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Language and Cognition Colombo, June 2011. Day 3 Child Language and Disorders. Plan. Questions of innateness Modelling language processing in children Acquisition of syntax. Why study language development?. - PowerPoint PPT Presentation


  • Language and CognitionColombo, June 2011Day 3Child Language and Disorders

  • PlanQuestions of innatenessModelling language processing in childrenAcquisition of syntax

  • Why study language development?Acquisition of a complex cognitive system: understanding how children do this means we are understanding something substantial about how the human mind worksSpecies-specificity: determining what it is that makes humans unique (if we are unique)Some children have difficulties acquiring language even in the absence of other apparent learning difficultiesCultural differences in language use can lead to difficulties in mainstream education

  • Issues in the study of language developmentNature vs nurture: does the child acquire language from the environment, or is it genetically pre-programmed?Too simplistic: its certainly some combination of these two factorsThe debate now is more concerned with the nature of nature; what / how much is innately specified, and how much must be acquired

  • Is language innate?

  • Is language innate? Some argumentsno negative evidencespecies-specificityspecified neurological and genetic underpinningsspeed of language acquisition: around 2 years for most of the groundwork (cf. shoelace-tying) critical periods

  • No negative evidenceFather: where is that big piece of paper I gave you yesterday?Abe: Remember? I writed on it.Father: Oh, thats right. Dont you have any paper down there buddy?

  • Species-Specificity

    . . . it is now widely recognized that these efforts have failed, a fact that will hardly surprise anyone who gives some thought to the matter. The language faculty confers enormous advantages on a species that possesses it. It is hardly likely that some species has this capacity but has never thought to use it until instructed by humans. That is about as likely asthe discovery that on some remote island there is a species of bird that is perfectly capable of flight but has never thought to fly until instructed by humans in this skill. (Chomsky 1988).

  • Localization of function Phrenology Gall, Spurzheim, early 1800s Different cognitive functions can be localized to different parts of the brain Level of development of a particular function is reflected in skull formation

    The sad tale of Phineas Gage Dissociation of language from other cognitive faculties

  • LocalizationPaul Broca (1861): patient TanSlow, effortful, nonfluent speech with many omissions; but good comprehensionon parle avec lhemisphere gauche

    Carl Wernicke: patients with posterior lesions in the left hemispherecomprehension is impaired but speech is fluent

  • Genie: The Wild Child

  • Genie: The Wild Child

    Locked up in a room without languageDiscovered at age 13 yearsCould she recover language?Is there a critical period for learning language?

  • Special cases

  • Johnson & Newport: Critical Period Effects for L2

  • Cerebral plasticity and language dominanceDamage to language areas in young children may be associated with a shift in language function to the right hemispherePlasticity is greater in younger brains pathways are still being formed Equipotentiality (Lenneberg 1967)But the LHS seems specialized for language there are usually some functional differences in cases of early childhood hemispheric shiftsLanguage dominance appears to be established before birthPlanum temporale asymmetries are apparent as early as the third trimesterEarly hearing screenings show a right-ear advantage for linguistic stimuli

  • Critical periodEvidence from Wild ChildrenEvidence from L2 acquisition and attainmentEvidence from plasticity Additional evidence: children who are not exposed to sign language

  • Developmental sequences

  • What we studyWhats the nature of the Language Acquisition Device?How does it interact with environmental and social influences to result in development of language?

  • An example: Stackhouse & Wells (1997)

  • Input'Physical sound wave' - a sound wave, whether speech or non-speech, occurs in the environment.'Peripheral auditory processing' - the ear notices that a sound has been heard.'Speech/non-speech discrimination' - the sound heard is classified as being either speech or a non speech sound.'Phonological recognition' - speech sounds are classified as being part of a known language. 'Like tuning a radio until you reach a channel where you recognise the language.'Phonetic discrimination' - unusual speech sounds are processed here. This is used when speech sounds differ from the expected 'norm', for example, when processing different accents and dialects.

