1 The Study of Language Acquisition
A. The naturalistic approach
Diary study
B. The experimental approach
2 Phonological Development
2.1 Babbling
2.2 The Developmental Order
l As a group, vowels are generally acquired before
l Stops tend to be acquired before other consonants.
l Labials are often acquired first followed by
alveolars, velars, and alveopalatals. Interdentals are
acquired last.
l New phonemic contrasts manifest themselves first
in word-initial position. Thus the /p/-/b/ contrast
will be manifested in pairs such as pat-bat before
Ta b le 1
Typ ical co n so n an t in v en to ry at ag e tw o
Sto p s
F rica tives
O th er
Ta b le 2
Typ ical co n so n an t in v en to ry at ag e fo u r
Sto p s
F rica tives
A ffrica tes
O th er
2 .3 E a rly P h o n etic P ro cesses
l S yllab le sim p lificatio n
E x : sto p  [t  p ], try  [ta 
], d o g  [d  ]
l S u b stitu tio n
Ta b le 3
S u b stitu tio n in early sp eech
P ro cess
E xa m p le
Sto p p in g
sin g  [t 
s t
th in g  [t 
 t
sh ip  [s 
 s
F ro n tin g
G lid in g
D en asalizatio n
g o  [d o u ]
g  d
lio n  [ 
l 
lo o k  [w k ]
l w
sp o o n  [b u w d ]
n  d
ro o m  [w u w b ]
m b
Ex: tell [dl], pig [bg], push [bs]
2.4 Production Versus Perception
Children’s perceptual abilities are more
advanced than their
articulatory skills.
3 M o rp h o lo g ica l D ev elo p m en t
l O v erg en era liza tio n /o v erreg u la riza tio n
3 .1 A D ev elo p m en ta l S eq u en ce
Ta b le 4
Typ ical d ev elo p m en tal seq u en ce fo r
n o n -lex ical m o rp h em es
1 . – in g
2 . p lu ral – s
3 . p o ssessiv e – ’s
4 . th e, a
5 . p ast ten se – ed
6 . th ird p erso n sin g u lar – s
7 . au x iliary b e
Ta b le 5
Typ ical relativ e freq u en cy o f m o rp h em es in p aren tal
sp eech
1 . th e, a
2 . – in g
3 . p lu ral – s
4 . au x iliary b e
5 . p o ssessiv e – ’s
6 . th ird p erso n sin g u lar – s
7 . p ast ten se -ed
Determining factors:
1. Frequent occurrence in utterance-final position
2. Syllabicity
3. A straightforward relation between form and
4. Few or no exceptions in the way it is used
5. Allomorphic invariance
6. Clearly discernable semantic function
3 .2 A llo m o rp h ic R u les
Ta b le 6
P ercen tag e o f co rrect resp o n ses o n w u g test
A llo m o rp h
N o n sen se w o rd
P resch o o lers(% )
F irst g ra d ers(% )
h eafs
w ugs
lu n s
to rs
/ z/
g u tch es
n izzes
3 .3 W o rd F o rm a tio n R u les
Ta b le 7
P ercen tag e co rrect fo r m ad e -u p ro o ts
C o n stru ctio n
A g en tiv e – er
P resch o o l(% )
E a rly sch o o l(% )
M id d le sch o o l(% )
A d jectiv al – y
In stru m en tal – er
A d v erb al – ly
4 S y n ta ctic D ev elo p m en t
l T h e O n e-w o rd Sta g e (H o lo p h ra ses)
Ta b le 8
S em an tic relatio n s in ch ild ren ’s o n e -w o rd u tteran ces
S em a n tic rela tio n
U ttera n ce
S itu a tio n
A g en t o f an actio n
as fath er en ters th e ro o m
A ctio n o r state
as ch ild sits d o w n
T h em e
as fath er clo ses th e d o o r
L o catio n
h ere
as ch ild p o in ts
R ecip ien t
m am a
as ch ild g iv es m o th er
so m eth in g
R ecu rren ce
a g a in
as ch ild w atch es lig h tin g o f
a m atch
l T h e Tw o -w o rd Sta g e
Ta b le 9
S o m e p attern s in ch ild ren ’s tw o -w o rd sp eech
U ttera n ce
In ten d ed m ea n in g
S em a n tic -rela tio n
B a b y ch a ir
‘T h e b ab y is sittin g o n a ch air.’
