First Language Acquisition Behaviorist view of language acquisition First half of the 20th century Stimulus-response – Positive reinforcement repetition Imitation Skinner (1957) Verbal Behavior challenged by Chomsky (1959). Flaws of behaviorist view as an account of language learning Ignores contribution of innate cognitive abilities (e.g. LAD) in favor of the influence of the environment on the learner. Variation in learning environments doesn’t result in varied language development. Why not animals? – Human language is creative! Children’s errors – Not based on repetition but rules: *I goed home – Grammatical forms acquired without overt correction Insights from psychology on language acquisition Developmental stages – Physical capacity – babbling to words (1 year) – One word (familiar object) to one word (complex idea) – One word (idea) to two word expressions (18 months) • Order of importance: nouns (object), then verbs (action), then adjectives & adverbs (description), finally prepositions (“function words”) – Two-word to fluent expressions (late twos to mid threes) is extremely rapid and researchers have been unable to document stages Evidence of separate “LAD” Linguistic and non-linguistic competencies emerge simultaneously (not cognitive first, then language). Language development is universal across children, languages, environments. Stages of language development are the same for oral or gestural language. Language development beyond two years is too rapid to measure. The Innateness Hypothesis Characteristics of biologically controlled behaviors (walking vs. riding a bike): – The behavior emerges before it is necessary. – Its appearance is not the result of a conscious decision. – Its emergence is not triggered by external events (though the environment must be conducive to development). – Direct teaching and intensive practice have relatively little effect. – There is a regular sequence of “milestones” as the behavior develops. – There is likely to be a “critical period” for the acquisition of the behavior. The Critical Age Hypothesis Two critical periods associated with language emergence – Birth to 2 – child needs exposure to language in order to develop the brain structures necessary for language acquisition. – 10 to 16 – ability to acquire a language with native competence tapers off. Case studies: – Genie (1970) age 14 • Learned to memorize vocabulary • Never developed creative language (What is X; Give me Y). Formulaic language. – Isabelle (1937) age 6.5. • In 2 years developed normal, age-appropriate use of language The social nature of language acquisition Communicative competence (Hymes 1970) is the foundation of the ACTFL National Standards in Foreign Language Education: – all the linguistic and social knowledge required for effective human-to-human interaction is encompassed in (the phrase) ‘knowing how, when, and why to say what to whom’. Formerly, most teaching in foreign language classrooms concentrated on the how (grammar) to say what (vocabulary)…The current organizing principle for foreign language study is communication, which also highlights the why, the whom and the when. Wells (1986): control and correction inhibits language development. Linguistic insights into language acquisition From behaviorism (structural linguistics) to cognitive psychology (generative grammar). – Patterns, S-R rules, creative language – Finite set of rules generate infinite number of sentences. – deep-structure vs. surface structure – Children use linguistic input in their environment to develop a set of rules that allows them to produce and understand an infinite number of expressions LAD Theory: Universal Grammar (UG) contains the structures common to all human languages. Child learns how particular languages function in relation to universals. Evidence: – Learn to use language, not explain how it works – Intuition • “I wonder when he is/ he’s at home.” • “I wonder where he is/ *he’s at noon.” – Limited number of kinds of errors children make – Lenneberg – developmental stages (overhead) Vocabulary is not part of UG. Soundmeaning relationship is arbitrary.
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