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Chapter 9

Chapter 9 - Language Development Notes.docx

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PSYC 251
Valerie Ann Kuhlmeier

Chapter 9: Language Development Language the systematic and conventional use of sounds, signs or written symbols for the intention of communication or self-expression Human language differs from the communication systems of other species in 3 different ways: 1. Human language is symbolic the hand movements and sounds represent something that is independent of just the sounds and movements 2. It is grammatical each language has a system of rules that allows the speaker to form sentences that may not have been formed before; it does not have a set number of sentences that all speakers must memorize 3. The language varies from culture to culture although all humans acquire language, the languages we speak depend on the cultures we come from In order to successfully acquire language, it is important to develop expertise in the following areas of language: The form phonology and structure of words and sentences The meaning accomplished through semantics and grammar The use pragmatics Thus, it is clear that language consists of many components: Phonology the actual sounds made by the speaker Semantics the underlying, abstract meaning of language Grammar the linguistic rules of a language Pragmatics the use of language in a social context; or ability to use language to get things done in the world There are two extremist positions that try to explain how children acquire language: 1. The empiricist position this position states that language is acquired through the mechanisms of learning, just like how everything else is acquired B F Skinner was the one who proposed this he thought that children acquire language through operant and classical conditioning o Although this is somewhat true, children do not learn language entirely through conditioning for example, grammar: children do not imitate grammar they have not yet learned, unless they are able to produce it on their own 2. Contemporary theoretical perspective acknowledges that a childs language environment is important for language acquisition, but that children are also especially prepared for learning language - Nativist theories children are born with a broad theory of language that they modify in accordance with the speech they hear while growing up Nativists believe that language is a domain-specific goal, and the cognitive processes involved in learning language are different from those used for acquisition of other skills. Theories date back to ancient times In Greece, it was believed that the first word a child spoke would be from the worlds oldest language o King Psammetichus commanded this upon a child, and the child uttered bekos, which was Phrygian for bread, and so it was believed that Phrygian was the oldest language in the world. Modern theorists believe that children possess a language instinct the structures and processes of acquiring language are innate, but typical language environments allow kids to learn their mother tongue Claims: o Language is a unique human ability with a strong biological base o Eric Lenneberg championed the position that language is based in biology, pointing out six characteristics to support his argument o Language is: Species specific Species uniform Difficult to prevent Develops in a regular sequence Has specific anatomical structures associated with its use Sometimes affected by language disabilities that are genetically based - Social interactionist perspective language acquisition comes from childrens social interaction with others and is based on their developing social-cognitive abilities Universal Grammar Noam Chomsky Refers to the innate grammatical rules that typify all languages Chomsky proposed that children are born with a special mental organ, the LAD (language acquisition device) - this, according to Chomsky, is a mechanism that enables humans to acquire any language given a minimum linguistic input The idea is that children dont know actual language, instead they possess a set of principles and parameters that help them interpret the speech they hear Nativists point out the universal similarities of all languages e.g. all languages have vocabularies that are divided into parts of speech, prefixes and suffixes Sensitive Period for Language Acquisition The implication that childrens brains are specifically suited to learning language, but with time, experience and brain maturation, they lose this ability of language learning, making it more difficult for them to learn languages Consistent with nativist perspective Four sources of evidence: o Children who experience social isolation in their childhood rarely acquire more than a tentative mastery of language o Adults are clearly able to learn a second language, but the later they are exposed to it, the more difficult it is for them to pick it up o Even first languages, like the American Sign Language, become harder to pick up for hearing-impaired children if they are exposed to it at a later age o Brain damage the later your left hemisphere gets damaged, the harder it is for you to acquire and speak language normally because it becomes more difficult for other areas of the brain to take over the language function Pidgins structurally simple communication systems that arise when people who share no common language come into constant contact with each other Creole language that develops when children transform the pidgin of their parents to a grammatically more complex true language Social Interactionism Believe that language development is the consequence of a set of mechanisms and
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