A g en t-lo catio n
D o g g ie b a rk
‘T h e d o g is b ark in g .’
A g en t-actio n
K en w a ter
‘K en is d rin k in g w ater.’
A g en t-th em e
H it d o g g ie
‘I h it th e d o g g ie.’
A ctio n -th em e
D addy hat
‘D ad d y’s h at’
P o ssesso r-p o ssessed
The Telegraphic Stage
Chair broken.
Daddy like book.
What her name?
Man ride bus today.
Car make noise.
Later Development
(1) See hole?
I ride train?
Ball go?
Sit chair?
(2) Can he can look?
What shall we shall have?
Did you did came home?
Wh questions
Stage 1
(3) Where that?
What me think?
Why you smiling?
Why not me drink it?
Stage 2
(4) Yes-no questions (with Inversion):
Did Mommy pinch her finger?
Can’t you fix it?
Do I have it?
Is Mommy talking to Robin’s grandmother?
(5) Wh questions (no Inversion):
What I did yesterday?
Why Kitty can’t stand up?
Where I should put it?
Why you are smiling?
Stage 3
(1) Where did my mitten go?
Where should I sleep?
Why are you smiling?
(2) Why you can’t sit down?
Why Kitty can’t stand up?
5 S em a n tic D ev elo p m en t
Ta b le 1 0
C o m m o n item s in th e first fifty w o rd s
E n tities
N am es fo r p eo p le: d a d y, m o m m y, etc.
Wo rd s referrin g to
H u m an s: b a b y
F o o d /d rin k : ju ice, m ilk, co o kie, w a ter, to a st, a p p le, ca ke
A n im als: d o g , ca t, d u ck, h o rse
C lo th es: sh o es, h a t
To ys: b a ll, b lo cks
Veh icles: ca rs, b o a t, tru ck
O th er: b o ttle, key, b o o k
P ro p erties
h o t, a llg o n e, m o re, d irty, co ld , h ere, th ere
A ctio n s
u p , sit, see, ea t, g o , d o w n
P erso n a l-so cia l
h i, b ye, n o , yes, p lea se, th a n k -yo u
5 .1 T h e A cq u isitio n o f W o rd M ea n in g
l O v erex ten sio n
Ta b le 11
E x am p les o f o v erex ten sio n
Wo rd
F irst referen t
S u b seq u en t exten sio n s
Tick to ck
w atch
clo ck s, g as -m eter, fire h o se
o n a sp o o l
F ly
sp eck s o f d irt, sm all in sects,
ch ild ’s to es
C an d y
can d y
ch erries, an yth in g sw eet
A p p le
ap p les
b alls, to m ato es, o n io n s,
b iscu its
Tu rtle
tu rtles
fish , seals
a. Kitty might be used to refer to the family pet,
but not to any other cats.
b. Dog might be used for collies, spaniels, and
beagles, but not for chihuahuas.
5 .2 S p a tia l a n d D im en sio n a l Term s
Ta b le 1 2
O rd er o f acq u isitio n fo r w o rd s ex p ressin g
sp atial relatio n s
Wo rd s
D escrip tio n
in , o n , u n d er, b esid e
in d ep en d en t o f sp eak er ’s
p ersp ectiv e
b eh in d , in fro n t o f
u sed w ith o b jects w ith
in h eren t fro n ts
an d b ack s
b eh in d , in fro n t o f
u sed w ith o b jects w ith o u t
in h eren t
fro n ts o r b ack s
Ta b le 1 3
O rd er o f acq u isitio n fo r d im en sio n al ad jectiv es
Wo rd s
W h a t th ey d escrib e
b ig -sm all
an y asp ect o f size
tall-sh o rt, lo n g -sh o rt, h ig h -lo w
a sin g le d im en sio n
th ick -th in , w id e-n arro w, d eep -sh allo w
a seco n d ary d im en sio n
5.3 The Interpretation of Sentence Structure
Thematic roles
Passive sentence: The car was bumped by the truck.
Active sentence: The truck bumped the car.
Pronominals and reflexives
(1) Sam said that [s Gary slapped himself on the
(2) Sam said that [s Gary slapped him on the wrist].
Determinants of Language Acquisition
1.1 The Role of Imitation and Correction
(1) a. What can you see? (model)
b.What you can see? (child’s imitation)
Child: Nobody don’t like me.
Mother: No, say “Nobody likes me.”
Child: Nobody don’t like me.
