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1st Language Acquisition

Click to edit Master subtitle style How do humans acquire speech?

Language acquisition
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We are not born speaking! Language must be acquired. If we think of all that is entailed in knowing a language, it seems quite a challenge.

What Does a Baby Hear?

Language instinct?

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Language is innate only surface details need be learned? Human brain pre-programmed for language? Language a result of general cognitive abilities of the brain? Neither tells us what specific language to learn or particular structures to memorize.

Language Universals

What evidence is there for innate knowledge of certain basic language features present in all human languages?

GRAMMAR q All languages have:

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A grammar Basic word order (in terms of SOV, etc.) Nouns and verbs Subjects and objects Consonants and vowels Absolute and implicational tendencies

E.g., If a language has VO order, then modifiers tend to follow the head)

Universal Grammar

Humans then learn to specialize this universal grammar (UG) for the particulars of their language.

Word order, syntactic rule preferences Phonetic and phonological constraints Lexicon Semantic interpretations Pragmatic ways to converse

Innateness of language?

Evidence for innateness of language? The biologist Eric Lenneberg defined a list of characteristics that are typical of innate (preprogrammed) behaviors in animals.

Innate behaviors . . .

2. 3. 4.



Maturationally controlled, emerging before they are critically needed Do not appear as the result of a conscious decision. Do not appear due to a trigger from external events. Are relatively unaffected by direct teaching and intensive practice. Follow a regular sequence of milestones in their development. Generally observe a critical period for their acquisition

1. Emerge before necessary,

cannot be forced before scheduled

When is language necessary? When do children usually begin speaking/using language coherently?


Language emerges before it is necessary.

Language emerges between the ages of 12 and 24 months while the child is completely dependent on parents for survival. Although language will be an important survival tool, it is not important to survival at this age.

2. Are not conscious


Does a child decide to consciously pursue certain skills? (e.g., walking) Do babies make a conscious decision to start learning a language?

2. Language acquisition is not the result of a conscious decision.


There is no evidence that children decide to learn language. Early language is an spontaneous game that happens between babies and their caretakers, not a conscious goal.

3. Are not triggered


What would prompt a child to take up soccer? What would prompt a child to begin speaking?

3. Language acquisition is not triggered by external events.


There is nothing that causes the emergence of language to begin. All children begin playing with sound and language regardless of the context in which they live. Children require input, but even children who do not interact with others begin the stages of language acquisition. Without external input they may not succeed in acquiring language, but they still initiate the same behaviors as isolated children.

4. Cannot be taught

We CAN teach prescriptive rules of language. But were not talking about that here. We correct childrens errors sometimes. Does it help?
Nobody dont like me

In fact, coaching seems to hurt rather than help language ability in children.

4. Teaching and practice have little effect on

language acquisition.

Parents do not give lessons to their children to get them to acquire language. Praise and correction do not occur with enough frequency to account for language proficiency Praise and correction may have little effect on language acquisition. Children produce language they have not heard from others Children learn language too rapidly to logically derive all linguistic rules from experience

Poverty of the Stimulus


If language is learned, then children should only produce words and sentences they have heard. If language is learned, then children should only understand words and sentences they have heard.

5. Follow milestones

In spite of different backgrounds, different locations, and different upbringings, most children follow the very same milestones in acquiring language. Is this criterion met?

5. There is a regular developmental sequence to language acquisition.

Language is acquired in a universal series of stages regardless of the cultural and/or linguistic context a. Babbling b. Holophrastic speech (1 word) c. Telegraphic speech (2 word) d. Functional morpheme acquisition order e. Acquisition of negatives

So how DO we learn our first language?

L1 acquisition
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Sound production/babbling Phonological acquisition Morphological/Syntactical acquisition Semantic development

Reviewing Linguistic Stages

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6-12 weeks: Cooing (googoo, gurgling, coocoo) 6 months: Babbling (baba, mama, dada) 8-9 months: Intonation patterns 1-1.5 years: Holophrastic stage (one word) 2 years: Two-word stage 2.5 years: Telegraphic stage 3,4 11 years: Fluent speech w/errors 12 years+: Fluent speech

There is a regular developmental sequence to language acquisition.

Language is acquired in a universal series of stages regardless of the cultural and/or linguistic context a. Babbling b. Holophrastic speech (1 word) c. Telegraphic speech (2 word) d. Functional morpheme acquisition order e. Acquisition of negatives

a. Babbling
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4 to 12 months Babies begin with strings of sounds and by 12 months are babbling the full range of sounds used in human speech. Syllables can be detected in babbling Intonation patterns can be detected in babbling Deaf children babble with gestures

Detecting Word Segments

Example: 7 - 8 month old babies

tibudopabikudaropigolatupabikutibudogolatudaropidaropitibudopabikug olatu

expose babies over time to the above nonsense string that contains pabiku a number of times expose babies to pabiku and novel nonsense sounds and they will attend to the novel sounds and ignore the pabiku which they have heard within the nonsense strings during training Conclusion: babies can recognize and extract words from the sounds they hear around them.
Jenny R. Saffran 1999

b. Holophrastic Speech
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At about 1 year The first stage of symbolic connection of sounds with meanings One word sentences e.g. Go! e.g afuf e.g. ahbee

c. Telegraphic Speech
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18 to 24 months Two word sentences e.g. Mommy up. e.g. Me go. Evidence of syntax ordering two meaning symbols Lack function words like articles, helping verbs, etc.

