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Language acquisition is the process by which humans acquire the capacity to perceive and comprehend
language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the ...

language
(in other words, gain the ability to be aware of language and to understand it), as well as to produce and use
word In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most lang ...

word
s and
sentence Sentence(s) or The Sentence may refer to: Common uses * Sentence (law), the punishment a judge gives to a defendant found guilty of a crime * Sentence (linguistics), a grammatical unit of language * Sentence (mathematical logic), a formula not cont ...
s to communicate. Language acquisition involves structures, rules and representation. The capacity to use language successfully requires one to acquire a range of tools including
phonology Phonology is a branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of lan ...

phonology
,
morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines * Morphology (archaeology), study of the shapes or forms of artifacts * Morphology (astronomy), study of the shape of astronomical objects such as nebulae, galaxies ...
,
syntax In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the ...

syntax
,
semantics Semantics (from grc, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference Reference is a relationship between objects in which one object designates, or acts as a means by which to connect to or link to, another ...
, and an extensive
vocabulary A vocabulary is a set of familiar words In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed la ...
. Language can be vocalized as in speech, or manual as in
sign A sign is an object Object may refer to: General meanings * Object (philosophy), a thing, being, or concept ** Entity, something that is tangible and within the grasp of the senses ** Object (abstract), an object which does not exist at ...

sign
. Human language capacity is represented in the brain. Even though human language capacity is finite, one can say and understand an infinite number of sentences, which is based on a syntactic principle called
recursion Recursion (adjective: ''recursive'') occurs when a thing is defined in terms of itself or of its type. Recursion is used in a variety of disciplines ranging from linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning tha ...

recursion
. Evidence suggests that every individual has three recursive mechanisms that allow sentences to go indeterminately. These three mechanisms are: ''relativization'', ''complementation'' and ''coordination''. There are two main guiding principles in first-language acquisition:
speech perception Speech perception is the process by which the sounds of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to th ...
always precedes
speech production Speech production is the process by which thoughts are translated into speech. This includes the selection of word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolati ...
, and the gradually evolving system by which a child learns a language is built up one step at a time, beginning with the distinction between individual
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme is a unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West Midlan ...
s. Linguists who are interested in child language acquisition have for many years questioned how language is acquired. Lidz et al. state "The question of how these structures are acquired, then, is more properly understood as the question of how a learner takes the surface forms in the input and converts them into abstract linguistic rules and representations." Language acquisition usually refers to first-language acquisition, which studies infants' acquisition of their
native language A first language, native tongue, native language, or mother/father/parent tongue (also known as arterial language or L1) is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) ...
, whether that be spoken language or signed language, though it can also refer to bilingual first language acquisition (BFLA), which refers to an infant's simultaneous acquisition of two native languages. This is distinguished from ''
second-language acquisition Second-language acquisition (SLA), sometimes called second-language learning — otherwise referred to as L2 (language 2) acquisition, is the process by which people learn a second language. Second-language acquisition is also the scientific dis ...
'', which deals with the acquisition (in both
children Biologically, a child (plural children) is a being between the stages of and , or between the of and puberty. The legal definition of ''child'' generally refers to a , otherwise known as a person younger than the . Children generally have ...
and adults) of additional languages. In addition to speech, reading and writing a language with an entirely different script compounds the complexities of true foreign language
literacy Literacy is popularly understood as an ability to read and write Writing is a medium of human communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is the act of developing Semantics, meaning among Subject (p ...
. Language acquisition is one of the quintessential human traits.


History

Some early observation-based ideas about language acquisition were proposed by
Plato Plato ( ; grc-gre, wikt:Πλάτων, Πλάτων ; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was an Classical Athens, Athenian philosopher during the Classical Greece, Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thoug ...

Plato
, who felt that word-meaning mapping in some form was innate. Additionally,
Sanskrit grammarians Sanskrit (; attributively , ; nominally , , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, s ...
debated for over twelve centuries whether humans' ability to recognize the meaning of words was god-given (possibly innate) or passed down by previous generations and learned from already established conventions: a child learning the word for ''cow'' by listening to trusted speakers talking about cows. Philosophers in ancient societies were interested in how humans acquired the ability to understand and produce language well before
empirical methods Empirical research is research Research is "creativity, creative and systematic work undertaken to increase the stock of knowledge". It involves the collection, organization, and analysis of information to increase understanding of a topi ...
for testing those theories were developed, but for the most part they seemed to regard language acquisition as a subset of man's ability to acquire knowledge and learn concepts. Empiricists, like
Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes ( ; sometimes known as Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury; 5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679) was an , considered to be one of the founders of modern . Hobbes is best known for his 1651 book ', in which he expounds an influential form ...
and
John Locke John Locke (; 29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704) was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment Enlightenment, enlighten or enlightened may refer to: Age of Enlightenment * ...

John Locke
, argued that knowledge (and, for Locke, language) emerge ultimately from abstracted sense impressions. These arguments lean towards the "nurture" side of the argument: that language is acquired through sensory experience, which led to
Rudolf Carnap Rudolf Carnap (; ; 18 May 1891 – 14 September 1970) was a German-language philosopher who was active in Europe before 1935 and in the United States thereafter. He was a major member of the Vienna Circle The Vienna Circle (german: Wiener Krei ...
's Aufbau, an attempt to learn all knowledge from sense datum, using the notion of "remembered as similar" to bind them into clusters, which would eventually map into language. Proponents of
behaviorism Behaviorism is a systematic approach to understanding the behavior of humans and other animals. It assumes that behavior is either a reflex In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including thei ...
argued that language may be learned through a form of
operant conditioning Operant conditioning (also called instrumental conditioning) is a type of associative learning process through which the strength of a behavior is modified by reinforcement or punishment. It is also a procedure that is used to bring about such lea ...
. In
B. F. Skinner Burrhus Frederic Skinner (March 20, 1904 – August 18, 1990) was an American psychologist A psychologist is a person who studies normal and abnormal mental states, perceptual, cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by exper ...
's ''
Verbal Behavior ''Verbal Behavior'' is a 1957 book by psychologist A psychologist is a person who studies normal and abnormal mental states, perceptual, cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by experimenting with, and observing, interpretin ...
'' (1957), he suggested that the successful use of a sign, such as a word or
lexical unitIn lexicography Lexicography is divided into two separate but equally important groups: * Practical lexicography is the art or craft A craft or trade is a pastime or an occupation that requires particular skills and knowledge of skilled ...
, given a certain stimulus, its "momentary" or contextual probability. Since operant conditioning is contingent on reinforcement by rewards, a child would learn that a specific combination of sounds stands for a specific thing through repeated successful associations made between the two. A "successful" use of a sign would be one in which the child is understood (for example, a child saying "up" when they want to be picked up) and rewarded with the desired response from another person, thereby reinforcing the child's understanding of the meaning of that word and making it more likely that they will use that word in a similar situation in the future. Some
empiricist In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, ...
theories of language acquisition include the
statistical learning theory Statistical learning theory is a framework for machine learning drawing from the fields of statistics Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. In applying s ...
. Charles F. Hockett of language acquisition, relational frame theory,
functionalist linguistics Functional linguistics is an approach to the study of language characterized by taking systematically into account the speaker's and the hearer's side, and the communicative needs of the speaker and of the given language community. It is contraste ...
,
social interactionist theorySocial interactionist theory (SIT) is an explanation of language development emphasizing the role of social interaction between the developing child and linguistically knowledgeable adults. It is based largely on the socio-cultural theories of Soviet ...
, and usage-based language acquisition. Skinner's behaviorist idea was strongly attacked by
Noam Chomsky Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gesture ...

