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  1. Psycholinguistics First language acquisition

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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”

  7. 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

  8. Correction and teaching • Do parents talk to children in a special way? • Does it make any difference?

  9. 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

  10. 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

  11. 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)

  12. 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!

  13. 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?

  14. 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?

  15. 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]!

  16. 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)

  17. 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