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Lecture

Language Acquisition


Department
Psychology
Course Code
PSY260H1
Professor
Martin Ralph

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Language Acquisition
Initial language learning, not learning a second language.
Language is a coded representation of social communication; thoughts, feelings, etc.
What is it that we do differently when we use language versus other means of
communication? This difference is the symbolic and coding nature of language.
Language (Speech)
The expression of thoughts and ideas through production of sounds.
To understand the spoken and printed words and to express idea in speech and
writing is called language.
A coded representation of thoughts, ideas, feelings, and perception of the world.
Broca’s Area: production of language, although not
exclusively.
Wernicke ’s area: understanding of
language.
Language comes in a phonetic and an
autographic form. Phonetic things are
oral and are produced by the organism
directly to another organism. We have a written
language as well; this is the autographic
form of language.
We learn language uniquely; we produce codification
through special language areas in a way that other species
cannot. These areas are specialized to deal with the sounds that are used in language. The
development of these areas occurs slightly differently than other areas in the cortex,
although in relatively similar ways.
Areas of the cortex are basically assigned types of sound, frequencies, patterns of speech,
words, etc. Phonetics or
phonemic awareness is a
developmental step.
The Speech Pathway
Printed/articulated words
are interpreted in the
visual/auditory cortex.
These are then converted
into internal words (the
words we are aware of and
think about, the inner
voice), and their meaning is
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interpreted by Wernicke’s area and coordinated by Broca’s area. This way we can
produce speech. There is also an involvement of Broca’s area in the frontal region and
Wernicke's area, so that we can control our speech (the decision to say something).
Things that go wrong with speech can happen at many levels of this system. We can have
issues with understanding, decoding the sound stream, central processing issues, where
we are unable to rehearse or remember this speech (we forget them as they come),
difficulty understanding, problems with the output of speech (physically). These are all
types of aphasia.
Basically:
(1) Printed words will be seen by the primary visual area
(2) Words are interpreted by the visual association area
(3) These words are converted into internal words by the Dejerine area (angular
gurys)
(4) These internal words are interpreted by Wernicke’s area.
(5) This is coordinated by Broca’s area.
(6) From Broca’s area it will either (a) travel to the motor area for spoken speech or
(b) the Exner (motor writing center) along with the motor area to initiate the
appropriate movements of hands and fingers in order to write speech.
What happens as the new born infant begins to acquire language?
We are born with the ability to acquire language. Our brain, through its sensory input, is
exposed to many sounds. None of these sounds have meaning until we associate these
sounds with things that are meaningful to us. The brain is built to very quickly, sort out
the types of sounds that have meaning for us; to the individual (regardless of what these
sounds are, as long as they are associated with things in our environment, our needs, and
having the environment meet our needs). The language into which we are born is what
carries this meaning.
An infants brain is very capable of learning multiple languages and in fact, multiple
languages presented to a new born in the first year, influence the way the brain interprets
sound and makes it easier for the brain to learn language. This ability declines as we age.
Language is a simple algorithm, a statistically based mechanism for the brain to figure
out what is important in the world and to remember it.
Issues can occur in how we acquire sounds. Just as you can learn Chinese, German, etc as
an infant, you can learn garbage; these are sounds that do not carry meaning. Or we can
learn certain words and associations that are jumbled; this, for example, often happens to
children who live in environments with a lot of white noise. The white noise masks the
relevant and appropriate sounds and children end up associating meaning with a mixture
of this white noise and actual words. This also happens with children who have middle
ear infections.
Language has a critical period for acquiring language; this critical period ends after
puberty. The first critical phase in this development is the period in which babies try to
master the sounds that are used in their language. Babies can discriminate sounds of all
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