Noam Chomsky
in a review article in 1959, calling it "largely mythology" and a "serious delusion." Arguments against Skinner's idea of language acquisition through operant conditioning include the fact that children often ignore language corrections from adults. Instead, children typically follow a pattern of using an irregular form of a word correctly, making errors later on, and eventually returning to the proper use of the word. For example, a child may correctly learn the word "gave" (past tense of "give"), and later on use the word "gived". Eventually, the child will typically go back to using the correct word, "gave". Chomsky claimed the pattern is difficult to attribute to Skinner's idea of operant conditioning as the primary way that children acquire language. Chomsky argued that if language were solely acquired through behavioral conditioning, children would not likely learn the proper use of a word and suddenly use the word incorrectly. Chomsky believed that Skinner failed to account for the central role of syntactic knowledge in language competence. Chomsky also rejected the term "learning", which Skinner used to claim that children "learn" language through operant conditioning. Instead, Chomsky argued for a mathematical approach to language acquisition, based on a study of
syntax In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the ...
.


As a typically human phenomenon

The capacity to acquire and use language is a key aspect that distinguishes
humans Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species In biology, a species is the basic unit of biological classification, classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species ...
from other beings. Although it is difficult to pin down what aspects of language are uniquely human, there are a few design features that can be found in all known forms of human language, but that are missing from forms of
animal communication Animal communication is the transfer of information from one or a group of animals (sender or senders) to one or more other animals (receiver or receivers) that affects the current or future behavior of the receivers. Information may be sent inte ...

animal communication
. For example, many animals are able to communicate with each other by signaling to the things around them, but this kind of communication lacks the arbitrariness of human vernaculars (in that there is nothing about the sound of the word "dog" that would hint at its meaning). Other forms of animal communication may utilize arbitrary sounds, but are unable to combine those sounds in different ways to create completely novel messages that can then be automatically understood by another. Hockett called this design feature of human language "productivity". It is crucial to the understanding of human language acquisition that humans are not limited to a finite set of words, but, rather, must be able to understand and utilize a complex system that allows for an infinite number of possible messages. So, while many forms of animal communication exist, they differ from human language in that they have a limited range of vocabulary tokens, and the vocabulary items are not combined syntactically to create phrases. Herbert S. Terrace conducted a study on a chimpanzee known as
Nim Chimpsky Nim Chimpsky (November 19, 1973 – March 10, 2000) was a chimpanzee The chimpanzee (''Pan troglodytes''), also known as the common chimpanzee, robust chimpanzee, or simply chimp, is a species of great ape native to the forest and savannah ...
in an attempt to teach him
American Sign Language American Sign Language (ASL) is a natural language In neuropsychology Neuropsychology is a branch of psychology. It is concerned with how a person's cognition and behavior are related to the brain and the rest of the nervous system. Pr ...

American Sign Language
. This study was an attempt to further research done with a chimpanzee named Washoe, who was reportedly able to acquire American Sign Language. However, upon further inspection, Terrace concluded that both experiments were failures. While Nim was able to acquire signs, he never acquired a knowledge of grammar, and was unable to combine signs in a meaningful way. Researchers noticed that "signs that seemed spontaneous were, in fact, cued by teachers", and not actually productive. When Terrace reviewed Project Washoe, he found similar results. He postulated that there is a fundamental difference between animals and humans in their motivation to learn language; animals, such as in Nim's case, are motivated only by physical reward, while humans learn language in order to "create a new type of communication". In another language acquisition study, Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard attempted to teach
Victor of Aveyron Victor of Aveyron (; c. 1788 – 1828) was a French feral child who was found at the age of around 9. Not only, he is considered as the most famous feral child, but it is also the most documented case of feral child. Upon his discovery, he was ca ...

Victor of Aveyron
, a feral child, how to speak. Victor was able to learn a few words, but ultimately never fully acquired language. Slightly more successful was a study done on
Genie Jinn ( ar, جن, ') – also romanized Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying ...
, another child never introduced to society. She had been entirely isolated for the first thirteen years of her life by her father. Caretakers and researchers attempted to measure her ability to learn a language. She was able to acquire a large vocabulary, but never acquired grammatical knowledge. Researchers concluded that the theory of a
critical period In developmental psychology and developmental biology, a critical period is a maturational stage in the lifespan of an organism during which the nervous system is especially sensitive to certain environmental stimuli. If, for some reason, the orga ...
was true; Genie was too old to learn how to speak productively, although she was still able to comprehend language.


