Review Questions: Biological Bases of Language (stated and cited from Dr. Pearl’s notes final
review session 6)
Because even if there was no language model to learn from, humans would spontaneously create
language (i.e. pidgins and creoles, homesign systems, the case of Nicaraguan Sign Language
Because adults who are creoles (like their children, but not like their parents or the children’s
grandparents) have grammatically more complex language, containing structures that are in the
pidgin language. Such structures include consistent word order, tense marking, and multi-clause
sentences. CHILDREN (CREOLES)ADD SOMETHING THAT WASN’TALREADY IN THE
• children = creole
o when children acquire language, they sometimes add something extra, which is
sometimes thought to be universal to human languages and part of children’s
innate endowment for language (i.e. Universal grammar)
o richer in grammatical structure/more grammatically complex
o rules of Creole are uniform from speaker to speaker and resemble the structural
rules of other creoles
• adults = pidgin
o structure is rudimentary = string of nouns, verbs, and adjectivies
o spoken by the immigrants
No, because nativists include constructionists and generativists.
When children acquire language, they sometimes add something extra, which is
sometimes thought to be universal to human language and part of children’s innate
endowment for language (i.e. Universal Grammar).
Nativists believe at least one thing is innate. They believe that an LAD exists, which contains
some domain-specific knowledge about the structure of language, known as Universal Grammar.
Generativists believe at least one thing is innate and domain-specific, but constructionists believe
at least one thing is innate but not necessarily domain-specific (they believe in domain-general).
1) Homesigners’signs use higher complexity finger groups in handshapes representing
properties of the object (i.e. tasty) and lower complexity finger groups in handshapes
representing how objects are handled (i.e. eat) = structurally complex
2) Homesigners distinguish nouns and verbs
3) Homesigners don’t use their caretaker’s word order
4) Homesigners distinguish between nouns (bird) and demonstratives (that bird) Conclusion:
• Homesigners aren’t just copying the gestures of their hearing caretakers. Instead, they
are creating their own systematic uses of gestures
• There seem to be some biases in the way these systematic gestural systems develop,
suggesting that the human mind naturally imposes some order on the linguistic
system it uses
Language Bioprogram Hypothesis
• Derek Bickerton:
o the capacity for language creation seen in creolization, homesign, and the
development of NSL is the same capacity that underlies language acquisition.
o humans have an innate core knowledge about the structural properties of human
language (domain-specific knowledge) = similar to the generativist approach to
• Elizabeth Bates
o knowledge learned may be innate but not necessarily domain-specific. It could be
statistical learning or pattern analysis abilities (both domain-general abilities)
Compared language of children who arrived to the school at a young age vs. children who
arrived when they were older (after age 10).
• The language of the younger children was structurally more complex (more like creole),
while the language of the older children was structurally simpler (more like pidgin).
• Spatial modification was also observed—if 2 signs are made in the same spatial location,
it indicates that one sign modifies the other (ex: ‘tall’in same location as ‘king’= ‘tall
o Younger children = more spatial modification and more inflection and agreement
o Older Children = less spatial modification, less inflection, less agreement per verb
Nativist and Generativist b/c an innate, domain-specific knowledge about language/ability is
involved, since evidence from pidgins and creoles, homesign, and NSL suggest that language is
something that human children can create, even in the absence of language input.
Language for native speakers’ is typically a left-hemisphere activity.
• Genie having language as a right-hemisphere activity implies that Genie was discovered
AFTER her critical period ended.
• Her syntactic skills lagged far behind and were deficient in both production and
• At 17 years, she had a 5 year old’s vocabulary—she could express meaning by combining
• Deaf-of-hearing children are children who are deaf and whose parents don’t know sign
language. • These children are eventually exposed to sign language when they encounter other deaf
children, but they experience late acquisition of sign language (ASL).
• Reason for being a better case study: these individuals have a normal childhood
experience, except for their lack of language input. Less circumstantial/uncontrolled
factors and more realistic in happening
• Language ability isn’t just about how long you’ve known a language b/c: Speakers who
had been signing for more than 30 years showed this same difference: sign language
speakers exposed younger were far superior in their language skills than to those exposed
when they were older.
• For second-language learners:
o Age of arrival was a better predictor of accent than how the number of years the
immigrant had been speaking English
o Age of arrival was a better predictor of comprehension than the number of years
the immigrant had spoken the language (not just about motor skill learning
o Second-language proficiency dependent on age of initial exposure (even with
same number of years of exposure total)
Morphology (i.e. verb agreement) in production differed (ex: Tom is/are
reading book in bathtub)
Basic word order: Subject, Verb, Object (SVO) (ex: penguins like fish vs.
fish penguins like)
• Test age differences in second language acquisition =>> during maturation, there was a
decline in ability as maturation increased, and after maturation, there was no relationship
between age of arrival and test score
• Language learning is comparatively effortless before age 8 or so, and extremely effortful
after 8 yrs
• fMRI confirmed that there are different neural processing for language in individuals who
learned before 7-8 yrs old vs. individuals who learned after this age
• ERP studies confirmed differing left-hemisphere specialization for language in
individuals who learned before age 4 vs. individuals who learned between 4 and 7 yrs vs.
individuals who learned after 7 yrs
• If CRITICAL period exists: people within the critical period learn well (native-like) and
after this period,