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What is Language?

A communication system in which words and their written symbols are combined in rule-governed ways to enable speakers to produce a finite number of messages
Language is:
Productive and Receptive


Behaviourist Approach to language acquisition and it's limitations

- a domain-general theory
> language is learned in the same way as a behaviour is learned
- language learning occurs in response to parental and societal reinforcement

- not enough to explain language learning on its own
- parent reinforces the concept of children's uttering rather than the correct grammar in infants
- would predict that bilingual children take twice as long to learn languages, not true


Connectionist Approach to Language development, and it's limitations

- language occurs through the construction of networks of associations (input->output)
> rule-based learning

> connectionist approach depends on the brains capacity for parallel processing (ability to handle many kinds of information simultaneously)

- difficult to create a computer program that accurately models what a child hears (not the same verbal input as adults hear)


Statistical Learning approach to language development

- learning mechanisms are domain-general

- builds on domain-general connectionist accounts, with an additional emphasis on calculation of conditional probabilities

- language learning occurs through tracking probabilities of sequences of linguistic events

- language learning becomes more sophistication over time
> since previous evidence is used to evaluate the strength of a rule at any given time


Nativist approach to learning

i.e. Chomsky
- general learning systems are not suited to language learning
- language learning occurs with the help of specialised language acquisition mechanisms
> specialised for learning abstract grammatical patterns that all languages share (technical ability to learn any language)

- poverty of the stimulus argument

- There is a critical period of language acquisition
> before or after this period, language cannot be learned in a natural fashion


What is the Poverty of the Stimulus argument?

An argument supporting the Nativist approach to learning

> the input that children receive is not always as well structured as the language they end up speaking
+ since speech is littered with errors (um, ah, failed grammar)
> thus we must have some specialised ability to pick up on negative information (but no explanation on how)


Interactionist approach to language acquisition and it's limitations

- we are biologically prepared for speech
- delicate balance between parent and child understanding
> parents speak in ways that recognise how much the child understands at the time
> Bruner's Language Acquisition Support System
+ there is an innate learning system but also these systems that support language learning

- no universal pattern of social linguistic support by parents
- negative evidence is critical in learning (not mentioned in the interactionist model)
> must be present
> must be easy to process
> must improve grammar learning


How a Support-figure aids language acquisition (interactionist approach)

> playing non-verbal games
> speak about visible objects
> teach children structural features such as turn-taking
> expansion
+ imitating and expanding on a child's statement (feedback)
> recasting
+ reframing a child's incomplete response in a more grammatically correct form
> using simplified speech (motherese)
+ short simple sentences
+ clear enunciation
+ higher pitched voice
+ end sentence with rising intonation


Language acquisition Models

Learning Models:
- behaviourist
- connectionist
- statistical learning

- nativist
- interactionist


Stages of Language acquisition

Preverbal (4-10m)
Proto-conversation (17m)
One-word Utterances (1y)

> Semantic Development
Vocabulary Explosion (18m)
Two-word Utterances (18m) {telegraphic speech}

Communication becomes discourse (2y)
Critical Listening (3y)
Mastery over Morphemes (8y)


Preverbal stage

- babbling (of phonemes)
> (gradually phonemes are linked to morphemes but not in this stage)


What is babbling?

Practice of speech using phonemes

Deaf babies babble with their hands if exposed to sign language


Phonemes and Morphemes

- the smallest unit of sound that creates a difference in meaning of a word

- the smallest unit of sound that has a meaning (a word)


Proto-Conversation Stage

- using phonemes in the style of conversation


One-Word Utterance Stage

- Holophrases
> a single word standing in for a larger sentence (up = pick me up)


What is Semantic Development?

Stage of language acquisition around 18m, where there is an understanding that some words are connected in meaning


What is the Vocabulary Explosion?

> rapid learning of new words
- volume of vocabulary growth is somewhat dependent on social class


What is the Emergentist Coalition Model (ECM)?

An interactionist approach to language acquisition
States there are 6 principles that claim language acquisition


What is the Principle of Reference?

The innate ability of an infant to understand that a word uttered is referring to something
(as per the Emergentist Coalition Model)


What is the Principle of Novel Object Categorisation?