c. Functional Morphemes
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At 2 to 3 years Add functional morphemes that adjust the meanings of words 1. Addition of ing to verbs 2. Add prepositions in and on 3. Addition of s 1st to plural nouns 2nd to possessive nouns 3rd to present tense verbs 4. Addition of articles (a, an, the) 5. Forms of to be (is going ra th go)

c. Acquisition of Negatives
1. No in front of sentence No I go. 2. Negative between subject and verb I no go. 3. Correct grammatical integration

6. Observe a critical period

What is a critical period?

For first language acquisition, there seems to be a critical period of the first five years, during which children must be exposed to rich input. There is also a period, from about 10-16 years, when acquisition is possible, but not native-like. For SLA, the issue is more complicated More on that later.

6. There is a critical period for language development.

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Childhood stages are quite regular Ability to acquire language after puberty declines in all humans regardless of cultural and/or linguistic context People who learn a language after puberty retain their first language accent. Deaf individuals who learn to sign after puberty sign significantly differently than those who learn before.

The Critical Period Hypothesis


CPH: Proposed by Lenneberg

This hypothesis states that there is only a small

window of time for a first language to be natively acquired. If a child is denied language input, she will not acquire language

Genie: a girl discovered at age 13 who had not acquired her L1 (-- Isabelle and Victor) Normal hearing child born to deaf parents, heard language only on TV, did not acquire English L1


Isabelle and Genie


found at 6.5 years cognitively delayed no aural linguistic input lived w/ deaf mom in isolation

found at 13 years cognitively delayed no linguistic input

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chained in dark room

at 8.5 yrs, achieved normal language skill


learned complex vocabulary but never acquired syntax

More evidence for the Critical Period Hypothesis


Second Language Acquisition:

Younger learners native fluency. Older learners (>17) never quite make it.

ASL Acquisition:
Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs) have an advantage over later-

learners of ASL in signing


Less chance of recovery of linguistic function after age 5. Lateralization

What about Second Language Acquisition? L2

Second Language Acquisition

Differences Master acquisition Click to editfrom L1subtitle style Teaching Methods


Native Language = L1 =1st Language, mother tongue, heart language Second Language = L2 = Target Language or Learner Language Second Language Acquisition (SLA)
Research investigates how people attain proficiency in

a language which is not their mother tongue

Differences between L1 and L2


Interlanguage contrasts/similarities
Equal transfer

Same word order, words, vowels English his/her to Spanish su English must learn to add new determiners: El hombre es mortal, English learners of Spanish must learn to forget the English do as a tense carrier English must learn new distribution for French nasalized vowels.

2 to 1, 1 to 2 (splits)

1 to 0, 0 to 1 (new items)

Old 1 to New 1 (changes)

Mastering the L2

Is there a critical period for L2?

For authentic accent perhaps (Scovel 1999)

Cognitive considerations?
Does formal/abstract thought help or hinder? Conscious vs. automatic learning

Affective considerations?
Self-esteem, inhibition, risk-taking, anxiety, empathy,


Interference between L1 and L2?

Adult may be more vulnerable to interference from L1,

but L1 can also be useful to adults

Second Culture Influence?

Culture shock, social distance, policy and politics

Stages of L2 Aquisition

Stage 1 Random errors/wild guesses

The different city is another one in the another two. Or

John cans sing.

Stage 2 Emergent
Learner cannot correct errors even when pointed out.

L: I go New York NS: You will go to New York? When? L: 1972. NS: Oh, you went to New York in 1972. L: Yes, I go 1972.

Stages of L2 Acquisition

Stage 3 Systematic
Learners can correct errors if pointed out:

L: Many fish are in the lake. These fish are serving in the restaurants near the lake. NS: [laughing] The fish are serving? L: [laughing] Oh, no, the fish are served in the restaurants!

Stage 4 Stabilization
Learners can self-correct. However, often they may not correct errors that arent

brought to their attention and may manifest fossilization of their L2.

L2 Teaching Methods

Mother tongue, vocabulary lists, grammar, classical

texts, reading important

Direct (Berlitz) method

Active oral interaction, spontaneous use, no translation

between L1 and L2, little grammar, good for smaller classes

Audio-lingual method
Dialogue form, mimicry, set phrases, drills,

memorization, tapes, language labs, pronunciation important, little use of mother tongue, popular in military training, short-term effectiveness

Todays approach?
Multiple approaches, customized, interactive

Communicative Competence

What is it, and how do we know when we have it?

Pragmatic Competence:

Functions of language:

Discourse, sociolinguistic, cultural, contexts of use

Organizational Competence:


Vocabulary, morphology, syntax, phonology, graphology Cohesion, rhetorical organization


What does it mean to be fluent?