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Chapter 2

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University of Toronto Mississauga
Craig Chambers

PSY315 CHAPTER 2 – BIOLOGICAL BASES OF LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT The Critical Period Hypothesis - Critical Period hypothesis: notion that a biologically determined period exists during which language acquisition must occur, if it is to occur at all (absolute) - Sensitive period/optimal period: sensitive or optimal period - Some environmental input is necessary for normal development, but biology determines when the organism is responsive to that input - Lenneberg: language acquisition as an “age-limited potential” with the relevant age being puberty First Language Acquisition After Infancy - “Wild” Children o Perfect experiment would involve depriving children of exposure to language during normal period of language development, providing that exposure later, and then examining the language development that occurs to see if it differs in any way from the language development that occurs when exposure begins at birth  Cases of children who suffered early social isolation, who were first exposed to language later than would be typical, and who were not successful in acquiring normal language • Difficult to learn from these cases since they are poorly documented • When such children fail to acquire language, cannot be sure whether the failure was due to the late start or to some impairment the child might have had previously o Ex. Victor  Displayed many behavioural characteristics associated with autism - The Case of Genie o Evidence that language was a right-hemisphere function for Genie suggests that, by age 13, a left hemisphere that has never been used for language has lost that capacity - Late Acquisition of American Sign Language o Children born deaf to hearing parents o Eventually are exposed to sign language when they meet other deaf children, some of whom have deaf parents and have been exposed to sign language from infancy o Adults who were first exposed to ASL after early childhood did not perform as well as those who had been exposed as infants, even after 30 years of using the language everyday o Early learners of sign achieve greater proficiency than do late learners o Evidence suggests there is some benefit to being a young language learner - Second First Language Acquisition in Internationally Adopted Children o Children who are internally adopted are exposed to one language from birth, but then, at the point of adoption, they stop hearing that first language and start hearing the new language of their adoptive parents  Children start over again – second first language acquisition • Most international adoptees are adopted before the age of 2, so their language outcomes are a test of whether even a slightly late start makes a difference  Children rescued from Romanian orphanages (where conditions were extremely poor) often showed delays in multiple aspects of development and experienced long-term difficulty PSY315 CHAPTER 2 – BIOLOGICAL BASES OF LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT  Children adopted from China tend to have more successful outcomes, probably because their early care was better – if still much less than optimal o Studies of children adopted from China by families in North America found that children make rapid progress in acquiring their new language, and most score within normal range for native speakers on standardized tests within 2 years after adoption o Finding does not mean that international adoptees were unaffected by their late start  Normal range is wide and children could be delayed, but still be within the normal range  Adoptive families tend to be of higher SES than average, and children adopted from China are almost exclusively girls • Both SES and gender affect language development o Studies comparing children adopted from China to control groups of children who were matched for SES and gender found that adopted children lagged behind control children at 4 years, while still scoring within the normal range on tests that were employed  Follow-up at 7 years found significant differences on several language measures between the adoptees and control children matched on age, gender, and SES • Children who were adopted as infants “caught up” to children whose language exposure began at birth, the small but measurable differences between the internationally adopted children and their matched controls hint at effects of their later start are theoretically interesting Second Language Acquisition - Age of exposure effects: earlier one is exposed to a second language, the higher the level of proficiency one is likely to ultimately achieve o Takes children longer to acquire a second language than most people realize, and even children do not always achieve native-like proficiency - Age of Exposure Effects on Second Language Acquisition o Found strong effect of age at arrival, with young arrivals showing less accent than older ones  Number of years living in the United States had no effect o Found strong age-of-arrival effects on second language users’ ability to repeat English sentences presented to them under noisy conditions o Other studies have also found that age of arrival affects the ability to speak a second language without an accent and that native-like performance depends on exposure beginning in early childhood o The benefit of youth to acquiring unaccented speech in a second language is explained as the effect of age on acquiring a motor skill  Speech production involves moving the lips, tongue, and mouth in ways particular to each language, and that may be what is difficult for a late learner o Evidence that the sounds of the language one hears in infancy tune the brain’s perception of speech sounds  Result of this tuning is that we become good at automatically detecting sound differences that matter in the language we learn as infants, but, in some cases, at the cost of a diminished ability to detect sound differences that do not matter • May be a basis of the difficulty adult learners have with a new language o Measures of grammatical competence  Presented grammatical/ungrammatical English sentences to Chinese and Korean natives who were living in the United States and who had learned English as a second language PSY315 CHAPTER 2 – BIOLOGICAL BASES OF LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT • As a group, did less well on identifying ungrammatical utterances than a comparison group of native English speakers o The result that native speakers have an advantage over second language learners on grammatical tasks has been found in second language learners who are highly proficient o Analysis of subgroups of the second language speakers  Between 3-7 years when they arrived in the United States were not different from the native speakers of English  Between 8-15 years when they arrived performed less well on the test than native speakers • Younger they were at arrival, the more nearly they approximated native competence  17+ when they arrived, performed least well and did no better than those who were 30  Accents • Those exposed as young children, under the age of 7 and those exposed as older, but still prepubescent children o Very early language exposure is necessary in order to achieve the competence of a native speaker - Limitations on Second Language Acquisition in Childhood o Children are not faster at second language acquisition than adults Processes Underlying Age Effects on Second Language Acquisition - Lenneberg: argued that maturational changes in the brain at puberty e
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