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The Logical Problem of Language Acquisition - Essay Example

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The acquisition of a language, both a first and a second (or more), involves the development of a system of principles and groups of a particular type. Adults work to learn new languages. However, much of this system exists innately without effort at an early age…
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The Logical Problem of Language Acquisition
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Language acquisition begins very early in the human lifespan, and begins, logically enough, with the acquisition of a language's sound patterns. The main linguistic accomplishments during the first year of life are control of the muscles that produce speech and sensitivity and the acquisition of native phonetic distinctions used in the parents' language. Interestingly, babies achieve these feats before they produce or understand words, so their learning cannot depend on correlating sound with meaning. They must be sorting the sounds directly, somehow tuning their speech analysis module to deliver the phonemes used in their language (Kuhl, et al., 1992).
Shortly before their first birthday, babies begin to understand words, and around that birthday, they start to produce them (see Clark, 1993; Ingram, 1989). Despite the vast differences in language, children's first words are similar all over the planet. About half the words are for objects: food, household items, and people. There are words for actions, motions, and routines. Finally, there are routines used in social interaction, like yes, no, want, hi.
Around 18 months, language changes in two ways. ...
Once more, children's two-word combinations are highly similar across cultures. These sequences already reflect the language being acquired: in 95% of them, the words are properly ordered according to his/her particular grammatical rules. (Pinker, 1984; Ingram, 1989).
Between the late two's and mid-three's, children's language blossoms so rapidly that it overwhelms the researchers who study it, and no one has worked out the exact sequence. Sentence length increases steadily, and because grammar is a combinatorial system, the number of syntactic types increases exponentially, doubling every month, reaching the thousands before the third birthday (Ingram, 1989, p. 235; Pinker, 1984).
Though many of the young 3-year-old's sentences are ungrammatical for one reason or another, it is because there are many things that can go wrong in any single sentence. When researchers focus on a single grammatical rule and count how often a child obeys it and how often he or she ignores it, the results are very impressive: for just about every rule that has been looked at, three-year olds obey it a majority of the time (Pinker, 1984, 1989; Crain, 1992). Though our ears perk up when we hear errors, more than 90% of the time, the child is on target.
Children do not seem to favor any particular kind of language (indeed, it would be puzzling how any kind of language could survive if children did not easily learn it!). They swiftly acquire free word order, SOV and VSO orders, systems of case and agreement, and whatever else their language throws at them. Even grammatical gender, which many adults learning a second language find challenging, presents no problem: children acquiring language like French, German, and Hebrew acquire ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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