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Week 6: Language Acquisition. The object of study. Language acquisition is the study of the processes through which humans acquire language.

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Week 6: Language Acquisition

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the object of study
The object of study
  • Language acquisition is the study of the processes through which humans acquire language.
  • By itself, language acquisition refers to first language acquisition, which studies infants' acquisition of their native language, whereas second language acquisition deals with acquisition of additional languages in both children and adults.
language and communication
Language and communication
  • It is a commonly held view that language evolved as a tool for communication.

1. Human language can be seen primarily as a socially, or culturally determined tool for communication.

2. Alternatively, language can be seen primarily as a cognitive mechanism for structuring utterances and perhaps also thoughts.

acquiring language
Acquiring language
  • One of the complexities of acquiring language is that it is learned by infants from what appears to be very little input.

This has led to the long-standing debate between the two different groups of scholars:

Nativist theories—Chomky is the preeminent name here—place the distinctiveness of language in specific genetic endowment for a specifically genetically instructed language module. Under that view, there is minimal learning involved in acquiring a language.
  • Empiricists like Hobbes and Locke argued that knowledge emerge ultimately from abstracted sense impressions.
The precise form of language must be acquired through exposure to a speech community. Words are definitely not inbron, but the capacity to acquire language and use it creatively seems to be inborn. N. Chomsky calls this ability the LAD (Language Acquisition Device).
c o evolutionary theory
Co-evolutionary theory
  • There are also co-evolutionary proposals: Language is not an instinct and thereis no genetically installed linguistic black box in our brains. Language arose slowly through cognitive and cultural inventiveness.
  • Language began as a cognitive adaptation and genetic assimilation. Cognitiveeffort and genetic assimilation interacted as language and brain co-evolved.
Human language is made possible by special adaptations of the human mind and body that occurred in the course of human evolution, and which are put to use by children in acquiring their mother tongue
a critical period for language acquisition
A Critical Period forLanguage Acquisition

Critical Period Hypothesis: Exposure to language

beforepuberty is necessary for language acquisition.

Children with delayed exposure tolanguage:“The Wild Boy of Aveyron”.Genie

  • Sample utterances by Genie:
  • Mike paint.
  • Applesauce buy store.
  • Small two cup.
  • I like hear music ice cream truck.
  • Think about Mama love Genie.
milestones in language development
Milestones inLanguage Development
  • Language Stage Beginning Age
  • Crying! Birth
  • Cooing! 6 weeks
  • Babbling! 6 months
  • Intonation patterns! 8 months
  • One-word utterances! 1 year
  • Two-word utterances! 18 months
  • Word inflections! 2 years
  • Questions, negations! 2 1/4 years
  • Rare and complex constructions! 5 years
  • Mature speech! 10 years
pre verbal language development
Pre-Verbal LanguageDevelopment•
  • Crying: Non-linguisticThough some language specific elements.
  • Cooing: Non-linguistic. Exercising the articulatory apparatus.Imitation and the beginning of turn-taking.
  • Babbling:here infants are clearly producing syllable like sounds. No meaning attached to the babble. Syllables are often found in repetitive sequences (babababa). Children clearly utilise their babling to tune their vocalisation to the sounds of the local language.
  • Babbling as part of the biologically determined maturation of language abilities.
  • Babbling drift: Around 9-14 months infants restricttheir babbling to native language sounds.
first words
First words
  • Shortly before their first birthday, babies begin to understand words, and around that birthday, they start to produce them. Words are usually produced in isolation; this one-word stage can last from two months to a year.
  • Children's first words are similar all over the planet. About half the words are for objects: food (juice, cookie), body parts (eye, nose), clothing (diaper, sock), vehicles (car, boat), toys (doll, block), household items (bottle, light), animals (doggie, kitty), and people (mama, dada, baby).
  • There are words for actions, motions, and routines, like (up, off, open, peekaboo, eat, and go, and modifiers, like hot, allgone, more, dirty, and cold.
lexical development
Lexical Development
  • Children start producing their first words around 12


  • Words are used holophrastically: A word stands for

an entire sentence.

  • By 24 months they have an expressive vocabulary of

between 50 to 600 words.

  • Experience matters for vocabulary growth.
  • Privileged children hear about 2,100 words/hour.
  • Disadvantaged children hear only about 600 words/hour.
syntactic development
Syntactic Development
  • 18-24 Months: Two-word utterances
  • 95% of utterances: Correct word order.
  • Telegraphic speech (few function words).
syntactic development1
Syntactic Development

How do children fit long thoughts into two wordutterances?

Children appear to use vertical constructions of

utterances (Moskowitz, 1991).

Breaking thoughts down into two-word utterances.

  • • Child: Tape corder. Use it. Use it.
  • • Adult: Use it for what?
  • • Child: Talk. Corder talk. Brenda talk.

Adults use horizontal constructions.

- Complete word-by-word specification of thoughts.

24-48 Months: Complexity and length of utterancesincrease rapidly. > “normal” conversation.
  • How do children achieve this rapid increase insentence complexity and length?


childish creativity
Childish creativity

Despite the obvious impact the environment has on the

choice and general direction of mother-tongue learning,

children are prone to come up with all kinds of words

and expressions which they have never heard in their


  • Daughter: Somebody’s at the door.
  • Mother: There is nobody at the door.
  • Daughter: There is yesbody at the door.