[Exchange is repeated eight times.]
Mother: No, now listen carefully; say “Nobody likes
Child: Oh! Nobody don’t LIKES me.
1 .2 T h e R o le o f A d u lt S p eech
l M o th erese/ca reg iv er sp eech
Ta b le 1 4
S o m e featu res o f E n g lish m o th erese
P h o n etic
S lo w er sp eech
H ig h er p itch
E x ag g erated in to n atio n an d stress
L o n g er p au ses
L exica l a n d sem a n tic
M o re restricted v o cab u lary
C o n crete referen ce to h ere an d n o w
S yn ta ctic
F ew in co m p lete sen ten ces
S h o rt sen ten ces
M o re im p erativ es an d q u estio n s
C o n versa tio n a l
M o re rep etitio n s
F ew u tteran ces p er co n v ersatio n al tu rn
1.3 The Role of Cognitive Development
Cognitive development
Object permanence
1.4 The Role of Inborn Knowledge
Principle A:
NPa c-commands NPb if the first category
above NPa contains NPb.
P rin cip le A :
A reflex iv e p ro n o u n m u st h av e an an teced en t th at
c-co m m an d s it.
T h e b o y’s
F ig u re 1
In fl
P ast
fath er
h u rt
h im self
T h e reflex iv e p ro n o u n tak es th e c -co m m an d in g
N P 1 as its an tecen d en t
1 .5 Is T h ere A C ritica l P erio d ?
Language Acquisition
A normal human being can go through life without
learning lt read or write. The study of the nature of
human language itself has revealed the following
1.Children do not learn a language by storing all the
words and all the sentences in some giant mental
dictionary .
2.Children learn to construct sentences.
3.Children learn to understand sentences they have
never heard before.
4.Children must construct the “rules” that permit
them to use language creatively.
5.No one teaches them these rules.
Stages in Language Acquisition
Linguistic knowledge develops by stages.
Observations of children in different
languages areas of the world reveal that the
stages are similar, possibly universal.
The First Sounds
The stage of language acquisition can be
divided into prelinguistic and linguistic stages.
The neonate is born with a mind that appears
to receive only certain kinds of information.
In the first few months, usually around the
sixth month, the infant begins to babble.
During the babbling stage of hearing infants,
the pitch, or intonation contours produced
by them being to resemble the intonation
contours of sentences spoken by adults.
Fist Words
Sometimes after one year, children begin to
use the same string of sounds repeatedly to
mean the same thing. These one-word
sentences are called holophrastic sentences
which to serve three major functions.
1.They are liked with a child’s own action or
desire for action.
2.They are used to convey emotion.
3.They serve a naming function.
The Two-Word Stage
Children begin to produce tow-word
utterances around at the age of two. During
this stage there are no syntactic or
morphological markets.
From Telegraph to Infinity
the mean length of utterances: children
produce utterances that average 2.3 to 3.5
This stage has a special characteristic. The
“function” words are missing ; only the
“content” words occur. And these utterances
are sometimes called telegraphic speech.
From Telegraph to Infinity
I. MLU (Mean Length of Utterances): As to stage of
language acquisition, it's MLU, rather than
chronological age, that can make a comparison across
II. Telegraphic Speech: The small "function" words ( like
to, the, can, is, etc.) are missing.
III. Sentence-like Utterances: The25-28 months old
children's utterances appear to have hierarchical,
constituent structures, which are similar to the
syntactic structures found in the sentences produced
by the adult grammar.
Theories of Child Language Acquisition
I. Do Children Learn by Imitation? Not really.
II. Do Children Learn by Reinforcement?
Reinforcement seldom occurs, and when it
does, it is usually incorrect pronunciation or
incorrect reporting of facts that is corrected.
Children Form Rules and construct a Grammar
I. Neither of these views (imitation and reinforcement)
accounts for the nonrandom mistakes children make:
the speed, the ability to learn language, and the
regularity of the acquisition process.
II. The Neural Prerequisites: The child appears to be
equipped from birth with the neural prerequisites for the
acquisition and use of human language just as birds are
biologically "prewired" to learn the songs of their
III. The different syntactic rules at any stage in acquisition
govern the construction of the child's sentences at that
period of development.
A. Negative sentences
B. Question sentences
Errors or Rules?
I. Inflectional Errors
II. Phonological Morphological Rule Acquisition
Universal Grammar:
The investigation of the kinds of errors
children make in forming their grammars
shows that the mistakes are all in keeping with
what we have called Universal Grammar. That
is, the principles constrain all grammars.
