Language Acquisition and Thought
Lecture 8
Language Acquisition and
• Language acquisition is a complicated
process, because it involves a wide
range of social, psychological,
cognitive, linguistic, physiological
Acquisition and FL Learning
• Rod (1985) and Krashen (1981) regard
acquisition as the spontaneous
internalization of rules and formulas.
• The term acquisition is often used to refer
to first language acquisition and second
language acquisition.
• First language acquisition: mother tongue
Acquisition and FL Learning
• Acquisition takes place in the speech
community where one's first language or
second language is spoken. It is often
natural, without much focus on form.
• The learning of English by speakers of other
languages in the United States is an
example of second language acquisition.
Acquisition and FL Learning
• Foreign language learning usually takes place in the
speech community where one's first language is
spoken. It is a conscious process through formal
school-like settings and requires time for processing,
with focus on linguistic form in addition to
knowledge of the rules of language use.
Some linguists use the term learning and acquisition interchangeably to cover
both language acquisition and learning.
• Traditionally, language learning is a process of habit formation.
However, the research into first language development by
Halliday reveals that language learning is a social process.
Halliday regards educational learning as an organized social
process, in which the construction of meaning occur
• To Huba & Freed, learning is interpersonal and is performed by
individuals who are intrinsically tied to others as social beings,
interacting as competitors or collaborators, constraining or
supporting the learning process, and able to enhance learning
through cooperation and sharing.
The Cognitive Code Theory
• This theory stresses the fact that the learner brings to the task of
learning an innate mental capacity. S/he brings a perception of
relationships and an unconscious formulation of the 'rules' resulting
from the discovery of the structure and organization of new material
and from the perception of its relationship to known material.
The Association or Operant
Conditioning Theory
• This behavioristic approach regards learning as a
continuous association between stimulus and
response, followed immediately by confirmation
of the learner's correct response by a teacher, a
tape, a record, and so on, resulting in the
formation of the habits needed for placing sounds
and words in appropriate arrangements.
Development of First Language Acquisition
• From observed facts, we can see that a normal
child may go through four stages in first
language acquisition: the babbling stage, the
one-word stage, the two-word stage, and the
telegraph to infinity stage .
The Babbling Stage
• In the first few months, by about 6 to 7
months, infants begins to babble by repeating
a consonant-vowel sequence, like babababa.
• By 10 to 12 months, infants begin to use
sentence-like intonational contours.
The One-word Stage
• According to Carroll (1999:266), children
usually utter their first words at around 12
months of age.
• After one year, the child has learned that
sounds are related to meanings and begin to
use the same string of sounds repeatedly to
mean the same thing.
The Two-word Stage
• At the age of 2 or so, the child starts to put
single words into sentences such as "Big
house", "Baby cry", "Hit ball".
• Most of the words are contents words, like
nouns, verbs and adjectives. At the two-word
stage there are no syntactic or morphological
markers; that is, no inflections for number, or
person, or tense, and so on.
The Telegraph to Infinity Stage
• The Telegraph to Infinity Stage refers to the
time when child begins to produce sentences
longer than two words.
• This stage is characterized by the omission of
the small function works such as to, the, can,
is, and so on.
Functional Interpretation
• Halliday (1975) interprets the process of first language acquisition from a
functional standpoint. This includes the mastery of a small number of
elementary functions of language, and a range of choices in meaning
within each function. The choices are very few at first, but they expand
rapidly as the functional potential of the system is reinforced by success.
• Early language development can be divided into three phases: Phase I, the
child's initial functional-linguistic system; Phase II, the transition from this
system to that of the adult language; Phase III, the learning of the adult
Second Language Acquisition
• Although second language can be acquired in a natural or tutored
situation, different learners in different situations learn a second
language in different ways.
• ●Influence of the First Language
• ●A Natural Sequence of Development
• ●Irregular Learner Errors
• ●Learner Difference
• ●Learner Strategies
• ●Formal Instruction
• Besides, the early stages of L2 acquisition in
are often characterized by a silent period, by
the use of formulaic speech and by structural
and semantic simplification.