General approaches

A major debate in understanding language acquisition is how these capacities are picked up by infants from the linguistic input. Input in the linguistic
context Context may refer to: * Context (language use), the relevant constraints of the communicative situation that influence language use, language variation, and discourse summary. Computing * Context (computing), the virtual environment required to ...
is defined as "All words, contexts, and other forms of language to which a learner is exposed, relative to acquired proficiency in first or second languages". Nativists such as Chomsky have focused on the hugely complex nature of human grammars, the finiteness and
ambiguity Ambiguity is a type of meaning Meaning most commonly refers to: * Meaning (linguistics), meaning which is communicated through the use of language * Meaning (philosophy), definition, elements, and types of meaning discussed in philosophy * ...
of the input that children receive, and the relatively limited
cognitive abilitiesCognitive skills, also called cognitive functions, cognitive abilities or cognitive capacities, are brain-based skills which are needed in acquisition of knowledge, manipulation of information, and reasoning. They have more to do with the mechanisms ...
of an infant. From these characteristics, they conclude that the process of language acquisition in infants must be tightly constrained and guided by the biologically given characteristics of the human brain. Otherwise, they argue, it is extremely difficult to explain how children, within the first five years of life, routinely master the complex, largely tacit grammatical rules of their native language. Additionally, the evidence of such rules in their native language is all indirect— adult speech to children cannot encompass all of what children know by the time they've acquired their native language. Other scholars, however, have resisted the possibility that infants' routine success at acquiring the grammar of their native language requires anything more than the forms of learning seen with other cognitive skills, including such mundane motor skills as learning to ride a bike. In particular, there has been resistance to the possibility that human biology includes any form of specialization for language. This conflict is often referred to as the "
nature and nurture The nature versus nurture debate involves whether human behavior is determined by the environment, either prenatal or during a person's life, or behavioral genetics, by a person's genes. The alliterative expression "nature and nurture" in English ...
" debate. Of course, most scholars acknowledge that certain aspects of language acquisition must result from the specific ways in which the human brain is "wired" (a "nature" component, which accounts for the failure of non-human species to acquire human languages) and that certain others are shaped by the particular language environment in which a person is raised (a "nurture" component, which accounts for the fact that humans raised in different societies acquire different languages). The as-yet unresolved question is the extent to which the specific cognitive capacities in the "nature" component are also used outside of language.


Emergentism

Emergentist theories, such as Brian MacWhinney's
competition model The Competition Model is a psycholinguistic theory of language acquisition Language acquisition is the process by which humans acquire the capacity to perceive and comprehend language A language is a structured system of communication use ...
, posit that language acquisition is a
cognitive process Cognition () refers to "the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses". It encompasses many aspects of intellectual functions and processes such as: perception, attention, the f ...
that emerges from the interaction of biological pressures and the environment. According to these theories, neither nature nor nurture alone is sufficient to trigger language learning; both of these influences must work together in order to allow children to acquire a language. The proponents of these theories argue that general cognitive processes subserve language acquisition and that the end result of these processes is language-specific phenomena, such as word learning and . The findings of many empirical studies support the predictions of these theories, suggesting that language acquisition is a more complex process than many have proposed.


Empiricism

Although Chomsky's theory of a
generative grammar Generative grammar, or generativism , is a linguistic theory that regards linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying ...
has been enormously influential in the field of linguistics since the 1950s, many criticisms of the basic assumptions of generative theory have been put forth by cognitive-functional linguists, who argue that language structure is created through language use. These linguists argue that the concept of a
language acquisition device The Language Acquisition Device (LAD) is a claim from language acquisition Language acquisition is the process by which humans acquire the capacity to perceive and comprehend language A language is a structured system of communication us ...
(LAD) is unsupported by evolutionary anthropology, which tends to show a gradual adaptation of the human brain and vocal cords to the use of language, rather than a sudden appearance of a complete set of binary parameters delineating the whole spectrum of possible grammars ever to have existed and ever to exist. On the other hand, cognitive-functional theorists use this anthropological data to show how human beings have evolved the capacity for grammar and syntax to meet our demand for linguistic symbols. (Binary parameters are common to digital computers, but may not be applicable to neurological systems such as the human brain.) Further, the generative theory has several constructs (such as movement, empty categories, complex underlying structures, and strict binary branching) that cannot possibly be acquired from any amount of linguistic input. It is unclear that human language is actually ''anything like'' the generative conception of it. Since language, as imagined by nativists, is unlearnably complex, subscribers to this theory argue that it must, therefore, be innate. Nativists hypothesize that some features of syntactic categories exist even before a child is exposed to any experience - categories on which children map words of their language as they learn their native language. A different
theory of language Theory of language is a topic from philosophy of language and theoretical linguistics. It has the goal of answering the questions “What is language?”; "Why do languages have the properties they have?"; or "What is the origin of language?". Ev ...
, however, may yield different conclusions. While all theories of language acquisition posit some degree of innateness, they vary in how much value they place on this innate capacity to acquire language. Empiricism places less value on the innate knowledge, arguing instead that the input, combined with both general and language-specific learning capacities, is sufficient for acquisition. Since 1980, linguists studying children, such as Melissa Bowerman and
Asifa Majid Asifa Majid is a psychology, psychologist, linguistics, linguist and cognitive science, cognitive scientist who is professor of language, communication and cultural cognition at the University of York, UK. Biography Majid's academic career began at ...
, and psychologists following
Jean Piaget Jean Piaget (, , ; 9 August 1896 – 16 September 1980) was a Swiss Swiss may refer to: * the adjectival form of Switzerland *Swiss people Places *Swiss, Missouri *Swiss, North Carolina *Swiss, West Virginia *Swiss, Wisconsin Other uses *Swiss ...

Jean Piaget
, like Elizabeth Bates and Jean Mandler, came to suspect that there may indeed be many learning processes involved in the acquisition process, and that ignoring the role of learning may have been a mistake. In recent years, the debate surrounding the nativist position has centered on whether the inborn capabilities are language-specific or domain-general, such as those that enable the infant to visually make sense of the world in terms of objects and actions. The anti-nativist view has many strands, but a frequent theme is that language emerges from usage in social contexts, using learning mechanisms that are a part of an innate general cognitive learning apparatus. This position has been championed by David M. W. Powers,
Elizabeth Bates Elizabeth Ann Bates (July 26, 1947 – December 13, 2003) was a Professor of cognitive science at the UCSD, University of California, San Diego. She was an internationally renowned expert and leading researcher in child language acquisition, ps ...
, Catherine Snow,
Anat Ninio Anat Ninio ( he, ענת ניניו; born August 10, 1944) is a professor emeritus of psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. She specializes in the Context (language use), interactive context of language acquisition, the communic ...
, Brian MacWhinney,
Michael Tomasello Michael Tomasello (born January 18, 1950) is an American developmental and comparative psychologist, as well as a linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by hu ...
, Michael Ramscar, William O'Grady, and others. Philosophers, such as Fiona CowieCowie, F. (1999)
What's Within? Nativism Reconsidered
(Oxford University Press, New York).
and
Barbara Scholz Barbara Caroline Scholz (August 29, 1947 – May 14, 2011) was an American philosopher of science, with a particular focus on the philosophy of cognitive science and linguistics. She taught at the University of Toledo, at the University of Californ ...
with
Geoffrey Pullum Geoffrey Keith Pullum (; born 8 March 1945) is a British-American linguist specialising in the study of English. Since 2007 he has been Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh. Pullum is a co-author of '' The Cambridge ...
have also argued against certain nativist claims in support of empiricism. The new field of
cognitive linguistics Cognitive linguistics is an interdisciplinary branch of linguistics, combining knowledge and research from cognitive science, cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, social psychology, cognitive anthropology and linguistics. Models and theoretical ...
has emerged as a specific counter to Chomsky's Generative Grammar and to Nativism.


