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Chapter 12 Language Acquisition. The Emergence Of A Grammar. 1 The Study of Language Acquisition A. The naturalistic approach l Diary study B. The experimental approach l Cross-sectional. 2 Phonological Development 2.1 Babbling 2.2 The Developmental Order

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Chapter 12

Language Acquisition

The Emergence Of A Grammar

1 The Study of Language Acquisition

A. The naturalistic approach

lDiary study

B.The experimental approach


2 Phonological Development

2.1 Babbling

2.2 The Developmental Order

  • lAs a group, vowels are generally acquired before


lStops tend to be acquired before other consonants.

  • lLabials are often acquired first followed by
  • alveolars, velars, and alveopalatals. Interdentals are
  • acquired last.
  • lNew phonemic contrasts manifest themselves first
  • in word-initial position. Thus the /p/-/b/ contrast
  • will be manifested in pairs such as pat-bat before
  • mop-mob.

Ex: tell [dl], pig [bg], push [bs]

2.4 Production Versus Perception

Children’s perceptual abilities are more advanced than their

articulatory skills.

Determining factors:

1.Frequent occurrence in utterance-final position


3.A straightforward relation between form and meaning

4.Few or no exceptions in the way it is used

5.Allomorphic invariance

6.Clearly discernable semantic function

lThe Telegraphic Stage

Chair broken.

Daddy like book.

What her name?

Man ride bus today.

Car make noise.

lLater Development


(1)See hole?

I ride train?

Ball go?

Sit chair?

(2)Can he can look?

What shall we shall have?

Did you did came home?

Wh questions

Stage 1

(3)Where that?

What me think?

Why you smiling?

Why not me drink it?

Stage 2

(4)Yes-no questions (with Inversion):

Did Mommy pinch her finger?

Can’t you fix it?

Do I have it?

Is Mommy talking to Robin’s grandmother?

(5)Wh questions (no Inversion):

What I did yesterday?

Why Kitty can’t stand up?

Where I should put it?

Why you are smiling?

Stage 3

(1)Where did my mitten go?

Where should I sleep?

Why are you smiling?

(2)Why you can’t sit down?

Why Kitty can’t stand up?


a.Kitty might be used to refer to the family pet, but not to any other cats.

b.Dog might be used for collies, spaniels, and beagles, but not for chihuahuas.

5.3 The Interpretation of Sentence Structure

lThematic roles


Passive sentence: The car was bumped by the truck.

Theme agent

Active sentence: The truck bumped the car.

Agent theme

lPronominals and reflexives

(1)Sam said that [s Gary slapped himself on the wrist].

(2)Sam said that [s Gary slapped him on the wrist].

1         Determinants of Language Acquisition

1.1The Role of Imitation and Correction

(1)a. What can you see? (model)

b.What you can see? (child’s imitation)

Child: Nobody don’t like me.

Mother: No, say “Nobody likes me.”

Child: Nobody don’t like me.

[Exchange is repeated eight times.]

Mother: No, now listen carefully; say “Nobody likes


Child: Oh! Nobody don’t LIKES me.

1.3The Role of Cognitive Development

lCognitive development

lObject permanence

1.4The Role of Inborn Knowledge

  • lNativism

Principle A:

NPa c-commands NPb if the first category above NPa contains NPb.



Language Acquisition

A normal human being can go through life without learning lt read or write. The study of the nature of human language itself has revealed the following conclusions:

1.Children do not learn a language by storing all the words and all the sentences in some giant mental dictionary .

2.Children learn to construct sentences.

3.Children learn to understand sentences they have never heard before.

4.Children must construct the “rules” that permit them to use language creatively.

5.No one teaches them these rules.

Stages in Language Acquisition

Linguistic knowledge develops by stages. Observations of children in different languages areas of the world reveal that the stages are similar, possibly universal.

The First Sounds

The stage of language acquisition can be divided into prelinguistic and linguistic stages. The neonate is born with a mind that appears to receive only certain kinds of information.


In the first few months, usually around the sixth month, the infant begins to babble. During the babbling stage of hearing infants, the pitch, or intonation contours produced by them being to resemble the intonation contours of sentences spoken by adults.

Fist Words

Sometimes after one year, children begin to use the same string of sounds repeatedly to mean the same thing. These one-word sentences are called holophrastic sentences which to serve three major functions.

1.They are liked with a child’s own action or desire for action.

2.They are used to convey emotion.

3.They serve a naming function.

 The Two-Word Stage

Children begin to produce tow-word utterances around at the age of two. During this stage there are no syntactic or morphological markets.

From Telegraph to Infinity

the mean length of utterances: children produce utterances that average 2.3 to 3.5 morphemes

This stage has a special characteristic. The “function” words are missing ; only the “content” words occur. And these utterances are sometimes called telegraphic speech.