  • Representation'Phonological representation' - whole words are stored according to how they sound'Semantic representation' - the meanings of words are stored here'Motor program' - the motor instructions required for speech muscles to produce the necessary sounds for words

  • Output'Motor programming' - allows the production of words not previously known: copying a nonsense word such as 'short'; this enables the learning of new words.'Motor planning' - allows for factors about how a word will be said, for example, quickly, loudly or with specific intonation.'Motor execution' - the speech organs are activated and a word is articulated.

  • QuestionsHow do children develop such a system?How much of this framework do they bring to the language acquisition situation? (i.e., how much is innate?)How much do they have to learn?HOW do they learn this?

  • Principles and parametersUniversal Grammar: The innately specified principles and properties that pertain to the grammars of all human languagesLinguistic theory: A hypothesis about Universal GrammarPrinciples and Parameters: one such linguistic theory

  • Principles and parametersUniversal Grammar consists of Principles: accounting for the similarities between languagesE.g. Structure dependency, (extended) projection principleParameters: accounting for variation between languages

  • LearnabilityThe Principles and Parameters hypothesis can account forthe specific ways in which (the grammars of) languages can differ and the speed with which children acquire their languageunder this hypothesis, the child only has to choose from among a narrowly restricted set of values in each of a limited number of innate parametersconstrains the hypothesis spacelearning a language is reduced to parameter setting and lexical learning

  • Acquisition of negationData from English, German & FrenchStage 1 (about 24 months): Neg + sentence

    No the dollie sleep.

    Nein ich putt mache.No I kaputt makeI didnt break it.

    Pas la poupee dormir.Not the doll sleep.

  • Acquisition of negationStage 2 (about 28 months)Constructions with negative marker but no auxiliaries

    The dollie no sleep.

    Ich mache das nich. (adult negation)I do that not

    La poupee dort pas. (adult negation)the doll sleep not

  • Acquisition of negationStage 3 (about 36 months)Negation with auxiliariesI didnt/cant do it. (adult negation)

    Why does it take English children longer to acquire adult-like negation than it takes German or French children?

  • A negation parameterEither:Any verb can carry negation, OROnly auxiliary verbs can carry negation

    French, German: Any verb OKEnglish: only Aux OKAux is acquired late (Brown: 29-50 months)So in languages where Aux is required to carry negation, adult-like negation forms will also be acquired late

  • Question formation adult grammar

  • Question formation adult grammar

  • Question formation adult grammar

  • Question formation adult grammar

  • Question formation adult grammar

  • Acquisition of questionsStage 1: sentence with external question markerMommy eggnog?Where milk go?

    (Boy eat?)(What boy eat?)

  • Acquisition of questionsStage 2: Subject-Aux inversion in yes/no questions, but not in wh-questionsDoes the kitty stand up?Oh, did I caught it?Where the other Joe will drive?Why kitty cant stand up?

    (What the boy eat?)(What the boy did eat?)

  • Acquisition of questionsStage 3: subject-auxiliary inversion in wh questionsWhat did you doed?What does whiskey taste like?

    (What did the boy eat?)

  • Back to the parameterOnly aux / any verb can carry negationReformulate: distinction between auxiliaries and lexical verbs in terms of their distributional propertiesEnglish: yesFrench, German: noIn French or German, the lexical verb can be inverted to form a questionDort la poupee?-- Schlft die Puppe?*Sleeps the doll?In French or German, the lexical verb can carry negationLa poupee dort pas-- Die Puppe schlft nicht*the doll sleeps notIn English, these constructions will not look like the adult equivalents until the auxiliary system is acquired

  • ParametersSo that parameter captures a lot of cross-linguistic variation, as well as some facts about language acquisitionThe verb movement parameterLexical verbs can either move, or they cantIf they can (French, German), adult-like negation and question formation will be acquired earlierIf they cant (English), adult-like negation and question formation will not be acquired until the auxiliary system matures

  • Our questions:How do children develop such a system?Interaction between principles (universals) and parameters (limited variation, determined by exposure to linguistic environment)How much of this framework do they bring to the language acquisition situation? (i.e., how much is innate?)The principles are innate; the parameters are present but unset; possibly also some specific statistica


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