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Unit 4: Language Development

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Psychology 2134A/B
Marc Joanisse

Unit 4 Language Development How do Babies Learn Language The answer is not a simple one in light of how we have characterized language so far in this course We have a mental grammar that contains a great deal of information Much of it is quite abstract and not totally obvious from what they get as input For instance knowing that their language follows SVO word order requires that they first learn what a subject verb and object are which itself requires them to learn what nouns and verbs are None of this information is directly present on the input that they receive eg in the cat chased the dog each phrase is not already labeled as the subject verb or object let alone noun or verbAnd we also know that children have to learn this very quickly So how do they do it Activity First take a look at this activity learnability note As the activity showed it is very hard to solve the problem if you only had positive evidence ie what is allowed there was really no way to know what the rule is since you could guess any number of things In contrast if you get negative evidence what is not allowed the task is much easier You can rule out a lot of different possibilities Learning a mental grammar follows a similar logic the input that the child receives is almost always positive evidence what is grammatical Parents do not explicitly tell children what is not grammatical except in very specific circumstances as well discuss below Put another way children must learn language without feedbackThat is they have to learn grammatical rules using the evidence in their environment So they input they get is positive evidence Poverty of the Stimulus Chomsky called this The logical problem of language acquisition Logically if children are only receiving positive evidence they will need to hear all possible grammatical utterances in order to learn a grammar But as we saw previously language is infinite It would take an infinite amount of time for a teacher to show a child all possible grammatical utterances in their language So it boils down to this Grammar is complex and children receive only impoverished input That is they receive as input only a subset of all possible grammatical sentences Worse than this they sometimes also receive ungrammatical inputs since adults tend to accidentally produce ungrammatical and incomplete sentences all the time Negative Evidence Do children get any negative evidence Surely parents do sometimes correct childrens errors As it turns out studies of parentchild interactions show that parents provide very little feedback to a child about grammar Instead parents mostly correct children when they say things that arent true eg if a child says something is a horse when its a cow a parent is likely to correct them for this but they are less intent about correcting a childs grammar
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