 From Telegraph to Infinity

I. MLU (Mean Length of Utterances): As to stage of language acquisition, it's MLU, rather than chronological age, that can make a comparison across children.

II. Telegraphic Speech: The small "function" words ( like to, the, can, is, etc.) are missing.

III. Sentence-like Utterances: The25-28 months old children's utterances appear to have hierarchical, constituent structures, which are similar to the syntactic structures found in the sentences produced by the adult grammar.

Theories of Child Language Acquisition

I. Do Children Learn by Imitation? Not really.

II. Do Children Learn by Reinforcement? Reinforcement seldom occurs, and when it does, it is usually incorrect pronunciation or incorrect reporting of facts that is corrected.

Children Form Rules and construct a Grammar

I. Neither of these views (imitation and reinforcement) accounts for the nonrandom mistakes children make: the speed, the ability to learn language, and the regularity of the acquisition process.

II. The Neural Prerequisites: The child appears to be equipped from birth with the neural prerequisites for the acquisition and use of human language just as birds are biologically "prewired" to learn the songs of their species.

III. The different syntactic rules at any stage in acquisition govern the construction of the child's sentences at that period of development.

A. Negative sentences

B. Question sentences

Errors or Rules?

I. Inflectional Errors

II. Phonological Morphological Rule Acquisition

Universal Grammar:

The investigation of the kinds of errors children make in forming their grammars shows that the mistakes are all in keeping with what we have called Universal Grammar. That is, the principles constrain all grammars.

The Acquisition of Syntax

There are two ideas about the way which children construct the complex syntactic rules of their grammar-- one is based on semantics, and the other is based on syntactic categories and relations(Noun, Noun Phrase, Verb, Verb Phrase, subject, object, and so on), e.g., Russian, Polish, and Turkish and modifier—noun agreement.

Italian English

E mia gonna. It is my skirt.

Questo mio bimbo This is my baby.

Guarda questi gialli Look at

these roosters.

According to the example above, we can see that children own the ability of “discovering” the structures of their language. However, now, more studies on child language prove that it is “two in one.”

Learning the Meaning of Words

Preface: Everything had a name, and each name gave

birth to a new thought.

--Helen Keller

Children often experience the processes of learning the meaning of words through two steps as follows.

A.Undergeneralize-- to put a principle into a narrower form

B.Overgeneralize—to draw general conclusions from inadequate data

e.g. (overgeneralize) bring  bringed

go  goed

foot  foots

child  childs

The Biological Foundations of

Language Acquisition

Preface: Just as birds have wings, man has

language.-- George Henry Lewes

Under normal condition, children were born to be equipped with special abilities to know what generalization to look for and what to ignore, and how to discover the regularities of language. We may say that though people do not have any written language, they all have language. In other words, children learn language the way they learn to walk.

The Innateness Hypothesis

The theory underlines the child must be neurologically capable of utilizing the sound (or sign language gestures) for language acquisition. Moreover, not only is the human species genetically “prewired” to acquire language, but that the kind of languages is also determined. The principles that determine the class of human languages that can be acquired unconsciously, without instruction, in the early years of life has been referred as to Universal Grammar (or UG).

The Critical Age Hypothesis

It has been suggested that there is a “critical age” for language acquisition, or at least for language acquisition without special teaching and without the need for special learning. During this period, language learning proceeds easily, swiftly, and without external intervention. After this period, the acquisition of the grammar is difficult and for some individuals, never fully achieved.

The Acquisition of Bird Songs

The notion of a critical age for acquisition of cognitive knowledge pretains to other species as shown by studies of the development species as shown by studies of the development of bird songs and calls. If these birds are not exposed to the songs of their species during certain fixed periods after their birth (the period differs from species to species). Song acquisition does not occur. Apparently the basic nature of the song of some bird species is biologically determined, but the details are learned.

Sign Languages—Evidence for the

Biology of Language

Preface: Men, who, being born deaf and mute, are destitute of the organs which serve the others for talking, are in the habit of themselves inventing certain signs by which they make themselves understood.

Hand and body gestures are the forms used to represent morphemes or words.. Hence, we know that language acquisition and use do not depend on the ability to produce or hear sound, but on a much more abstract cognitive ability, biologically.

Sign Languages:

Evidence for the Biology of language

1.Deaf children of deaf parents who are exposed to sign language learn sign languages in stages parallel to language acquisition by hearing children learning oral languages.

2.It is nearly impossible for those unable to hear language to learn to speak naturally.

 3.Although deaf persons can be taught to speak a language intelligibly, they never understand speech as well as a hearing person.

4.Non sopken languages have developed as a substitute for spoken languages among non hearing individuals.

5.Language acquisition and use are dependent on a much more abstract cognitive ability, biologically determined, which therefore accounts for the similarities between spoken and sign languages.

American Sign Language(ASL)

1.The major language used by the deaf in the United States.