Statistical learning

Some language acquisition researchers, such as Elissa Newport, Richard Aslin, and
Jenny Saffran Jenny Saffran is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She specializes in language acquisition and early cognitive development, and she also conducts research on music cognition. Saffran views language acquisition as b ...
, emphasize the possible roles of general
learning Learning is the process of acquiring new understanding Understanding is a psychological process related to an abstract or physical thing, such as a person, situation, or message whereby one is able to use concepts to model that thing. Under ...

learning
mechanisms, especially statistical learning, in language acquisition. The development of
connectionist Connectionism is an approach in the fields of cognitive science that hopes to explain mind, mental phenomena using artificial neural networks (ANN). Connectionism presents a cognitive theory based on simultaneously occurring, distributed signal act ...
models that when implemented are able to successfully learn words and syntactical conventions supports the predictions of statistical learning theories of language acquisition, as do empirical studies of children's detection of word boundaries. In a series of connectionist model simulations, Franklin Chang has demonstrated that such a domain general statistical learning mechanism could explain a wide range of language structure acquisition phenomena.
Statistical learning theory Statistical learning theory is a framework for machine learning drawing from the fields of statistics Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. In applying s ...
suggests that, when learning language, a learner would use the natural statistical properties of language to deduce its structure, including sound patterns, words, and the beginnings of grammar. That is, language learners are sensitive to how often
syllable A syllable is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. It is typically made up of a syllable nucleus (most often a vowel A vowel is a Syllable, syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowels a ...

syllable
combinations or words occur in relation to other syllables. Infants between 21 and 23 months old are also able to use statistical learning to develop "lexical categories", such as an animal category, which infants might later map to newly learned words in the same category. These findings suggest that early experience listening to language is critical to vocabulary acquisition. The statistical abilities are effective, but also limited by what qualifies as input, what is done with that input, and by the structure of the resulting output. One should also note that statistical learning (and more broadly, distributional learning) can be accepted as a component of language acquisition by researchers on either side of the "nature and nurture" debate. From the perspective of that debate, an important question is whether statistical learning can, by itself, serve as an alternative to nativist explanations for the grammatical constraints of human language.


Chunking

The central idea of these theories is that language development occurs through the incremental acquisition of meaningful chunks of elementary constituents, which can be words, phonemes, or syllables. Recently, this approach has been highly successful in simulating several phenomena in the acquisition of syntactic categories and the acquisition of phonological knowledge. Chunking theories of language acquisition constitute a group of theories related to statistical learning theories, in that they assume that the input from the environment plays an essential role; however, they postulate different learning mechanisms. Researchers at the
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (german: Max-Planck-Institut für evolutionäre Anthropologie, shortened to MPI EVA) is a research institute based in Leipzig, Germany, that was founded in 1997. It is part of the Max-Planc ...

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
have developed a computer model analyzing early toddler conversations to predict the structure of later conversations. They showed that toddlers develop their own individual rules for speaking, with 'slots' into which they put certain kinds of words. A significant outcome of this research is that rules inferred from toddler speech were better predictors of subsequent speech than traditional grammars. This approach has several features that make it unique: the models are implemented as computer programs, which enables clear-cut and quantitative predictions to be made; they learn from naturalistic input—actual child-directed utterances; and attempt to create their own utterances, the model was tested in languages including English, Spanish, and German. Chunking for this model was shown to be most effective in learning a first language but was able to create utterances learning a second language.


Relational frame theory

The relational frame theory (RFT) (Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, Roche, 2001), provides a wholly selectionist/learning account of the origin and development of language competence and complexity. Based upon the principles of Skinnerian behaviorism, RFT posits that children acquire language purely through interacting with the environment. RFT theorists introduced the concept of
functional contextualismFunctional contextualism is a modern philosophy of science Philosophy of science is a branch of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methodology, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern Demarcation ...
in language learning, which emphasizes the importance of predicting and influencing psychological events, such as thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, by focusing on manipulable variables in their own context. RFT distinguishes itself from Skinner's work by identifying and defining a particular type of operant conditioning known as derived relational responding, a learning process that, to date, appears to occur only in humans possessing a capacity for language. Empirical studies supporting the predictions of RFT suggest that children learn language through a system of inherent reinforcements, challenging the view that language acquisition is based upon innate, language-specific cognitive capacities.


Social interactionism

Social interactionist theory is an explanation of
language development Language development in humans is a process starting early in life. Infants start without knowing a language, yet by 10 months, babies can distinguish speech sounds and engage in babbling 175px, Babies begin babbling around 5-7 months of age Bab ...
emphasizing the role of social interaction between the developing child and linguistically knowledgeable adults. It is based largely on the socio-cultural theories of Soviet psychologist
Lev Vygotsky Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (russian: Лев Семёнович Выго́тский, p=vɨˈɡotskʲɪj; be, Леў Сямёнавіч Выго́цкі, p=vɨˈɡotskʲɪj; – June 11, 1934) was a Soviet psychologist A psychologist is a pr ...
, and was made prominent in the Western world by
Jerome Bruner Jerome Seymour Bruner (October 1, 1915 – June 5, 2016) was an American psychologist A psychologist is a professional A professional is a member of a profession or any person who earns a living from a specified professional activity. The t ...
. Unlike other approaches, it emphasizes the role of feedback and reinforcement in language acquisition. Specifically, it asserts that much of a child's linguistic growth stems from modeling of and interaction with parents and other adults, who very frequently provide instructive correction. It is thus somewhat similar to behaviorist accounts of language learning. It differs substantially, though, in that it posits the existence of a social-cognitive model and other mental structures within children (a sharp contrast to the "black box" approach of classical behaviorism). Another key idea within the theory of social interactionism is that of the
zone of proximal development The zone of proximal development (ZPD) is the distance between what a learner is not currently capable of doing unsupported, and what they can do unsupported. It is the range where they are capable only with support from someone with more knowledge ...

zone of proximal development
. This is a theoretical construct denoting the set of tasks a child is capable of performing with guidance but not alone. As applied to language, it describes the set of linguistic tasks (for example, proper syntax, suitable vocabulary usage) that a child cannot carry out on its own at a given time, but can learn to carry out if assisted by an able adult.


