First language acquisition theories
FLA theories:
Historical perspectives
1. Behaviourism:
(Pavlov, Skinner)
Tabula rasa
Focus on the role of environment
 1. "What children say"
Jean Berko (1958): wug-wugs, gling-glinged-glang
wented, taked, mices, mouses, sheeps
ett, kenyért, lót, tégem
> Analogous thinking
 2. "What children don't say"
McNeill (1966):
CHILD: Nobody don't like me.
MUM: No, say "nobody likes me".
CHILD: Nobody don't like me.
(eight repetitions of this dialogue)
MUM: No, now listen carefully, say "nobody likes me".
CHILD: Oh! Nobody don't likes me.
> Inability to imitate
 Chomsky: focus on genetic pre-programming
Based on
1. the Argument from the Poverty of the Stimulus
2. evidence of rule governed language generation
LAD, language universals
 Example: SVO components in sentences
- 75% of the world's languages:
SVO (English, French, Vietnamese) or
SOV (Japanese, Tibetan, Korean)
- 10 - 15% VSO ( Welsh) or VOS (Malagasy)
- 10-15% free word order (Latin, Hungarian), but SOV common
Márta tortát evett.
„Setting the parameters” – matching UG to particular language
Criticism of Chomsky
1. Competence – performance
Performance igored
Competence judged on the basis of intuitions: Do
these judgements really reflect the way people use
the language?
2. Core grammar – peripheral grammar
- focus on core grammar only: How to determine what
is core grammar? (We was …, double negation)
3. Syntax vs. semantics
- 'Colourless green ideas sleep furiously'
- 'My mother, he no like bananas‘
4. Ignoring meaning, function, context
the situation in which children learn L1
 Focus on imput: Interaction vs. exposure
 Bruner’s Language Acquisition Support System
- parents communicate
in ritualistic scenarios
- easily comprehensible
and predictable language
- emotionally charged
- repetition of acts
and language
Motherese, parentese (interaction,
initiation, response)
1. Simplified in grammar and meaning
2. Shorter sentences - from about 8 words per sentence
to 4, when speaking to two year olds
3. More restricted range of sentence patterns
4. Expansion and repetition of sentences
5. Slower speech
6. Use of special words and sounds
7. High pitch
8. Large number of questions and utterances
with high rising intonation - looking for feedback.
9. Embedded in the here and now.
Findings from motherese
The language that children hear is by no means so
partial and ungrammatical as suggested by
a large number of WH forms
 No close correlation between motherese and
child speech.
 Not all social groups adapt speech to young
 Children do not simply repeat the language they
hear from their caretakers.
 They also produce
utterances that they
have never heard.
Eszel tégem?
 Motherese: focus on meaning, not on grammar
Child : Mamma isn't boy, he a girl.
Mother : That's right.
Child : And Walt Disney comes on Tuesday.
Mother : No he does not.
 Children’s mistakes not random errors - own
Negation sequence of Englishspeaking children
1. 'No' and 'Not' appear as single word
2. Two-word sentences - 'No car', 'Not gone' etc.
3. Negative words used within constructions
You no do that, Mummy
4. Negative auxiliaries appear. - Won't, can't
5. Not replaces no. Double negatives
6. Any, hardly, scarcely during early years of
Focus on neuro-programming: neurons,
synapses, wiring, circuits
Where does language reside in the brain?
Is there a LAD?
Answer from neurology
- Lateralisation
- Left hemisphere:
language and logical functions
Aphasia studies
 Paul Broca 1861: a patient called „Tan”
 Broca’s area: responsible for grammatical
 Broca’s aphasia: inability to form correct
sentences, patient is aware of difficulty
 Carl Wernicke, 1874: Wernicke’s area
 Wernicke’s aphasia: grammatical correctness,
semantically meaningless, unaware of problem
Relation between Broca’s and Wernicke’s
Phases of development
 Before birth: neurons, wiring for life functions
 0/1: "biological exhuberance", neurons connect via
axons and dandrites; in response
to environmental impulses
 Language: vocal map of L1 is formed
 1/10: flexible neuron connections, new ones are easily
 Language: sensorimotor connections are still flexible
(no accent!), vocabulary is learnt through repeated
exposure and interaction
 After 10: "pruning"
 Language: fixed synapses
"Experts now agree that a baby does not
come into the world as a genetically
preprogrammed automaton or a blank
slate at the mercy of the environment ...
Learning happens by the interaction of the
genes and the environment.„ (S. Begley)