Introduction to LanguageAcquisition Review Session Notes (Cited from Dr. Lisa Pearl’s Class
Notes Ling 51)
• Most sentences are novel. You understand and produce them on the fly, and may never have
heard them before. Children are bad at imitating sentences where they don’t know some of
the words, so it doesn’t make sense for them to imitate words they don’t even know.Also,
children don’t often repeat word for word what adults around them say (i.e. “The cat is
hungry” becomes “Cat hungry”). It’s unlikely that children learn by being explicitly taught
because most of our knowledge is subconscious.
• Our language knowledge consists of many hidden, implicit rules (which we call grammar),
which means we probably can’t explicitly teach children these rules. Language is a complex
system of knowledge that all children learn by listening to native speakers in their
surrounding environment. It includes sound structure, word structure, word meaning,
sentence structure, mapping from sentence structure to meaning, and unspoken rules of
• Linguists care about the acquisition of descriptive rather than prescriptive rules of grammar.
Some prescriptive rules include not ending a sentence with a preposition, not splitting
infinitives (i.e. to boldy go), and not using combined words like “ain’t.” Some descriptive
rules include being able to end sentences with prepositions like “The dwarf is who Sarah first
talked with” or using the word “ain’t.”
• Parents don’t correct their children that often about “form of language” (i.e. Child “Her curl
my hair.”). Instead, they tend to correct when the meaning is incorrect (i.e. Child “There’s an
animal farmhouse.” Parent “No, that’s a lighthouse.”)
• Parents may provide implicit correction by offering alternative language forms when a child
has said something incorrect. The parents provide a good example of language use for
children without explicitly correcting them. This is called recast (i.e. Child “The dog runned
really fast, Daddy.” Parent “Yeah, he ran really fast, didn’t he?”
• Recasts aren’t a reliable source of correct language use b/c parents don’t provide recasts all
the time or all that consistently. Also, sometimes parents will repeat children’s incorrect
utterances if they agree with the meaning of them. This reinforces the incorrect language
usage, confusing the child.
Recasts can be very helpful when they offer a direct and immediate contrast between the
child’s way of saying something and the correct way. Recasts may help speed up learning, but
probably aren’t responsible for learning all knowledge about language.
• Children get help on what the correct forms are by listening to motherese and recasts in the
input. Motherese has a rise and fall contour for approving, a set of sharp, staccato bursts for
prohibiting, a rise pattern for directing attention, and smooth, low legato murmurs for
#1) Prosodic (melodic, rise and fall, etc) features are exaggerated, and pauses tend to occur at
phrase boundaries. = helps to identify how words cluster together into larger units like phrases. #2) Topics are about the here and now (things that are present/in front of you)= makes it easier to
link words to meanings. (i.e. when talking about objects, English adults tend to say the name of
the object last and precede it with a small set of reliable cues.
#3) Very few grammatical errors = correct grammar usage model
#4) Use gestures to secure children’s attention = easier to link words to meanings
#5) Speech is repetitious = babies have a short attention span
#6) Adults will often expand children’s utterances = children learn to convey the meaning they
want by adult’s example. (i.e. “Milk.” “You want some milk?”)
• #1) Children at day care centers with more one-on-one contact with an adult acquired
language more rapidly that children who got less one-on-one adult contact time.
#2) Older children, who receive all of their parents’child-directed speech, generally develop
language earlier than later-born children, who have to share it with their siblings.
#3) Motherese can also help jumpstart the language parts of the brain. Just 24 hours after birth,
the sound of a mother’s voice specifically activates the language processing and motor circuits of
the brain, more than even another female version.
• 21 month olds learn new words better from child-directed speech (motherese), as
compared to adult-directed speech (Ma et al 2011).
• Something unique about words specifically directed at children, compared to words
children simply overhear. Words that are simply overheard have very little impact on
• Diary studies keeping diaries of children’s development (followed by Darwin and Deb
• MLU (Mean Length of Utterance) coding system that correlates with measures of
children’s grammatical and phonological development. Track average number of
meaning-bearing units (morphemes) in the child’s speech
• CDIs (MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventories) use estimates
(checklists of words, gestures, word combinations that children produce OR comprehend)
that caregivers provide of children’s performance between 8-16 mo, 16-30 mo, 30-36 mo.
• Comprehension and production research methods
• It is important to do cross-linguistic and cross-cultural research because even if language is
universal, there are individual differences in language development, and there may be more
than one route to acquisition success.Also, there may be influences from different cultures
on the language learning environment for children.
• Contains video/audio recordings/ samples of spontaneous speech from children. Useful for
language acquisition research b/c used to find out the nature of language children produce.
Ideally, the sample should be representative of everything the child says, but this is difficult
in practice (Deb Roy’s work is an exception). • Because of the limitations of the CHILDES database, it’s hard to make claims that children
don’t use or know a particular structure, just because they don’t say that work in the
spontaneous speech samples gathered. They might know the word but just didn’t say that
structure when they were being recorded.
• Difficult to transcribe children’s recorded speech. Reason = conversational speech does not
use complete sentences. Child pro