A. A framework.
B. Sequence of acquisition.
C. An exercise.
II. A framework: As we think about language acquisition, I want you to consider how this relates to the nature/nurture debate. Is language innate, or can it be learned? This is one of the fundamental questions in psycholinguistics.
The format for this lecture will be:
A. Major stage.
a. Comprehension/exposure (C/E): What infants are being exposed to and how much of that they understand.
b. Production (P): What language stuff they can make.
c. Communication (C): What they can communicate with their language stuff.
If a category is left blank it indicates either that nothing happens at that stage or that nothing has changed since the previous stage.
III. Sequence of acquisition.
1. In the uterus:
a. Comprehension/exposure: There’s evidence that infants are perceiving some speech sounds in the womb. Newborns prefer their mother’s voice to other voices, and there’s even evidence that newborns recognize Dr. Seuss stories that were read to them in the womb.
2. Gestures (roughly through the first year).
a. C/E: Adult speech to infants is tailored to infant attention spans. Some characteristics:
1) Higher in pitch, more variable in pitch, more exaggerated intonation contour. Newborns prefer baby-talk to adult speech, so it must work for them.
2) Turn-taking: Parents impose turn-taking from the start. Any response from the infant (a burp, a fart, a giggle) is interpreted as a turn.
3) Syntax: Sentences are simpler (“This is a lion. It’s a big lion. His name is Leo...”).
b. P: Scream and cry for attention. Early on, there’s no communicative intent. Around 8 mos., you start to see intent develop. How is that assessed?
1) Wait for response.
3) Alternative plans if they’re unsuccessful.
Anecdotally, you can see evidence of intent by looking at what the infant is looking at. If they’re trying to call attention to a dog and they’re looking at the dog, that probably doesn’t have intent. But, if they’re looking at a person’s face to make sure the person is looking where they want them to look, that’s intent.
c. C: They can convey:
1) Assertion: Noting that something exists.
2) Simple requests: Point to what they want.
1. Cooing: Practice with vowels.
b. P: They make back vowel sounds first.
2. Babbling: Making speechlike sounds.
a. C/E: Parents love this, so they’re exposed to a lot of positive feedback. But, parental feedback plays a limited role in making this start or in keeping it going. In terms of comprehension, they’re reorganizing phones into phonemes. Until babbling, any infant from any language environment can recognize just about any speech sound. After babbling, the sounds are mapped into a particular language. So, English speaking infants lose the ability to distinguish the /k/’s in “keep” and “cool”, and Japanese infants lose the /l/-/r/ distinction.
b. P: Stages in babbling:
1) Reduplication: babababa.
2) Variegated: bapabapabapa.
3) Complex: digodapalaba. At this point, English-speaking babies start to sound like English speakers, even though they’re not making real words.
c. C: Babbling isn’t about communication. They babble alone, and parents can’t modify it with reinforcement or punishment. Instead, it seems to be about learning the sound system.
3. Between sounds and words:
a. C/E: The child might begin attending to morphology. So, get beyond sounds, and look for meaningful units.
b. P: No sounds coming out.
C. One-word stage:
b. P: Get a fully realized locutionary act. The kid realizes that the sound stuff they’re making has meaning. But, their words are idiosyncratic. Their own parents probably know what they’re saying, other people probably won’t.
2. Holophrases: Still one word, but the idea is kids have a grammatical utterance inside that can’t get out, only one word emerges.
a. C/E: Realize that things have names. They focus on concrete objects, but on particular kinds of concrete objects:
1) They like things that move (doggie, truck).
2) They like things they can act upon.
This is the beginning of the word explosion. They learn an average of eight words/day from now until they’re six.
b. P: Difference between their words and adult speech:
1) Reduction: “bottle” = “baw.”
2) Coalescence: “pacifier” = “paf.”
3) Assimilation: “dance” = “nance.”
4) Reduplication: “daddy” = “dada.”
Each of these eases he burden on pronunciation. But, is it a problem with production or comprehension? Do they say it this way because that’s how they hear it?
You also get over- and under-extension. Over-: Apply a label too broadly (all four-legged animals are doggie). Under-: Too narrow (only Mom’s shoes are called shoe).
c. C: Holophrases are ambiguous. If you want milk and say “milk” and Mom says “Yes, that’s milk”, the whole experience can be frustrating. This is some incentive to move to the next stage.
D. Two-word stage: Called telegraphic speech because the child sounds like a person sending a telegraph.
b. P: Producing two-word “sentences.”
c. C: They can express a much wider range of ideas:
1) Nomination: “that book.”
2) Notice: “hi book.”
3) Recurrence: “more milk.”
4) Non-existence: “allgone milk.”
5) Attributive: “big book.”
6) Possessive: “Adam book.”
7) Locative: “book chair.”
The problem is you still have ambiguity here. “Mommy sock” could mean possessive (“Mommy’s sock”), locative (“Mommy’s wearing the sock”), etc.
E. Morphology: Inflections and little words come in. Conceptualize age not in years but in Mean Length of Utterance (MLU): How many words are in each sentence the child produces (on average). Morphology begins to emerge around 2.5 MLU (approx. 3 yrs.).
1. C/E: Parents encourage this, but there still seems to be a limited role to reinforcement.
2. P: Sequence of development:
a. Present progressive (“I driving”).
You get over-extensions here too. For example, kids will say “goed” for the past tense of “go” instead of “went”. U-Shaped learning: Get it right (“go-went”), overextend (“go-goed”), get it right (“go-went”). Explaining why this sequence emerges is a new problem in language development.
3. C: Range of concepts they can express increases greatly.
F. And so forth... They move into higher order grammatical structures. By five they’re just about adults, although some work is still going on. Around six they get passive. Between five and 10 they get the difference between “John is easy to see” and “John is eager to see.” Around nine they get the difference between “John promised Bill to go” and “John told Bill to go” (before that they think Bill goes in both cases).
IV. An exercise: To firm up our analysis of what’s required for acquisition, think about the problems on the next page. They go in order:
A. Do children need language exposure to develop language? If they get absolutely no exposure, what happens? (Genie, the wild boy)
B. What if they get exposure to language, but no grammar? (Creole Languages)
C. What’s the role of parental feedback (how much explicit teaching is required)?
Back to Langston's Psychology of Language