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1st Language


How do humans
acquire speech?

Language acquisition
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?
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?

All languages have:

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
Semantic interpretations
Pragmatic ways to converse

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

Innate behaviors . . .

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
Generally observe a critical period for their

1. Emerge before necessary,

cannot be forced before scheduled
When is language necessary?
When do children usually begin
speaking/using language

Is this criterion met?

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
Is this criterion met?

3. Are not triggered

What would prompt a child to take up
What would prompt a child to begin

Is this criterion met?

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.
Is this criterion met?

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?

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.

Is this criterion met?

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

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.

So how DO we learn
our first language?

L1 acquisition
Sound production/babbling
Phonological acquisition
Semantic development

Caretaker Speech
A register characterized by:
Simplified lexicon
Phonological reduction
Higher pitch
Stressed intonation
Simple sentences
High number of interrogatives (Mom) &

imperatives (Dad)
Caretaker Speech

ASL Caretaker Speech

Some of the major features:

signing on the baby's body (when the location should be on

the signer)
using the baby's hands to sign on the adult's or child's body
placing the child on the lap and facing away from the mother
signing on the object
signing using the object
signing bigger than normal
signing repeated more often then normal
sign lasts longer than normal
signing special baby signs rather than adult signs
BSL Caretaker Speech

Acquisition of phonetics
Few weeks: cooing and gurgling, playing with
sounds. Their abilities are constrained by
physiological limitations.
4 months: distinguish between [a] and [i], so their
perception skills are good.
4-6 months: children babble, putting together
vowels and consonants. This is not a conscious
process! Experiment with articulation
7-10 months: starts repeated babbling.
10-12 months, children produce a variety of
speech sounds. (even foreign sounds)

Acquisition of phonology
Early stage: Unanalyzed syllables
15-21 months: words as a sequence of phonemes.
Mastery of sounds differing in distinctive
features (e.g., voicing)
Duplicated syllables: mama, dada - CV is main
syllable structure. They reduce = banana
na.na 2 syllable words
Early mastery of intonation contours (even in
non-tone languages)
Perception comes before production (fis
fis or
Phonological Processes

Begin with simple lexical items for
people/food/toys/animals/body functions
Lexical Achievement:

1-2 years old

3 years old
4 years old
5 years old
6-7 years old
High school grad

200-300 words (avg)

900 words
1500 words
2100 words
2500 words
40,000 60,000 words!

5,000 per year, 13 words a day


Miller & Gildea

But Dont Animals Know Words, Too?

Yes, butwhat about?
Just (very) brilliant vs. just (only) a little dirty vs. a

just (right) person

Blunt (dull) instrument vs. blunt (sharp) comment
I was literally (meaning figuratively) climbing the
Clip (on) a pin vs clip (off) hair
Cleave (together) vs cleave (apart)
Dust (remove) or dust (sprinkle)
And what does inflammable mean?

The acquisition of morphosyntax

At about 12 months, children begin
producing words consistently.
One-word stage (holophrastic stage):
Name people, objects, etc.
An entire sentence is one word

Two-word stage:
Approximately 18-24 months
Use consistent set of word orders: N-V, A-N,

With structure determined by semantic
agent+action (baby sleep)
possessor+possession (Mommy book)

Telegraphic stage (only content words)

Word Inflections
Function word sequences:

Plural s
Possessive s
3rd person singular
Past marker ed
Future marker will
Verb to be (is, are)


All singular
Some irregulars
Regular s
[-ez] for all
Only irregulars
remain problematic

Copulas before Progressives

We see another consistent pattern:
Copula: am, is, are, as in I am a
doctor developed before progressive:
am, is, are, as in I am singing.
Shortened copula: as in Hes a bear
came before the shortened
progressive: Hes walking.

Negative Formations
1st stage - attach no/not to beginning of sentence
(sometimes at end)
2nd stage negatives appear between subject and
verb (dont stayed at beginning in imperatives,
but not cant)
3rd stage appearance of nobody/nothing &
anybody/anything & inconsistent use of to be
verb is and auxiliary dummy do verb.

Question Formations
1st stage wh- word placed in front of rest
of sentence: Where daddy go?
2nd stage addition of an auxiliary verb:
Where you will go?
3rd stage subject noun changes places
with the auxiliary: Where will you go?

Acquisition of Semantics
Concrete before abstract:
in/on before behind/in front

Using moon for anything round
Using dog for any four-legged


The word bird may not include

pigeon, etc

Reviewing Linguistic Stages

6-12 weeks: Cooing (googoo, gurgling, coocoo)

6 months: Babbling (baba, mama, dada)
8-9 months: Intonation patterns
1-1.5 years: Holphrastic 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

What about
Second Language

Second Language
Differences from L1
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

2 to 1, 1 to 2 (splits)
English his/her to Spanish su

1 to 0, 0 to 1 (new items)
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

Old 1 to New 1 (changes)

English must learn new distribution for French nasalized

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.
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


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?