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Unit 11: Language Acquisition Under Special Circumstances

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Psychology 2134A/B
Marc Joanisse

Unit 11 Language Acquisition Under Special Circumstances Part 1 Language in Children With Limited Input Earlier lectures have focused on issues of language innateness and the role that input plays in how we learn our first language Arguably the best test of this would be to examine how language learning happens in cases of children whose language experience is limited due to unusual circumstances In this lecture we will look at socalled natural experiments in which a childs language input is limited of interest is how this influences how the child ultimately learns language Creoles and Pidgins Pidgins Pidgins are rudimentary languages created when speakers of different languages come into contact with each other These have historically occurred due to slavery or trade Pidgins are not real languages in the usual sense that is they Have a small lexicon Few if any polysyllabic words No productive morphology Fixed word order short sentences No function words a the in onCreolization Bickerton in the 1980s noticed that there were many pidgin speakers in Hawaii and elsewhere in the Pacific islands due to confluence of Western and indigenous cultures He noted that speakers who learned a pidgin as an adult spoke differently from their children who learned it from birth Their children showed more complex language that had grammatical structure not evidence in the parental languageChildren seem to be going beyond the input available to themParent tutor is simpler than what children learned For instance here is a typical pidgin sentence aena tu macha curen samawl churen haus mani ei and too much children small children house money payTypical creole sentence im fi kom op ja He ought to come up here wi de a London We are in London Bickerton noted that creoles have rich inflectional morphology complex word order bigger vocabulary and more phonological complexityHe also noted that creoles share grammar properties regardless of where they occur and what the base languages are that they are based on For instance they all are SVO languages regardless of the word order of the languages that the pidgins are based onGiven this he suggested that children who get a pidgin as their model for language learning are going beyond the input Language Bioprogram Hypothesis Creoles are the result of a biological endowment for language acquisition consequently complex language ability can develop in children even when they receive impoverished inputsThe role of biology in all of this is that we dont learn language in the traditional sense Rather it is acquired using innate principles hence language researchers will often talk about it as being language acquisition not language learning to underline the idea that the mental mechanisms used in language development are different from learning other things like math or how to ride a bike
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