Internal and external factors
• To Ellis (1994), successful second language acquisition
involves three kinds of factors:
• (1) external factors, including social factors, motivation,
learner attitude, input and interaction;
• (2) internal factors, including language transfer, cognitive
capacity and linguistic universals;
• (3) individual differences, including individual learner
differences and learning strategies.
Social factors
• According to Ellis (1994: 197), the effect of social factors is
mediated by a number of variables, which may determine the
learning opportunities and affect the nature and the extent of
the input to which they are exposed.
Second Language Acquisition
• Learning a second language is rather different from learning the first
• The study of second language acquisition has been seen as contributing
to more effective language teaching, and as a way of testing hypotheses
about the nature of language.
Second Language Acquisition
• The research methodology of second language acquisition has
historically utilized the linguistic analysis of learners'
interlanguage, and the results of case studies and ethnographic
• Although second language can be acquired in a natural or
tutored situation, according to Ellis (1985: 4), different learners
in different situations learn a second language in different ways.
• Different theories of second language acquisition have
appeared to find out its major features.
Second Language Acquisition
• One of the features of second language
acquisition is that first language can exert
influence. The process is called language
• facilitate the process of L2 learning
• interfere with the learning of the L2
• Contrastive Analysis was developed in the
1960s to predict the problems the L2 learner
would encounter.
Second Language Acquisition
• The second feature is that all L2 learners, no matter what their
L1 is, follow a natural, fixed order in learning the grammar of
the L2.
Second Language Acquisition
• The third feature is that learner errors are not regular.
They may make an error in some contexts but not in
• According to Ellis (1985:10), this is due to two types of
contextual variation. The first is the situational context.
When the learner is required to communicate instantly,
he will not have time to maximize his knowledge of the
L2 and is likely to produce errors that would not occur
in situations when they have time to plan their
utterances carefully. The second is the linguistic context.
This means that the learner errors may occur in certain
types of structures but not in others.
Second Language Acquisition
• The fourth feature is that learner factors may influence the
mastery of L2. Ellis (1985:10-12) shows that there are five
general factors that contribute to individual learner
differences: age, aptitude, cognitive style, motivation, and
Second Language Acquisition
• The fifth feature of second language
acquisition is that learner strategies are used:
learning strategies, production strategies and
communication strategies.
• The sixth feature is the important role of
formal instruction.
Second Language Acquisition
• Internal factors include language transfer, the
learner's cognitive capacity, and linguistic
• Language transfer is the phenomenon that the
learners apply their first language knowledge
subconsciously in learning a second language
Second Language Acquisition
• The second internal factor is the learner's cognitive
capacity. From the cognitive perspective, language
acquisition depends on an innate, human-specific
module that is distinct from general intelligence.
• The third internal factor is linguistic universals.
• Linguistic universals refer to those common features
among different languages, and the abstract principles
that include Universal Grammar and that constrain the
form of the grammar of any specific language.
Language and Thought
• Traditionally, language is thought to be the dress of thought.
Language and thought are mutually dependable to each other.
• Some people equal language to thought. However, to
Jackendoff (1994: 180), thought is a mental function
completely separate from language, and it can go on in the
absence of language.
• Language provides a scaffolding that makes certain varieties
of reasoning more complex than are available to nonlinguistic
• Jackendoff (1994: 183-185) argues that thinking is largely independent
of what language one happens to think in.
• From the examples of Beethoven and Picasso, he shows that complex
thought can also exist without linguistic expression. Thus, thought
itself is a separate brain phenomenon, though language expresses
• Language helps us think.
• The relation between language and thought is
also presented in Sapir-Whorf hypothesis,
which makes the claim that the structure of
the language one habitually uses influences
the manner in which one thinks and behaves.
• Psycholinguistic analysis often relates psychological mechanisms of
language use with the human brain.
• The right hemisphere: visual-spatial information, perception of
nonlinguistic sounds, holistic reasoning, visual and spatial skills,
recognition of patterns, and recognition of musical melodies.
• The left hemisphere: language and speech, analytic reasoning, temporal
ordering, reading, writing, calculation, and associative thought.
• End of Lecture
• Thank you!!

Language Acquisition and Thought