Syntax, morphology, and generative grammar

As syntax began to be studied more closely in the early 20th century in relation to language learning, it became apparent to linguists, psychologists, and philosophers that knowing a language was not merely a matter of associating words with concepts, but that a critical aspect of language involves knowledge of how to put words together; sentences are usually needed in order to communicate successfully, not just isolated words. A child will use short expressions such as ''Bye-bye Mummy'' or ''All-gone milk'', which actually are combinations of individual
noun A noun () is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), meaning. In many l ...

noun
s and an operator, before they begin to produce gradually more complex sentences. In the 1990s, within the
principles and parameters Principles and parameters is a framework within generative linguistics Generative grammar, or generativism , is a linguistic theory that regards linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the a ...
framework, this hypothesis was extended into a maturation-based structure building model of child language regarding the acquisition of functional categories. In this model, children are seen as gradually building up more and more complex structures, with lexical categories (like noun and verb) being acquired before functional-syntactic categories (like determiner and complementiser). It is also often found that in acquiring a language, the most frequently used verbs are
irregular verbs A regular verb is any verb A verb, from the Latin ''wikt:verbum#Latin, verbum'' meaning ''word'', is a word (part of speech) that in syntax conveys an action (''bring'', ''read'', ''walk'', ''run'', ''learn''), an occurrence (''happen'', ''bec ...
. In learning English, for example, young children first begin to learn the past tense of verbs individually. However, when they acquire a "rule", such as adding ''-ed'' to form the past tense, they begin to exhibit occasional overgeneralization errors (e.g. "runned", "hitted") alongside correct past tense forms. One influential proposal regarding the origin of this type of error suggests that the adult state of grammar stores each irregular verb form in memory and also includes a "block" on the use of the regular rule for forming that type of verb. In the developing child's mind, retrieval of that "block" may fail, causing the child to erroneously apply the regular rule instead of retrieving the irregular.


A

Merge (linguistics) Merge (usually capitalized) is one of the basic operations in the Minimalist Program In linguistics, the minimalist program (MP) is a major line of inquiry that has been developing inside generative grammar since the early 1990s, starting with a 19 ...
-based Theory

In Bare-Phrase structure (
Minimalist Program In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langu ...
), since theory-internal considerations define the specifier position of an internal-merge projection (phases vP and CP) as the only type of host which could serve as potential landing-sites for move-based elements displaced from lower down within the base-generated VP structure – e.g., A-movement such as passives ( The apple was eaten by [John (ate the apple)"), or raising ["Some work does seem to remain [(There) does seem to remain (some work)")—as a consequence, any strong version of a Structure building model of child language which calls for an exclusive "external-merge/argument structure stage" prior to an "internal-merge/scope-discourse related stage" would claim that young children's stage-1 utterances lack the ability to generate and host elements derived via movement operations. In terms of a Merge-based theory of language acquisition, complements and specifiers are simply notations for first-merge (= "complement-of" ead-complement, and later second-merge (= "specifier-of" pecifier-head with merge always forming to a head. First-merge establishes only a set and is not an ordered pair—e.g., an -compound of 'boat-house' would allow the ambiguous readings of either 'a kind of house' and/or 'a kind of boat'. It is only with second-merge that order is derived out of a set which yields the recursive properties of syntax—e.g., a 'house-boat' now reads unambiguously only as a 'kind of boat'. It is this property of recursion that allows for projection and labeling of a phrase to take place; in this case, that the Noun 'boat' is the Head of the compound, and 'house' acting as a kind of specifier/modifier. External-merge (first-merge) establishes substantive 'base structure' inherent to the VP, yielding theta/argument structure, and may go beyond the lexical-category VP to involve the functional-category light verb vP. Internal-merge (second-merge) establishes more formal aspects related to edge-properties of scope and discourse-related material pegged to CP. In a Phase-based theory, this twin vP/CP distinction follows the "duality of semantics" discussed within the Minimalist Program, and is further developed into a dual distinction regarding a probe-goal relation. As a consequence, at the "external/first-merge-only" stage, young children would show an inability to interpret readings from a given ordered pair, since they would only have access to the mental parsing of a non-recursive set. (See Roeper for a full discussion of recursion in child language acquisition). In addition to word-order violations, other more ubiquitous results of a first-merge stage would show that children's initial utterances lack the recursive properties of inflectional morphology, yielding a strict Non-inflectional stage-1, consistent with an incremental Structure-building model of child language. Generative grammar, associated especially with the work of Noam Chomsky, is currently one of the approaches to explaining children's acquisition of syntax. Its leading idea is that human biology imposes narrow constraints on the child's "hypothesis space" during language acquisition. In the principles and parameters framework, which has dominated generative syntax since Chomsky's (1980) '' Lectures on Government and Binding: The Pisa Lectures'', the acquisition of syntax resembles ordering from a menu: the human brain comes equipped with a limited set of choices from which the child selects the correct options by imitating the parents' speech while making use of the context. An important argument which favors the generative approach, is the
poverty of the stimulus Poverty of the stimulus (POS) is the controversial argument from linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasse ...
argument. The child's input (a finite number of sentences encountered by the child, together with information about the context in which they were uttered) is, in principle, compatible with an infinite number of conceivable grammars. Moreover, rarely can children rely on
corrective feedbackCorrective feedback is a frequent practice in the field of learning Learning is the process of acquiring new understanding Understanding is a psychological process related to concepts, such as a person, situation, or message whereby one is abl ...
from adults when they make a grammatical error; adults generally respond and provide feedback regardless of whether a child's utterance was grammatical or not, and children have no way of discerning if a feedback response was intended to be a correction. Additionally, when children do understand that they are being corrected, they don't always reproduce accurate restatements. Yet, barring situations of medical abnormality or extreme privation, all children in a given speech-community converge on very much the same grammar by the age of about five years. An especially dramatic example is provided by children who, for medical reasons, are unable to produce speech and, therefore, can never be corrected for a grammatical error but nonetheless, converge on the same grammar as their typically-developing peers, according to comprehension-based tests of grammar. Considerations such as those have led Chomsky,
Jerry Fodor Jerry Alan Fodor (; April 22, 1935 – November 29, 2017) was an American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The United States of Amer ...

Jerry Fodor
,
Eric LennebergEric Heinz Lenneberg (19 September 1921 – 31 May 1975) was a linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Sig ...
and others to argue that the types of grammar the child needs to consider must be narrowly constrained by human biology (the nativist position). These innate constraints are sometimes referred to as
universal grammar Universal grammar (UG), in modern linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging t ...
, the human "language faculty", or the "language instinct".


Representation in the brain

Recent advances in functional neuroimaging technology have allowed for a better understanding of how language acquisition is manifested physically in the brain. Language acquisition almost always occurs in children during a period of rapid increase in brain volume. At this point in development, a child has many more neural connections than he or she will have as an adult, allowing for the child to be more able to learn new things than he or she would be as an adult.