2.ASL is an independent, bully developed language that historically is an out growth of the sign language used in France.

3.ASL has its own morphological, syntactic, and semantic systems. Its formal units, corresponding to the phonological elements of spoken language, wee originally called cheremes, now more often referred to as primes.

4.The signs of the language that correspond to morphemes or words of spoken language can be specified by primes of three sets: hand configuration , the motion of the hands toward or away from the today, and the place of articulation or the locus of the sign’s movement.

5.Just as spoken language has sequences of sounds that are not permitted in the language, so sign languages have forbidden combinations of features.

6.Siglish, the other sign language used in the United States, consists in the replacement of each spoken English word by a sign. They systax and semantics of Signed English are thus approximately the same as those of ordinary English.

7.If there is no sign in ASL, signers utilize another mechanism, the system of finger spelling.

8.An accomplished signer can “speak” at a normal rate, even when there is a lot of finger spelling.

9.Language arts are not lost to the deaf.

They can also do poetry, stage play


The Acquisition of ASL

1.Deaf children of deaf signing parents parallel the stages of spoken language acquisition.(single signs, telegraphic stage, their acquisition of the negative morphemes.)

2.Hearing children of deaf parents acquire both sign language and spoken language when exposed to both.

3.Deaf children of hearing parents who are not exposed to manual sign language form birth, suffering from a great handicap in acquiring language, develop their own manual gestures to express their thoughts and desires.

4.Sign languages are as grammatical and systematic as are spoken languages.(different languages, signing themselves to sleep, signing to their dolls and stuffed animals, finger fumblers, slip of the hand, and….)

Learning a Second Language

1.Language is more easily acquired at the age of two or three than at the age off thirteen or twenty.

2.Young children who are exposed to more than one language before the age of puberty seem to acquire all the languages equally well.

3.Many adults who are self-conscious about making mistakes, often find learning L2 very difficult. But this is not a problem who children who are unaware that they are making mistakes.

4.The stages in second language acquisition are similar to those in first language acquisition.

Theories of Second Language Acquisition

1.Stephen Krashen has proposed a distinction between acquisition-the process by which children unconsciously acquire their native language—and learning, which he defines as “conscious knowledge of a second language, knowing the rules, being aware of them, and being able to talk about them. The principles of UG hold only during the critical period , after which general learning mechanisms operate in learningL2.

2.Another theory proposed that L2 is acquired on the same universal innate principles that govern L1 acquisition, which is why one finds the same stages of development even if the complete L2 grammar is not acquired due to nonlinguistic factors at work.
Can Chimps Learn Human Language?

Recently, much effort has been expended to determined human language acquisition ability. However, they have no way of expressing the anger they felt yesterday or the anticipation of tomorrow.


She understood about one hundred words at sixteen months, more words than a boy (child) at that age, but she never went beyond that.


She learned a number of individual words, even learning to “articulate” with great difficulty the words “ mama, papa, cup, and up.” That was the extent of her language production..


She was brought up in much the same way as a human child in a deaf community, in the presence of people who used ASL(American Sign Language). She was taught to sign, whereas children raised by deaf signers acquire sign. Language without teaching.


to be taught an artificial language designed to resemble human lanuguages in some aspects. Sarah was taught to associate particular symbols with particular meanings; the form-meaning relationship of the ” morphemes” or “words” was arbitrary. She was not allowed to “ talk” spontaneously, but only in response to her trainers.


a different kind of artificial language.

The words, called lexigrams, are geometric symbols display on a computer keyboard. (The computer records every button pressed; certain fixed orders of those lexigrams constitute grammatical sentences in Yerkish.


She has learned several hundred signs.

She is able to put signs together to make “sentences”, and is capable of making linguistic jokes and puns, composing rhymes, and inventing metaphors.

Nim Chimpsky:

She was taught ASL by an experienced teacher. Most of Nim’s signing occurred only in response to promoting by his trainers and was related to eating, drinking and playing, that is, it was “stimulus-controlled.” Moreover, the lack of spontaneity and excessive’ noncreative imitative nature of Nim’s signing led to the conclusion that Nim’s acquisition is qualitatively different from a child’s

Clever Hans:

a horse, became famous because of his apparent ability to do arithmetic, read and spell and even solve problems of musical harmony. He answered the questions posed by his interogators by stamping out numbers with his hoof.


using the same plastic lexigrams and computer keyboard, This concluded that Kauzi has not only learned, but also invented grammatical rules that may well be as complex as those used by 2-year-old children. Kauzi’s acquisition of “ grammatical skills” was much slower than that of the kinds of linguistic knowledge of a complexity equivalent to a three or four year old’s knowledge of structure.


The linguistic experiments with primates have led to many advances in our understanding of primate cognitive ability. These studies also point out how remarkable it is that human children, by the age of three and four, without explicit teaching, and without over reinforcement, create new and complex sentences never spoken and never heard before.