ANT206 Chapter 3 Notes

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University of Toronto Mississauga
Sarah Hillewaert

Asem Harun ANT206 Chapter 3 – Language Acquisition and Socialization - The way in which we talk to our infants in our society (with baby talk and high pitched praises) is often seemed as the ‘natural’ way to talk to a baby, and some even think it is necessary to speak this way in order for children to learn a language. - Linguistic anthropologists however showed that this way of using language with infants is ‘characteristic neither of all societies nor of all social groups’. - Such research demonstrates that there are multiples ways of becoming fluent in one’s native language(s) and becoming socialized into one’s culture. - In Bambi Schiefflin’s study the ‘Kaluli’ do not consider infants to be appropriate conversation partners and so people do not use baby talk - Kaluli mothers speak ‘for’ the infant, addressing others using the appropriate kinship term for say ‘brother’. Mothers do for infants what they cannot do for themselves: act in a controlled and competent manner using language. - Kaluli mothers refuse to address their infants directly and do not simplify the grammar of their utterances at all. - These two examples raise questions about the process of language acquisition/socialization. 1. How does the innate human capacity to learn a language intersect with the culturally and linguistically specific factors in each child’s upbringing? 2. In bilingual/multilingual environments, do socialization practices have an impact on which languages children learn and tow what levels of proficiency? 3. Does language socialization end when childhood ends, or does it continue into adulthood? Language Acquisition and the Socialization Process - The fact that children in north American contexts and Kaluli are raised differently, nevertheless all become competent speakers of their native languages by about age three, points to an undeniable innate component in the language acquisition process - Noam Chomsky states that social/environmental influences on language acquisition are extremely limited. Language acquisition as a process over which children and their caregivers have very little control over. - Chomsky and similar anthropologists believe language arises out of a separate domain specific faculty or module of the brain - Without a ‘language-acquisition deice’, these scholars argue, children would not be able to acquire language so quickly. - Furthermore, all a child needs to do, in this view, is to hear a few examples of any particular grammatical feature in order to be able to set the appropriate parameter, or switch, correctly in the ‘universal grammar’ Asem Harun ANT206 - Scholars who disagree with the Chomskyan view maintain that generalized cognitive/developmental processes or learning mechanisms enable children to acquire one or more languages in the same way that they learn other advanced cognitive tasks. • Elizabeth Bates and Brian MacWhinney argue “the human capacity for language could be both innate and species-specific, and yet involve no mechanisms that evolved specifically and uniquely for language itself. Language could be viewed as a new machine constructed entirely out of old parts”. - Anyhow, linguistic anthropologists maintain that social interactions play a crucial role in language acquisition, and it is here that the discipline of linguistic anthropology has a great deal to contribute to a deeper understanding of how children learn their native languages. (Language socialization is what delves into these issues) - Elinor Ochs and Bambi Shcieffelin states the main two propositions of Language Socialization is: • Process of acquiring language is deeply affected by the process of becoming a competent member of society • Process of becoming a competent member of society is realized to a large extent through language - Scholars should consider cultural values/social practices to be inseparable from language and its acquisition. - In other words, leaning a first language and becoming a culturally competent member of a society are two facets of a single process. A child cannot become a competent member of a cultural group without mastering the appropriate linguistic practices. - Ochs challenges the claim that all children learn grammatical features in the same order and at roughly the same ages. (Read Pages 55-56 to see Och’s study on the Samoan people) - Och’s research should not be interpreted to mean that language acquisition always proceeds according to a b
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