Sensitive period

Language acquisition has been studied from the perspective of
developmental psychology Developmental psychology is the scientific Science () is a systematic enterprise that Scientific method, builds and organizes knowledge in the form of Testability, testable explanations and predictions about the universe."... modern ...
and
neuroscience Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system In biology, the classical doctrine of the nervous system determines that it is a Complex system, highly complex part of an animal that coordinates its Behavior, actions and Sens ...

neuroscience
, which looks at learning to use and understand language parallel to a child's brain development. It has been determined, through empirical research on developmentally normal children, as well as through some extreme cases of
language deprivationLanguage deprivation is associated with the lack of linguistic stimuli that are necessary for the language acquisition Language acquisition is the process by which humans acquire the capacity to perceive and comprehend language A language i ...
, that there is a "
sensitive period In developmental psychology and developmental biology, a critical period is a maturational stage in the lifespan of an organism during which the nervous system is especially sensitive to certain environmental stimuli. If, for some reason, the organi ...
" of language acquisition in which human infants have the ability to learn any language. Several researchers have found that from birth until the age of six months, infants can discriminate the phonetic contrasts of all languages. Researchers believe that this gives infants the ability to acquire the language spoken around them. After this age, the child is able to perceive only the phonemes specific to the language being learned. The reduced phonemic sensitivity enables children to build phonemic categories and recognize stress patterns and sound combinations specific to the language they are acquiring. As Wilder Penfield noted, "Before the child begins to speak and to perceive, the uncommitted cortex is a blank slate on which nothing has been written. In the ensuing years much is written, and the writing is normally never erased. After the age of ten or twelve, the general functional connections have been established and fixed for the speech cortex." According to the sensitive or critical period models, the age at which a child acquires the ability to use language is a predictor of how well he or she is ultimately able to use language. However, there may be an age at which becoming a fluent and natural user of a language is no longer possible; Penfield and Roberts (1959) cap their sensitive period at nine years old. The human brain may be automatically wired to learn languages, but this ability does not last into adulthood in the same way that it exists during childhood. By around age 12, language acquisition has typically been solidified, and it becomes more difficult to learn a language in the same way a native speaker would. Just like children who speak, deaf children go through a critical period for learning language. Deaf children who acquire their first language later in life show lower performance in complex aspects of grammar. At that point, it is usually a second language that a person is trying to acquire and not a first. Assuming that children are exposed to language during the critical period, acquiring language is almost never missed by cognitively normal children. Humans are so well-prepared to learn language that it becomes almost impossible not to. Researchers are unable to experimentally test the effects of the sensitive period of development on language acquisition, because it would be unethical to deprive children of language until this period is over. However, case studies on abused, language-deprived
children Biologically, a child (plural children) is a human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant and widespread species In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anat ...
show that they exhibit extreme limitations in language skills, even after instruction. At a very young age, children can distinguish different sounds but cannot yet produce them. During infancy, children begin to babble. Deaf babies babble in the same patterns as hearing babies do, showing that
babbling 175px, Babies begin babbling around 5-7 months of age Babbling is a stage in child development and a state in language acquisition Language acquisition is the process by which humans acquire the capacity to perceive and comprehend language ...
is not a result of babies simply imitating certain sounds, but is actually a natural part of the process of language development. Deaf babies do, however, often babble less than hearing babies, and they begin to babble later on in infancy—at approximately 11 months as compared to approximately 6 months for hearing babies. Prelinguistic language abilities that are crucial for language acquisition have been seen even earlier than infancy. There have been many different studies examining different modes of language acquisition prior to birth. The study of language acquisition in fetuses began in the late 1980s when several researchers independently discovered that very young infants could discriminate their native language from other languages. In ''Mehler et al. (1988)'', infants underwent discrimination tests, and it was shown that infants as young as 4 days old could discriminate utterances in their native language from those in an unfamiliar language, but could not discriminate between two languages when neither was native to them. These results suggest that there are mechanisms for fetal auditory learning, and other researchers have found further behavioral evidence to support this notion. Fetus auditory learning through environmental habituation has been seen in a variety of different modes, such as fetus learning of familiar melodies (Hepper, 1988), story fragments (DeCasper & Spence, 1986), recognition of mother's voice (Kisilevsky, 2003), and other studies showing evidence of fetal adaptation to native linguistic environments (Moon, Cooper & Fifer, 1993). Prosody is the property of speech that conveys an emotional state of the utterance, as well as the intended form of speech, for example, question, statement or command. Some researchers in the field of developmental neuroscience argue that fetal auditory learning mechanisms result solely from discrimination of prosodic elements. Although this would hold merit in an evolutionary psychology perspective (i.e. recognition of mother's voice/familiar group language from emotionally valent stimuli), some theorists argue that there is more than prosodic recognition in elements of fetal learning. Newer evidence shows that fetuses not only react to the native language differently from non-native languages, but that fetuses react differently and can accurately discriminate between native and non-native vowel sounds (Moon, Lagercrantz, & Kuhl, 2013). Furthermore, a 2016 study showed that newborn infants encode the edges of multisyllabic sequences better than the internal components of the sequence (Ferry et al., 2016). Together, these results suggest that newborn infants have learned important properties of syntactic processing in utero, as demonstrated by infant knowledge of native language vowels and the sequencing of heard multisyllabic phrases. This ability to sequence specific vowels gives newborn infants some of the fundamental mechanisms needed in order to learn the complex organization of a language. From a neuroscientific perspective, neural correlates have been found that demonstrate human fetal learning of speech-like auditory stimuli that most other studies have been analyzing (Partanen et al., 2013). In a study conducted by Partanen et al. (2013), researchers presented fetuses with certain word variants and observed that these fetuses exhibited higher brain activity in response to certain word variants as compared to controls. In this same study, "a significant correlation existed between the amount of prenatal exposure and brain activity, with greater activity being associated with a higher amount of prenatal speech exposure," pointing to the important learning mechanisms present before birth that are fine-tuned to features in speech (Partanen et al., 2013).