The Acquisition of Syntax
There are two ideas about the way which
children construct the complex syntactic rules
of their grammar-- one is based on semantics,
and the other is based on syntactic categories
and relations(Noun, Noun Phrase, Verb, Verb
Phrase, subject, object, and so on), e.g.,
Russian, Polish, and Turkish and modifier—
noun agreement.
E mia gonna.
Questo mio bimbo
Guarda questi gialli
It is my skirt.
This is my baby.
Look at
these roosters.
According to the example above, we can see
that children own the ability of “discovering”
the structures of their language. However, now,
more studies on child language prove that it is
“two in one.”
Learning the Meaning of Words
Preface: Everything had a name, and each name gave
birth to a new thought.
--Helen Keller
Children often experience the processes of learning
the meaning of words through two steps as follows.
A.Undergeneralize-- to put a principle into a narrower
B. Overgeneralize—to draw general conclusions from
inadequate data
e.g. (overgeneralize) bring  bringed
go  goed
foot  foots
child  childs
The Biological Foundations of
Language Acquisition
Preface: Just as birds have wings, man has
language.-- George Henry Lewes
Under normal condition, children were born
to be equipped with special abilities to know
what generalization to look for and what to
ignore, and how to discover the regularities of
language. We may say that though people do
not have any written language, they all have
language. In other words, children learn
language the way they learn to walk.
The Innateness Hypothesis
The theory underlines the child must be
neurologically capable of utilizing the sound
(or sign language gestures) for language
acquisition. Moreover, not only is the human
species genetically “prewired” to acquire
language, but that the kind of languages is also
determined. The principles that determine the
class of human languages that can be acquired
unconsciously, without instruction, in the early
years of life has been referred as to Universal
Grammar (or UG).
The Critical Age Hypothesis
It has been suggested that there is a
“critical age” for language acquisition, or at
least for language acquisition without special
teaching and without the need for special
learning. During this period, language
learning proceeds easily, swiftly, and without
external intervention. After this period, the
acquisition of the grammar is difficult and for
some individuals, never fully achieved.
The Acquisition of Bird Songs
The notion of a critical age for acquisition
of cognitive knowledge pretains to other
species as shown by studies of the development
species as shown by studies of the development
of bird songs and calls. If these birds are not
exposed to the songs of their species during
certain fixed periods after their birth (the
period differs from species to species). Song
acquisition does not occur. Apparently the
basic nature of the song of some bird species is
biologically determined, but the details are
Sign Languages—Evidence for the
Biology of Language
Preface: Men, who, being born deaf and mute,
are destitute of the organs which serve the
others for talking, are in the habit of
themselves inventing certain signs by which
they make themselves understood.
Hand and body gestures are the forms used
to represent morphemes or words.. Hence, we
know that language acquisition and use do not
depend on the ability to produce or hear sound,
but on a much more abstract cognitive ability,
Sign Languages:
Evidence for the Biology of language
1.Deaf children of deaf parents who are exposed
to sign language learn sign languages in stages
parallel to language acquisition by hearing
children learning oral languages.
2.It is nearly impossible for those unable to hear
language to learn to speak naturally.
3.Although deaf persons can be taught to speak
a language intelligibly, they never understand
speech as well as a hearing person.
4.Non sopken languages have developed as a
substitute for spoken languages among non
hearing individuals.
5.Language acquisition and use are dependent
on a much more abstract cognitive ability,
biologically determined, which therefore
accounts for the similarities between spoken
and sign languages.
American Sign Language(ASL)
1.The major language used by the deaf in the
United States.
2.ASL is an independent, bully developed
language that historically is an out growth of
the sign language used in France.
3.ASL has its own morphological, syntactic,
and semantic systems. Its formal units,
corresponding to the phonological elements of
spoken language, wee originally called
cheremes, now more often referred to as
4.The signs of the language that correspond to
morphemes or words of spoken language can be
specified by primes of three sets: hand configuration ,
the motion of the hands toward or away from the today,
and the place of articulation or the locus of the sign’s
5.Just as spoken language has sequences of sounds that
are not permitted in the language, so sign languages
have forbidden combinations of features.
6.Siglish, the other sign language used in the United
States, consists in the replacement of each spoken
English word by a sign. They systax and semantics of
Signed English are thus approximately the same as
those of ordinary English.
