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Chapter 9

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Psychology 2410A/B
Sandra Hessels

Language DevelopmentComponents of Languagephonology refers to the rules governing the structure and sequence of speech soundssemantics involves vocabularythe way underlying concepts are expressed in words and word combinationsgrammar consists of two main parts syntax the rules by which words are arranged into sentences and morphology the use of grammatical markers indicating number tense case person gender active or passive voice and other meaningspragmatics refers to the rules for engaging in appropriate and effective communication pragmatics involves sociolinguistic knowledge children must acquire certain interaction rituals they must master their cultures narrative mode of sharing personally meaningful experiences with othersTheories of Language DevelopmentThe Behaviourist PerspectiveBF Skinner proposed that language like any other behaviour is acquired through operant conditioning as the baby makes sounds parents reinforce those that most resemble words by responding with smiles hugs and speechsome behaviourists believe that children rely on imitation to acquire complex utterances imitation can combine with reinforcement to promote languagethe kind of learning described by behaviourists cannot account for language development in young children who rather than acquiring specific sentences develop a working knowledge of language rulesThe Nativist PerspectiveNoam Chomsky proposed a nativist account that regards language as a uniquely human accomplishment etched into the structure of the brain he was the first to convince the scientific community thatin contrast to the behaviourist viewchildren assume much responsibility for their own language learningfocusing on grammar Chomsky reasoned that the rules for sentence organization are too complex to be directly taught to or discovered by even a cognitively sophisticated young child children and adults alike readily produce and understand an unlimited range of sentencesoften ones they have never said or heard before to account for this extraordinary facility with language Chomsky proposed that all children have an innate language acquisition devise LADa system that permits them once they have acquired sufficient vocabulary to combine words into grammatically consistent novel utterances and to understand the meaning of sentences they hearaccording to Chomsky within the LAD is a universal grammar a builtin storehouse of rules that apply to all human languages young children use this knowledge to decipher grammatical categories and relationships in any language to which they are exposed because the LAD is specifically suited for language processing children master the structure of language spontaneously with only limited language exposure the nativist perspective regards deliberate training by parents as unnecessary for language development instead the LAD ensures that language despite its complexity will be acquired easily and swiftly Support for the Nativist Perspective Language Areas in the BrainBrocas area located in the left frontal lobe supports grammatical processing and language production while Wernickes area located in the left temporal lobe plays a role in comprehending word meaning The impaired pronunciation and grammar of patients with Brocas aphasia and the meaningless speech steams of patients with Wernickes aphasia involve the spread of injury to nearby cortical areas and widespread abnormal activity in the left cerebral hemisphere triggered by the brain damage contrary to longheld belief Brocas and Wernickes areas are not solely or even mainly responsible for specific language functions Language areas in the cerebral cortex develop as children acquire language although the left hemisphere is biased for language processing if it is injured in the first few years other regions take over language functions and most such children eventually attain normal language competence thus lefthemispheric lateralization is not necessary for effective language processing Grammatical competence may depend more on specific brain structures than the other components of language 2year olds process sentence structures with the same neural system as adults do A Sensitive Period for Language DevelopmentErik Lenneberg first proposed that children must acquire language during the age span of brain lateralization which he believed to be complete by puberty A precise age cutoff for a decline in first language competence has not been established ERP and fMRI measures of brain activity indicate that secondlanguage processing is less lateralized and also overlaps less with brain areas devoted to first language processing in older than in younger learners secondlanguage competence does not drop sharply at adolescence as Lenneberg predicted rather a continuous agerelated decrease occurs The more committed the brain is to nativelanguage patterns the better childrens mastery of their native language and the less effectively they acquire foreign languages this neural commitment increases with mastery of language and thus with age
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