Vocabulary acquisition

The capacity to acquire the ability to incorporate the pronunciation of new words depends upon many factors. First, the learner needs to be able to hear what they are attempting to pronounce. Also required is the capacity to engage in
speech repetition 250px, Children copy with their own mouths the words spoken by the mouths of those around them. That enables them to learn the pronunciation of words not already in their vocabulary. Speech repetition occurs when individuals speech, speak the so ...
. Children with reduced ability to repeat non-words (a marker of speech repetition abilities) show a slower rate of vocabulary expansion than children with normal ability. Several computational models of vocabulary acquisition have been proposed. Various studies have shown that the size of a child's vocabulary by the age of 24 months correlates with the child's future development and language skills. A lack of language richness by this age has detrimental and long-term effects on the child's cognitive development, which is why it is so important for parents to engage their infants in language. If a child knows fifty or fewer words by the age of 24 months, he or she is classified as a late-talker, and future language development, like vocabulary expansion and the organization of grammar, is likely to be slower and stunted. Two more crucial elements of vocabulary acquisition are word segmentation and statistical learning (described above). Word segmentation, or the ability to break down words into syllables from fluent speech can be accomplished by eight-month-old infants. By the time infants are 17 months old, they are able to link meaning to segmented words. Recent evidence also suggests that motor skills and experiences may influence vocabulary acquisition during infancy. Specifically, learning to sit independently between 3 and 5 months of age has been found to predict receptive vocabulary at both 10 and 14 months of age, and independent walking skills have been found to correlate with language skills at around 10 to 14 months of age. These findings show that language acquisition is an embodied process that is influenced by a child's overall motor abilities and development. Studies have also shown a correlation between socioeconomic status and vocabulary acquisition.


Meaning

Children learn, on average, ten to fifteen new word meanings each day, but only one of these can be accounted for by direct instruction. The other nine to fourteen word meanings must have been acquired in some other way. It has been proposed that children acquire these meanings through processes modeled by
latent semantic analysis Latent semantic analysis (LSA) is a technique in natural language processing, in particular distributional semantics, of analyzing relationships between a set of documents and the terms they contain by producing a set of concepts related to the docu ...
; that is, when they encounter an unfamiliar word, children use contextual information to guess its rough meaning correctly. A child may expand the meaning and use of certain words that are already part of its mental lexicon in order to denominate anything that is somehow related but for which it does not know the specific word. For instance, a child may broaden the use of ''mummy'' and ''dada'' in order to indicate anything that belongs to its mother or father, or perhaps every person who resembles its own parents; another example might be to say ''rain'' while meaning ''I don't want to go out''. There is also reason to believe that children use various
heuristic A heuristic (; ), or heuristic technique, is any approach to problem solving or self-discovery that employs a practical method that is not guaranteed to be Mathematical optimisation, optimal, perfect, or Rationality, rational, but is nevertheless ...
s to infer the meaning of words properly. Markman and others have proposed that children assume words to refer to objects with similar properties ("cow" and "pig" might both be "animals") rather than to objects that are thematically related ("cow" and "milk" are probably not both "animals"). Children also seem to adhere to the "whole object assumption" and think that a novel label refers to an entire entity rather than to one of its parts. This assumption along with other resources, such as grammar and morphological cues or lexical constraints, may help aid the child in acquiring word meaning, but conclusions based on such resources may sometimes conflict.


Genetic and neurocognitive research

According to several linguists, neurocognitive research has confirmed many standards of language learning, such as: "learning engages the entire person (cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains), the human brain seeks patterns in its searching for meaning, emotions affect all aspects of learning, retention and recall, past experience always affects new learning, the brain's working memory has a limited capacity, lecture usually results in the lowest degree of retention, rehearsal is essential for retention, practice does not make perfect, and each brain is unique" (Sousa, 2006, p. 274). In terms of genetics, the gene
ROBO1 Roundabout homolog 1 is a protein Proteins are large biomolecules or macromolecules that are comprised of one or more long chains of amino acid residue (biochemistry), residues. Proteins perform a vast array of functions within organisms, includ ...
has been associated with phonological buffer integrity or length. Genetic research has found two major factors predicting successful language acquisition and maintenance. These include inherited intelligence, and the lack of genetic anomalies that may cause speech pathologies, such as mutations in the FOXP2 gene which cause verbal dyspraxia. The role of inherited intelligence increases with age, accounting for 20% of IQ variation in infants, and for 60% in adults. It affects a vast variety of language-related abilities, from spatio-motor skills to writing fluency. There have been debates in linguistics, philosophy, psychology, and genetics, with some scholars arguing that language is fully or mostly innate, but the research evidence points to genetic factors only working in interaction with environmental ones. Although it is difficult to determine without invasive measures which exact parts of the brain become most active and important for language acquisition,
fMRI Functional magnetic resonance imaging or functional MRI (fMRI) measures brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow Hemodynamics American and British English spelling differences#ae and oe, or haemodynamics are the Fluid dynami ...

fMRI
and
PET A pet, or companion animal, is an animal kept primarily for a person's company or entertainment rather than as a working animal, livestock or a laboratory animal. Popular pets are often considered to have attractive appearances, Animal cognitio ...
technology has allowed for some conclusions to be made about where language may be centered. Kuniyoshi Sakai has proposed, based on several neuroimaging studies, that there may be a "grammar center" in the brain, whereby language is primarily processed in the left lateral
premotor cortex The premotor cortex is an area of the motor cortex The motor cortex is the region of the cerebral cortex involved in the planning, control, and execution of voluntary movements. Classically, the motor cortex is an area of the frontal lobe loca ...
(located near the pre central sulcus and the
inferior frontal sulcus The inferior frontal sulcus is a Sulcus (neuroanatomy), sulcus between the middle frontal gyrus and the inferior frontal gyrus. See also * Superior frontal sulcus Additional images File:Inferior frontal sulcus animation small.gif, Animation. Inf ...
). Additionally, these studies have suggested that first language and second language acquisition may be represented differently in the
cortex Cortex or cortical may refer to: Science Anatomy * Cortex (anatomy), the outermost or superficial layer of an organ * Cortex (hair), the middle layer of a strand of hair * Adrenal cortex, the portion of the adrenal gland that produces cortisol and ...
. In a study conducted by Newman et al., the relationship between cognitive neuroscience and language acquisition was compared through a standardized procedure involving native speakers of English and native Spanish speakers who all had a similar length of exposure to the English language (averaging about 26 years). It was concluded that the brain does in fact process languages differently, but rather than being related to proficiency levels, language processing relates more to the function of the brain itself. During early infancy, language processing seems to occur over many areas in the brain. However, over time, it gradually becomes concentrated into two areas –
Broca's area Broca's area, or the Broca area (, also , ), is a region in the frontal lobe of the dominant hemisphere Hemisphere may refer to: * A half of a sphere As half of the Earth * A hemispheres of Earth, hemisphere of Earth ** Northern Hemisphere ** So ...
and
Wernicke's area Wernicke's area (; ), also called Wernicke's speech area, is one of the two parts of the cerebral cortex The cerebral cortex, also known as the cerebral mantle, is the outer layer of of the of the in and other s. The cerebral cortex mostl ...
. Broca's area is in the left
frontal cortex The frontal lobe is the largest of the four major lobes of the brain The lobes of the brain were originally a purely anatomical classification, but have been shown also to be related to different brain functions. The cerebrum, the largest po ...
and is primarily involved in the production of the patterns in vocal and sign language. Wernicke's area is in the left
temporal cortex The temporal lobe is one of the four major lobes of the cerebral cortex The cerebral cortex, also known as the cerebral mantle, is the outer layer of neural tissue of the cerebrum of the brain A brain is an organ (anatomy), organ that serv ...
and is primarily involved in language comprehension. The specialization of these language centers is so extensive that damage to them can result in
aphasia Aphasia is an inability to comprehend or formulate language because of damage to specific brain regions. The major causes are a cerebral vascular accident (stroke) or head trauma. Aphasia can also be the result of brain tumors, brain infections ...

aphasia
.


