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First language acquisition. LING 400 Winter 2010. Overview. Characteristics of L1 Theories of L1 L1 and innateness Critical period L1 and ASL. Please turn off your cell phone. For further learning: LING/PSYCH 347. Some questions about L1.

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First language acquisition

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first language acquisition

First language acquisition

LING 400

Winter 2010

  • Characteristics of L1
  • Theories of L1
  • L1 and innateness
  • Critical period
  • L1 and ASL

Please turn off your cell phone.

For further learning: LING/PSYCH 347

some questions about l1
Some questions about L1
  • How is it that by age 5 children (basically) know their language?
  • What they do along the way?
characteristics of l1
Characteristics of L1
  • Regular stages (milestones)
    • Babbling
    • One-word stage
    • Two-word stage
  • “Precanonical babbling”
    • 0-1 months: crying, coughing
    • 2-3 months: “cooing and gooing” (velar Cs)
  • “Canonical babbling”
    • 4-6 months: greater variety of sounds, more like language
    • 7-9 months: CV syllables, often reduplicated ([tata])
  • “Advanced forms”
    • 12 months: long sequences of gibberish, possibly with intonation
    • 18-20 months: babbling ceases
  • Examples of babbling at different stages (
one word stage
One-word stage
  • 12-18 months (overlaps with babbling)
  • Characteristics
    • words used as sentences
    • simple phonology: CV syllables; CVCV words
    • typical communicative functions
      • naming
      • child’s action or desire for action
      • child’s emotion
words produced by eve at 15 months
Words produced by Eve at 15 months
  • Mommy
  • Daddy
  • go
  • go?
  • gimme
  • baba ‘grandma’
  • dollie
  • cup
  • what?
  • wawa ‘water’
  • nana ‘blanket’
2 word stage 24 months
Eve at 18 months

short “sentences”


open toybox

no celery

more grape juice

limited inflection

What doing, Mommy?

Mommy_ soup

Mommy_ head?

limited function words

write a paper

Oh! Horsie _ stuck

pronouns rare

my pencil

_ drink juice

2-word stage (±24 months
beyond 2 word stage
Beyond 2-word stage
  • Eve at 27 months
    • Pronouns and other pro-forms
      • You make a blue one for me.
      • Put in you coffee
    • Embedding
      • I put them in the refrigerator to freeze.
    • Determiners and auxiliaries
      • What is that on the table?
      • How ‘bout another eggnog instead of _ cheese sandwich?
    • Omission of be
      • See, this one _ better but this _ not better.
    • Wrong verb forms
      • That why Jacky comed.
production lags behind comprehension
Production lags behind comprehension
  • Sounds recognized before produced
    • ‘One of us...spoke to a child who called his inflated plastic fish a fis. In imitation of the child’s pronunciation, the observer said: “This is your fis?” “No,” said the child, “my fis”. He continued to reject the adult’s imitation until he was told, “That is your fish.” “Yes,” he said, “my fis.”’
  • Word order understood before long sentences produced
    • Clip from Acquiring Language (, 0:44-2:31)
some theories of l1
Some theories of L1
  • Reinforcement hypothesis
    • Children learn from corrections.
  • Imitation hypothesis
    • Children imitate only what they hear.
  • Active construction of grammar hypothesis
    • Children construct, refine grammatical rules.
  • Children don’t get a lot of corrections
    • some lexical/content corrections
    • not many grammatical
  • Children don’t absorb corrections
    • Child: Nobody don’t like me.
    • Mother: No. Say ‘nobody likes me’.
    • Child: Nobody don’t like me.
    • ...
    • Mother: Now listen carefully. Say ‘nobody LIKES me’.
    • Child: Oh...Nobody don’t LIKES me.
  • Children imitate lg of environment to a large extent
  • But also produce forms not heard
    • ‘other one spoon’
    • novel verbs
      • ‘Why you didn’t jam my bread?’
    • novel forms of verbs
      • 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.
grammar construction hypothesis
Grammar construction hypothesis
  • Children’s deviations from adult grammar are systematic, not random
  • Regularization of morphology
    • Plurals
      • gooses
    • Past tense forms of verbs
      • I tooked it smaller
    • Comparative forms
      • He hitted me. He’s a puncher he is. He’s being badder and badder.
systematic deviation from adult phonology
Systematic deviation from adult phonology
  • A 2-year-old’s English consonant inventory
  • No C clusters
    • “[gu] here” (glue)
  • Syll-final Cs are stops
    • “mummy [gIb]” (give)
  • No syllabic consonants
    • “me [lIlI]” (little)
  • Cs must be all oral or all nasal
    • “take [mnæn]” (banana)
systematic semantic errors
Systematic semantic errors
  • Hyponyms
    • car (first referent: only family Pontiac)
    • dish (child’s dish only)
    • mow-mow (family cat only)
  • Hypernyms
    • fly (first referent, housefly; later, specks of dirt, dust, all small insects, child’s own toes, crumbs, small toad)
    • koko (first, rooster crowing; later, piano, phonograph, tunes played on violin, accordian, all music, merry-go-round)
l1 and innateness
L1 and innateness
  • Innateness Hypothesis
    • Humans genetically programmed for language
    • Universal Grammar constrains possible form of human language
    • Actual form of language determined by environment
  • Syntactic errors may resemble well-formed sentences in other languages
    • A clip from Acquiring the human language, (1:47-3:56)
l1 as an innate behavior
L1 as an innate behavior
  • Emerges before ‘needed’
    • L1 complete  age 5
  • No conscious decision to learn
    • L1: immersion in lgc environment sufficient
  • Not triggered by external events
    • L1 ‘poverty of stimulus’: motherese, adult performance
  • Not affected by explicit instruction
    • Correction has no effect on L1
  • Normal stages of achievement
    • L1: Independent of other cognitive skills, cross-linguistic regularities, uniformity of resulting grammars
  • ‘Critical age’ for learning the behavior
l1 as a critical age skill
L1 as a critical age skill
  • Critical Age Hypothesis
    • Critical age for learning behavior/skill in order for complete mastery
    • L1: approximately puberty
  • Some differences between L1, L2
    • Instruction
      • L1: none
      • L2: usually overt and necessary
    • Speed of learning
      • L1: relatively fast
      • L2: relatively slow
    • Resulting grammar
      • L1: more uniform
      • L2: more idiosyncracy
    • Stages in learning
      • L1: regular stages resulting in complete mastery
      • L2: no such stages, incomplete mastery
cases of isolated children
Cases of isolated children
  • Victor, Genie (1970), Chelsea, Maria Noname, etc.
  • Documentary about Genie
asl and l1
ASL and L1
  • Lance Forshay: “Fourth of five Deaf generations.”
    • In right environment, same milestones as hearing children
  • But 90%+ deaf children born to hearing parents
  • “signers are the only large population that undergoes delayed exposure to a primary language” (Meier 1991)

Washington School for the Deaf, Vancouver WA

acquisition summary
Acquisition summary
  • L1 proceeds in regular stages
  • L1 learners construct, refine grammar as they go
  • L1 appears to be an innate behavior
  • Paul at age 2. How does Paul’s pronunciation systematically differ from adult pronunciation?


    • sun [sʌn]
    • see [si]
    • spoon [pun]
    • snake [neɪk]
    • sky [kɑɪ]
    • stop [tɑp]