativist Theory

“Language learning is not really something that the child does; it is something that happens to the child placed in an appropriate environment, much as the child’s body grows and matures in a predetermined way when provided with the appropriate nutrition and environmental stimulation”

[Chomsky (1981); quoted in Cole et al, 2005, p. 298)


Nativist theory1
Nativist Theory

E.g., Chomsky (1959); Pinker (1994)

Language ability is innate

- universal (x-culturally similar; same rate)

- words = consonants/vowels/syllables

- syntax = nouns/verbs + grammar


Nativist theory2
Nativist Theory

Surface vs Deep structure

- ‘surface’ = structure of sentence

- ‘deep’ = meaning (rules)

Development = mapping surface structure on to deep structure to ‘extract’ meaning.

(i.e., language = code

.... development = ‘decoding’)


Nativist theory3
Nativist Theory

Surface vs Deep structure

The dog bit the man

The man was bitten by the dog

They are drinking glasses

They are drinking companions

(from McNeill, 1970)


Lad transformations
LAD transformations

E.g., Menyuk & Bernholz (1969)

1-year-old - “Door”

Raters agreed (80%) on implied different meanings....but evidence of infant or adult grammar?

also Brown & Bellugi (1964).

Pluralization using ‘s’ - sheeps, deers, etc.


Support for nativist position
Support for Nativist position

  • Deaf infants babble > sign language = hearing infants

    (Petitto, 1992; Schirmer, 2000)

  • Blind babies gesture (precursor to language)

    (Iverson et al., 2000)

  • Evidence of ‘critical period’

    - lack of human contact = language deficits

    (Curtiss, 1989)


Is there a third way
Is there a ‘third way’?

Interactionist theory (e.g., Miller, 1981, 1991)

Language = cognitive + social factors

= LASS (Language Acquisition Support System) - Bruner (1982)

[1] Language has practical import - communication

[2] Language has to be negotiated/agreed - how?


Is there a third way1
Is there a ‘third way’?

M - cultural meaning

‘Mediated’ learning

From Cole (1990)

O object of knowledge

C- child

‘direct’learning


Is there a third way2
Is there a ‘third way’?

Understanding/knowledge is culturally mediated

- early language = scaffolded (motherese)

- early language = reformulated by adults

- but what is important – necessary? - is the shared understanding (ie., the social, culturally accepted interpretation of the world)


Is there a third way3
Is there a ‘third way’?

Example: what is said vs what is meant

“Can you close the window?”

i.e., the linguistic ‘code’ is complex & contextually bound

learning ≠ simple ‘decoding’ of word meanings + grammar...

from development? (Gelman & Bloom, 1994)

Naming task: [1] intentional vs [2] accidental

e.g. newspaper in shape of hat

Is it a hat? 3-yr-olds = 41 vs 16%; 5 = 58 vs 30%; adult = 72 vs 14%

Naming ≠ appearance based; = intention based


To summarize
To summarize

  • Is language-learning special?

  • What is the basis for language development?

  • Why is it important

    [1] Yes - rapid, universal, unique to humans.

    [2] Mix of biological and social/cultural influences (LAD + LASS)....but

    [3] Not just communication > conceptualization......


To summarize1
To summarize

Need mediational triangle to appreciate how language is instrumental in learning about the world (not ‘simple’decoding’ through either biological or environmental mechanisms)


Reading
Reading

Recommended

Siegler & Alibali (2005). Chapter 6

  • Berk (1997) Chap. 9

  • Bremner (1988). p. 204 – 209.

  • Slater & Muir (1999), Blackwell handbook of developmental psychology, Chap. 23 (Shwe & Markman)

  • Smith & Cowie (1991). Chapter 10.


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