First language acquisition
LING 400
Winter 2010
Overview
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Characteristics of L1
Theories of L1
L1 and innateness
Critical period
L1 and ASL
Please turn off
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For further learning:
LING/PSYCH 347
Some questions about L1
• How is it that by age 5 children (basically)
know their language?
• What they do along the way?
Characteristics of L1
• Regular stages (milestones)
– Babbling
– One-word stage
– Two-word stage
Babbling
• “Precanonical babbling”
– 0-1 months: crying, coughing
– 2-3 months: “cooing and gooing” (velar Cs)
• “Canonical babbling”
– 4-6 months: greater variety of sounds, more like language
– 7-9 months: CV syllables, often reduplicated ([tata])
• “Advanced forms”
– 12 months: long sequences of gibberish, possibly with
intonation
– 18-20 months: babbling ceases
• Examples of babbling at different stages
(http://www.vocaldevelopment.com/)
One-word stage
• 12-18 months (overlaps with
babbling)
• Characteristics
– words used as sentences
– simple phonology: CV syllables;
CVCV words
– typical communicative functions
• naming
• child’s action or desire for action
• child’s emotion
Words produced
by Eve at 15
months
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Mommy
Daddy
go
go?
gimme
baba ‘grandma’
dollie
cup
what?
wawa ‘water’
nana ‘blanket’
2-word
stage (±24
months
• Eve at 18 months
– short “sentences”
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eating
open toybox
no celery
more grape juice
– limited inflection
• What doing, Mommy?
• Mommy_ soup
• Mommy_ head?
– limited function words
• write a paper
• Oh! Horsie _ stuck
– pronouns rare
• my pencil
• _ drink juice
Beyond 2-word stage
• Eve at 27 months
– Pronouns and other pro-forms
• You make a blue one for me.
• Put in you coffee
– Embedding
• I put them in the refrigerator to freeze.
– Determiners and auxiliaries
• What is that on the table?
• How ‘bout another eggnog instead of _ cheese sandwich?
– Omission of be
• See, this one _ better but this _ not better.
– Wrong verb forms
• That why Jacky comed.
Production lags behind comprehension
• Sounds recognized before produced
– ‘One of us...spoke to a child who called his
inflated plastic fish a fis. In imitation of the
child’s pronunciation, the observer said: “This is
your fis?” “No,” said the child, “my fis”. He
continued to reject the adult’s imitation until he
was told, “That is your fish.” “Yes,” he said, “my
fis.”’
• Word order understood before long sentences
produced
– Clip from Acquiring Language (bigbird.mov, 0:44-2:31)
Some theories of L1
• Reinforcement hypothesis
– Children learn from corrections.
• Imitation hypothesis
– Children imitate only what they hear.
• Active construction of grammar hypothesis
– Children construct, refine grammatical rules.
Corrections
• Children don’t get a lot of corrections
– some lexical/content corrections
– not many grammatical
• Children don’t absorb corrections
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Child: Nobody don’t like me.
Mother: No. Say ‘nobody likes me’.
Child: Nobody don’t like me.
...
Mother: Now listen carefully. Say ‘nobody LIKES me’.
Child: Oh...Nobody don’t LIKES me.
Imitation
• Children imitate lg of environment to a large
extent
• But also produce forms not heard
– ‘other one spoon’
– novel verbs
• ‘Why you didn’t jam my bread?’
– novel forms of verbs
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Child: My teacher holded the baby rabbits and we patted them.
Adult: Did you say your teacher held the baby rabbits?
Child: Yes.
Adult: What did you say she did?
Child: She holded the baby rabbits and we patted them.
Adult: Did you say she held them tightly?
Child: No, she holded them loosely.
Grammar construction hypothesis
• Children’s deviations from adult grammar are
systematic, not random
• Regularization of morphology
– Plurals
• gooses
– Past tense forms of verbs
• I tooked it smaller
– Comparative forms
• He hitted me. He’s a puncher he is. He’s being badder and
badder.
Systematic deviation from adult phonology
• A 2-year-old’s English
consonant inventory
• No C clusters
– “[gu] here” (glue)
• Syll-final Cs are stops
pb
td
f
s
m
n
– “mummy [gIb]” (give)
• No syllabic consonants
– “me [lIlI]” (little)
• Cs must be all oral or all
nasal
– “take [mnæn]”
(banana)
w
l
kg
h
Systematic semantic errors
• Hyponyms
– car (first referent: only family Pontiac)
– dish (child’s dish only)
– mow-mow (family cat only)
• Hypernyms
– fly (first referent, housefly; later, specks of dirt, dust, all
small insects, child’s own toes, crumbs, small toad)
– koko (first, rooster crowing; later, piano, phonograph,
tunes played on violin, accordian, all music, merry-goround)
L1 and innateness
• Innateness Hypothesis
– Humans genetically programmed for language
– Universal Grammar constrains possible form of human
language
– Actual form of language determined by environment
• Syntactic errors may resemble well-formed
sentences in other languages
– A clip from Acquiring the human language,
childerror1.mov (1:47-3:56)
L1 as an innate behavior
• Emerges before ‘needed’
– L1 complete  age 5
• No conscious decision to learn
– L1: immersion in lgc environment sufficient
• Not triggered by external events
– L1 ‘poverty of stimulus’: motherese, adult performance
• Not affected by explicit instruction
– Correction has no effect on L1
• Normal stages of achievement
– L1: Independent of other cognitive skills, cross-linguistic
regularities, uniformity of resulting grammars
• ‘Critical age’ for learning the behavior
L1 as a critical age skill
• Critical Age Hypothesis
– Critical age for learning behavior/skill in order for
complete mastery
– L1: approximately puberty
• Some differences between L1, L2
– Instruction
• L1: none
• L2: usually overt and necessary
– Speed of learning
• L1: relatively fast
• L2: relatively slow
– Resulting grammar
• L1: more uniform
• L2: more idiosyncracy
– Stages in learning
• L1: regular stages resulting in complete mastery
• L2: no such stages, incomplete mastery
Cases of isolated children
• Victor, Genie (1970), Chelsea, Maria
Noname, etc.
• Documentary about Genie
ASL and L1
• Lance Forshay: “Fourth of
five Deaf generations.”
– In right environment, same
milestones as hearing
children
• But 90%+ deaf children
born to hearing parents
• “signers are the only large
population that undergoes
delayed exposure to a
primary language” (Meier
1991)
Washington School for the
Deaf, Vancouver WA
Acquisition summary
• L1 proceeds in regular stages
• L1 learners construct, refine grammar as
they go
• L1 appears to be an innate behavior
Question
• Paul at age 2. How does Paul’s pronunciation
systematically differ from adult pronunciation?
Paul:
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sun
see
spoon
snake
sky
stop
[sʌn]
[si]
[pun]
[neɪk]
[kɑɪ]
[tɑp]
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Language acquisition - University of Washington