PSYC 101 Lecture 8: Lecture 8 Notes

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University of California - San Diego
PSYC 101
Adena Schachner

PSYC101 Lecture 8 Notes 5/4/17 - How children learn language: syntax, or rules for combining words o Generativity/productivity of human language: We can produce sentences that we have never heard before (and others can understand them) o Symbols of language allow us to make an infinite number of sentences o In English, the order of the words matter in the meaning ▪ The cat ate the fish does not equal the fish ate the cat ▪ Ate the the cat fish is not a correct sentence o The sentence: noun -> verb -> noun o Syntax in learned naturally, without explicit teaching - Producing grammar o Learn first word at 12-18 months ▪ Speech characterized by one-word speech ▪ Unanalyzed word combination: part of a sentence that doesn’t have meaning (‘Iwant’, not using I independently of want or vice versa) ▪ Comprehension usually proceeds production, unless in songs, where they know the song lyrics, but don’t know what it means o 2-word combinations at 2 years old (2 for 2) ▪ telegraphic-speech: lacks nonessential elements ▪ ex: “juice daddy”, “more candy” ▪ lacks articles, plural endings, etc. o 3 word combinations: more complex sentences ▪ there are individual variations in how long children stay in the 2-word stage before they move to combining 3 words (18 months – 2.5 years) ▪ children have difficulties with some kinds of complex sentences until well into the school years • ex: John is easy to please vs. John is eager to please. - Are the above observations evidence of grammatical knowledge? o Argument against: they could be just copying exact phrases they hear. o Argument for: even in combination of 2 words, they respect the order of words, so they understand the rules that govern the word orders - Grammar sensitivity o Experiment: early abilities (12-16 months) ▪ Present 2 images: big bird tickling the cookie monster and vice versa ▪ Hear either: “Oh, look! Big bird is tickling cookie monster!” or “Oh, look! Cookie Monster is Tickling Big Bird!” ▪ Kids preferred looking at the picture of what matched the sentence they heard ▪ Listen longer to sentences with natural word order vs. scrambled word order - Grammar knowledge o Experiment: present animal that she called a “wug” (not a real word). 4-year-old children can apply rules to the fake word, so they understand the rules rather than mimic people o More evidence that children understand: they make certain errors ▪ Overregularization errors: treating irregular words as regular. Ex: “He goed to the store” ▪ Ex: child says growed -> father says grew -> child says grewed • They still apply their knowledge, but not all the information gets through • Younger children over apply rules - Noam Chomsky o Before Chomsky, the Behaviorists had the theory that children learned language only by association, reinforcement, and punishment o However, ‘kids produce all sorts of speech they never hear, and are never rewarded for’ o Conclusion: development is not just simple associative learning, and all humans must be born with the ability to learn grammar (Universal grammar: we have the predisposition to learn grammar in our genes; species specific) o We’re not born knowing any specific language’s grammar; we only are born with the capacity to learn language o Learning language is like learning how to walk o humans have a critical period for language ▪ To learn language, must be exposed to other people using language —spoken or signed— and TIMING MATTERS ▪ Sometime between age 5 and puberty, language acquisition becomes much more difficult and less successful ▪ Particularly true for syntax and grammar ▪ Evidence: feral children (Genie), had trouble with syntax • When presented with a blue square on top of a red square and vice versa, then asked “give me the one that is on blue”, she didn’t know what to pick ▪ Hypothesis for the reason there is a critical period: the brain has the mechanism for learning language at an early age, and when the brain continues to develop over time, the mechanism either disappears or becomes less efficient ▪ Evidence: second language learners • Those originally from Korea and China came to the US at different ages. At the age of 7, there starts to be a decline in the ability to learn the language ▪ Nicaraguan sign language: until the 1970s, Nicaragua had no schools for the deaf and no signed language • At first, those born deaf/became deaf developed communication with family, but limited • At 1970, built schools to have all deaf people come together to learn language, but they only have their unique way to communicate • Only way to communicate was to combine symbols with each other • As new generation of students came, they learned quickly and developed the language; made syntax more complex to the point where it became a language
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