7.If there is no sign in ASL, signers utilize
another mechanism, the system of finger
8.An accomplished signer can “speak” at a
normal rate, even when there is a lot of
finger spelling.
9.Language arts are not lost to the deaf.
They can also do poetry, stage play
The Acquisition of ASL
1.Deaf children of deaf signing parents parallel
the stages of spoken language
acquisition.(single signs, telegraphic stage,
their acquisition of the negative morphemes.)
2.Hearing children of deaf parents acquire both
sign language and spoken language when
exposed to both.
3.Deaf children of hearing parents who are not
exposed to manual sign language form birth,
suffering from a great handicap in acquiring
language, develop their own manual gestures
to express their thoughts and desires.
4.Sign languages are as grammatical and
systematic as are spoken languages.(different
languages, signing themselves to sleep,
signing to their dolls and stuffed animals,
finger fumblers, slip of the hand, and….)
Learning a Second Language
1.Language is more easily acquired at the age of two
or three than at the age off thirteen or twenty.
2.Young children who are exposed to more than one
language before the age of puberty seem to
acquire all the languages equally well.
3.Many adults who are self-conscious about making
mistakes, often find learning L2 very difficult.
But this is not a problem who children who are
unaware that they are making mistakes.
4.The stages in second language acquisition are
similar to those in first language acquisition.
Theories of Second Language
1.Stephen Krashen has proposed a distinction
between acquisition-the process by which
children unconsciously acquire their native
language—and learning, which he defines as
“conscious knowledge of a second language,
knowing the rules, being aware of them, and
being able to talk about them. The principles
of UG hold only during the critical period ,
after which general learning mechanisms
operate in learningL2.
2.Another theory proposed that L2 is acquired
on the same universal innate principles that
govern L1 acquisition, which is why one finds
the same stages of development even if the
complete L2 grammar is not acquired due to
nonlinguistic factors at work.
Can Chimps Learn Human Language?
Recently, much effort has been expended to
determined human language acquisition ability.
However, they have no way of expressing the
anger they felt yesterday or the anticipation of
She understood about one hundred words at
sixteen months, more words than a boy (child)
at that age, but she never went beyond that.
She learned a number of individual words,
even learning to “articulate” with great
difficulty the words “ mama, papa, cup, and
up.” That was the extent of her language
She was brought up in much the same way
as a human child in a deaf community, in the
presence of people who used ASL(American
Sign Language). She was taught to sign,
whereas children raised by deaf signers
acquire sign. Language without teaching.
to be taught an artificial language designed
to resemble human lanuguages in some aspects.
Sarah was taught to associate particular
symbols with particular meanings; the formmeaning relationship of the ” morphemes” or
“words” was arbitrary. She was not allowed to
“ talk” spontaneously, but only in response to
her trainers.
a different kind of artificial language.
The words, called lexigrams, are geometric
symbols display on a computer keyboard.
(The computer records every button pressed;
certain fixed orders of those lexigrams
constitute grammatical sentences in Yerkish.
She has learned several hundred signs.
She is able to put signs together to make
“sentences”, and is capable of making
linguistic jokes and puns, composing rhymes,
and inventing metaphors.
Nim Chimpsky:
She was taught ASL by an experienced
teacher. Most of Nim’s signing occurred
only in response to promoting by his trainers
and was related to eating, drinking and
playing, that is, it was “stimulus-controlled.”
Moreover, the lack of spontaneity and
excessive’ noncreative imitative nature of
Nim’s signing led to the conclusion that
Nim’s acquisition is qualitatively different
from a child’s
Clever Hans:
a horse, became famous because of his
apparent ability to do arithmetic, read and spell
and even solve problems of musical harmony.
He answered the questions posed by his
interogators by stamping out numbers with his
using the same plastic lexigrams and
computer keyboard, This concluded that
Kauzi has not only learned, but also invented
grammatical rules that may well be as
complex as those used by 2-year-old children.
Kauzi’s acquisition of “ grammatical skills”
was much slower than that of the kinds of
linguistic knowledge of a complexity
equivalent to a three or four year old’s
knowledge of structure.
The linguistic experiments with primates
have led to many advances in our
understanding of primate cognitive ability.
These studies also point out how remarkable
it is that human children, by the age of three
and four, without explicit teaching, and
without over reinforcement, create new and
complex sentences never spoken and never
heard before.

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