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Psycholinguistics. First language acquisition. A true story. Like the story of Phineas Gage last week We learn something when things go wrong In groups: Most people start to learn language when very young Imagine of a situation where this does not happen

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First language acquisition

a true story
A true story
  • Like the story of Phineas Gage last week
    • We learn something when things go wrong
  • In groups:
    • Most people start to learn language when very young
    • Imagine of a situation where this does not happen
    • Describe the situation in a short English paragraph
language acquisition the critical period
Language acquisition: the critical period
  • Language cannot be effectively learned after brain lateralization is complete
    • This may be around puberty
  • Fromkin (Natalie’s book) says that Genie’s story proves the critical period hypothesis.
  • Yule makes the opposite claim
    • Genie had zero exposure to language until she was 13, but she did acquire some language
    • She learnt words, but very limited syntax
  • Dichotic experiments (??) showed that she had no left-hemisphere language facility
    • It is possible to use the right hemisphere for restricted language purposes.
1l acquisition learning
1L acquisition  learning
  • Language is like walking
  • Reading and writing are like riding a bike, or swimming
    • Many languages have no writing system
    • Some people never learn to read
  • Second language is usually taught
nature vs nurture
Nature vs nurture
  • B F Skinner wrote Verbal Behavior in 1957
  • He said that babies are born with a brain which is more or less empty
    • They learn language (and everything else) from the environment
    • Many of Skinner’s ideas came from experiments with rats
  • Chomsky wrote a strong criticism to the book in a 1959 article
  • His argument is often called the Poverty of the Stimulus:
    • Language is extremely complex
    • Children could not learn language without an innate ability
    • They do not hear enough evidence from adult speakers
poverty of the stimulus chomsky s argument
Poverty of the Stimulus (Chomsky’s argument)
  • There is an infinity of expressions in language
  • It has been proved (by formal logic) that if 1. is true, children would need negative evidence to acquire language. Positive evidence is not enough.
  • Children do not generally get negative evidence
  • Children do acquire language

Therefore: Language is not learned from “evidence”

the language acquisition device
The language acquisition device
  • New-born kids have a complex, innate LAD (a system which prepares them for language acquisition)
    • This contains the Principles of language
  • Children of any race or nationality can learn any language, through cultural transmission
    • They learn the details specific to their own language from their environment
    • That is, the Parameters relevant to their language
correction and teaching
Correction and teaching
  • Do parents talk to children in a special way?
  • Does it make any difference?
correction and teaching9
Correction and teaching
  • Do parents talk to children in a special way?
  • Does it make any difference?
  • Neither seems to apply to language acquisition
  • Various examples in Yule
  • Caretaker speech (motherese)
    • Reduplication (and other baby talk)
    • Lots of questions
    • Pretending to be in a conversation (but only really one participant)
    • Reduced speed
    • Exaggerated intonation
stages of la cooing
Stages of LA: Cooing
  • Cooing
    • Usually velar consonants and high vowels
    • [ku], [gi]
  • Roman Jakobson (1968) claimed sounds were acquired in order of frequency in all the world’s languages
    • And that the least frequent sounds are the first to be lost in aphasia
    • But his views are not widely accepted now
the next stage babbling
The next stage: babbling
  • This includes various vowels, as well as fricatives, nasals and even non-pulmonic sounds
  • Experiments show that babies
    • Can distinguish sounds (allophones) which adults cannot (like [r] and [l] for Japanese speakers
    • Do not respond to non-linguistic distinctions (eg sex of speaker)
  • Later babbling is language-specific
    • Sign language babbling in deaf babies (or with deaf parents)
holophrastic stage
Holophrastic stage
  • One word utterances appear to represent more complex structures
    • Child sees empty bed, says 姊姊
  • Overextension
    • 球球 used to represent an apple, the moon, anything round
    • 狗狗 means dogs, cats, horses, lions
    • Daddy to mean any man. Potentially embarrassing for mothers!
    • Kids always use the middle member in a hyponymy relation (dog, not animal or Cocker)
    • Never use colors in an overextension relation!
melissa bowerman s findings
Melissa Bowerman’s findings
  • Others had assumed that overextension meant: one shared feature
    • An apple is a “ball” because it’s round
    • A speck of dirt is a “fly” because it’s tiny
    • A cat is a “dog”
    • because it has four legs, or is soft
  • But Bowerman discovered that “kick” could mean
    • Kicking a floor fan (first time; really kicking)
    • Moving a ball by bumping it with a toy
    • A moth fluttering over a table
    • Pushing her tummy against a mirror
    • Can you explain what Bowerman concluded?
two word stage
Two-word stage
  • The famous phrase Mummy sock, uttered by the daughter of researcher Lois Bloom
    • Picking up her mummy’s sock, and
    • When Mummy was putting baby’s sock on baby
  • Quite a lot of research has been done on the syntax of baby language!
  • Why is it difficult to do this kind of research?
comprehension exceeds production
Comprehension exceeds production
  • Babies may not distinguish “mouth” and “mouse” in their own pronunciation
    • But, they can point the two things out in pictures when they listen
  • Famous example
    • “Silly Daddy, not a guk, a guk!”
  • But, in experiments, one child pronounced
    • Puddle as [pʌgəl]
    • Puzzle as [pʌdəl]!
telegraphic speech
Telegraphic speech
  • Andrew want ball
  • Cat drink milk
  • This shoe all wet
  • No inflectional morphology
  • No determiners
  • The Chinese equivalents of many of these utterances are OK
  • In Bulgarian, the articles (determiners the and a) are added to the noun as a suffix; they are acquired earlier than English articles)
acquisition of morphology
Acquisition of morphology
  • I broke it
  • I breaked it
  • I broke it
  • Why is 二 important?
  • Kids acquiring richly inflected languages (like Spanish, Italian) typically do so before 2.5 years