The innate assumption of an infant that a novel object requires a novel word
(as per the Emergentist Coalition Model)


What are word-learning constraints?

expectations about what a word is likely to refer to


What is shape bias?

a perceptual constraint
- infants learn shapes over colours and textures


What is whole-object bias?

a conceptual bias
- young children assume that words refer to the whole object, not it's parts or properties


What is the Pragmatic constraint?

a conceptual bias
- the idea of mutual exclusivity
> each thing has only one label
> understand if a new word does not refer to something they know


What is the social constraint? (gaze-following)

a perceptual constraint
> joint attention in gaze-following
+ use the direction of an adult's gaze to help understand what they're talking about


Two Word Utterance Stage (telegraphic speech)

- tend to be consistently formed and ordered
- replaced by telegraphic speech (omitting words, but still communicating)


The process of mastery over Morphemes, 4 phases of applying grammatical rules

Phases of applying grammatical rules:
- Phase 1
> try but fail

- Phase 2
> memorise some irregular verbs (inefficient)

- Phase 3
> general rules learned for new and familiar words
+ over-regularisation of this rule (foot -> foots)

- Phase 4
> approach adult usage (about 8y)



- the social use of language
> context based speech behaviours


Speech acts

> verbal expression referring to situations rather than objects


What is Metalinguistic Awareness?

- understanding language is rule-bound
> level of language development is related to metalinguistic awareness


What is Phonological Awareness?

- metalinguistic awareness in relation to sounds of language i.e. rhymes
> significant for learning to read


What is Semanticity?

certain signs/words are tied to certain meanings


What is Arbitrariness?

no intrinsic connection between a word/sign and its meaning (non-onomatopoeic and non-iconic)


What is Discreteness?

the ability to break a language down into small units (morphemes) that can be combined to create new meaning


What is Displacement?

the ability to talk about things that aren't present or do not exist


Critical period of language development

If a child learns a language before 8, they are likely to speak it at native-like levels

Late language learners are more likely to:
- have accents
- fail to master syntactic subtleties
- fail to notice grammatical errors

Growing up without a language
- you will not be able to fully develop language abilities

How the critical period may work:
- changes in the brain over development alter language-specific abilities
> thus learning a 2nd language uses different systems depending if it is learned young or old age
- maturation causes more domain-general changes to cognitive abilities that alter the course of language acquisition


Neural Dissociations

When one skills is dissociated from another, one could be impaired and the other, not


What is Aphasia?

- inability to understand speech due to brain damage


What is the effect of damage to Broker's areas?

- specifically, Syntactic skill is reduced


What is the effect of damage to Wernicke's areas?

- specifically, semantic skills are reduced
> mainly in adults, sometimes language is the only thing impaired, suggesting there are specific brain areas devoted to language


What is Specific Language Impairment?

linguistic impairment that appears to be genetically based


What is Syntax?

A set of grammatical rules that govern language


Nicaraguan Sign Language

Before 1970s, deaf Nicaraguans had little contact with each other.
No unifying education system for the deaf.
Burden of negative social attitudes led to keeping deaf people isolated.
No-one taught them how to sign
- instead, families developed simple homes-signing denoting simple items

Children could often not communicate when grown up (argument for nativism)

In 1977 a school for deaf children was formed
Taught them to lip read, tried to teach Spanish but no effect on either.
The children started communicating with each other using signs they had developed
- adults did not understand what they were saying
The children had developed a language with syntax
Syntax = set of rules that govern language

- as children spent more time together they developed common signs and grammar
- these changes in grammar first appeared among preadolescents, and spread to younger learners, but did not spread to adults (critical period)
- most fluent signers are the youngest, most recent learners

> this allowed the evolution of a language to be studied

- split participants into cohorts according to first exposure to NSL (nicaraguan sign language)
> 1 = pre 1984
> 2 = 1984-1993
> 3 = post 1993
- also split them according to age they had been exposed to NSL
> Early = before 6.5y
> Middle = 6.5-10y
> Late = after 10y

Focussed on examining universal design features of language
- semanticity = certain signs are tied to certain meanings
- arbitrariness = no intrinsic connection between a sign and its meaning (onomatopoeic and non-iconic)
- discreteness = the language can be broken down into small units (morphemes) that can be combined to create new meaning
- displacement = ability to talk about things that aren't present or do not exist

Spatial Modulations
- a way of applying grammatical elements to words (subject or tense)
> i.e. pay, he pays
- Results
> the earlier exposed to NSL and the younger, the better the ability to pick up the spatial modulations (critical period)

Separating Motion Events:
- NSL people would encode 2 components of motion (rolling, down a hill) as separate components
> as opposed to one component
- this is indicative of Semanticity within the language