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
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
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
- 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
• 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
- 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
- Och’s research should not be interpreted to mean that language acquisition always
proceeds according to a b