Artificial intelligence

Some algorithms for language acquisition are based on
statistical machine translationStatistical machine translation (SMT) is a machine translation Machine translation, sometimes referred to by the abbreviation MT (not to be confused with computer-aided translation, machine-aided human translation or interactive translation), is ...
. Language acquisition can be modeled as a
machine learning Machine learning (ML) is the study of computer algorithms that can improve automatically through experience and by the use of data. It is seen as a part of artificial intelligence. Machine learning algorithms build a model based on sample data ...

machine learning
process, which may be based on learning
semantic parserSemantic parsing is the task of converting a natural language utterance to a Logical Form (linguistics), logical form: a machine-understandable representation of its meaning. Semantic parsing can thus be understood as extracting the precise meaning o ...
s or
grammar induction Grammar induction (or grammatical inference) is the process in machine learning of learning a formal grammar In formal language theory, a grammar (when the context is not given, often called a formal grammar for clarity) describes how to form stri ...
algorithms.Zuidema, Willem H.
How the poverty of the stimulus solves the poverty of the stimulus
" Advances in neural information processing systems. 2003.


Prelingual deafness

Prelingual deafness is defined as hearing loss that occurred at birth or before an individual has learned to speak. In the United States, 2 to 3 out of every 1000 children are born deaf or hard of hearing. Even though it might be presumed that deaf children acquire language in different ways since they are not receiving the same auditory input as hearing children, many research findings indicate that deaf children acquire language in the same way that hearing children do and when given the proper language input, understand and express language just as well as their hearing peers. Babies who learn sign language produce signs or gestures that are more regular and more frequent than hearing babies acquiring spoken language. Just as hearing babies babble, deaf babies acquiring sign language will babble with their hands, otherwise known as manual babbling. Therefore, as many studies have shown,
language acquisition by deaf childrenLanguage acquisition is a natural process in which infants and children develop proficiency in the first language or languages that they are exposed to. The process of language acquisition is varied among deaf children. Deaf children born to deaf par ...
parallel the language acquisition of a spoken language by hearing children because humans are biologically equipped for language regardless of the
modality Modality may refer to: Humanities * Modality (theology), the organization and structure of the church, as distinct from sodality or parachurch organizations * Modality (music), in music, the subject concerning certain diatonic scales * Modalities ...
.


Signed language acquisition

Deaf children's visual-manual language acquisition not only parallel spoken language acquisition but by the age of 30 months, most deaf children that were exposed to a visual language had a more advanced grasp with subject-pronoun copy rules than hearing children. Their vocabulary bank at the ages of 12–17 months exceed that of a hearing child's, though it does even out when they reach the two-word stage. The use of space for absent referents and the more complex handshapes in some signs prove to be difficult for children between 5 and 9 years of age because of motor development and the complexity of remembering the spatial use.


Cochlear implants

Other options besides sign language for kids with prelingual deafness include the use of hearing aids to strengthen remaining sensory cells or
cochlear implant A cochlear implant (CI) is a surgically implanted neuroprosthesis that provides a person who has bilateral moderate-to-profound sensorineural hearing loss Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) is a type of hearing loss Hearing loss is a partial ...

cochlear implant
s to stimulate the hearing nerve directly. Cochlear Implants are hearing devices that are placed behind the ear and contain a receiver and electrodes which are placed under the skin and inside the cochlea. Despite these developments, there is still a risk that prelingually deaf children may not develop good speech and speech reception skills. Although cochlear implants produce sounds, they are unlike typical hearing and deaf and hard of hearing people must undergo intensive therapy in order to learn how to interpret these sounds. They must also learn how to speak given the range of hearing they may or may not have. However, deaf children of deaf parents tend to do better with language, even though they are isolated from sound and speech because their language uses a different mode of communication that is accessible to them; the visual modality of language. Although cochlear implants were initially approved for adults, now there is pressure to implant children early in order to maximize auditory skills for mainstream learning which in turn has created controversy around the topic. Due to recent advances in technology, cochlear implants allow some deaf people to acquire some sense of hearing. There are interior and exposed exterior components that are surgically implanted. Those who receive cochlear implants earlier on in life show more improvement on speech comprehension and language. Spoken language development does vary widely for those with cochlear implants though due to a number of different factors including: age at implantation, frequency, quality and type of speech training. Some evidence suggests that speech processing occurs at a more rapid pace in some prelingually deaf children with cochlear implants than those with traditional hearing aids. However, cochlear implants may not always work. Research shows that people develop better language with a cochlear implant when they have a solid first language to rely on to understand the second language they would be learning. In the case of prelingually deaf children with cochlear implants, a signed language, like
American Sign Language American Sign Language (ASL) is a natural language In neuropsychology Neuropsychology is a branch of psychology. It is concerned with how a person's cognition and behavior are related to the brain and the rest of the nervous system. Pr ...

American Sign Language
would be an accessible language for them to learn to help support the use of the cochlear implant as they learn a spoken language as their L2. Without a solid, accessible first language, these children run the risk of language deprivation, especially in the case that a cochlear implant fails to work. They would have no access to sound, meaning no access to the spoken language they are supposed to be learning. If a signed language was not a strong language for them to use and neither was a spoken language, they now have no access to any language and run the risk of missing their
critical period In developmental psychology and developmental biology, a critical period is a maturational stage in the lifespan of an organism during which the nervous system is especially sensitive to certain environmental stimuli. If, for some reason, the orga ...
.


See also

* Chunking *
Creole language A creole language, or simply creole, is a stable natural language In neuropsychology Neuropsychology is a branch of psychology. It is concerned with how a person's cognition and behavior are related to the brain and the rest of the ner ...
*
Evolutionary linguistics Evolution is change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations. These characteristics are the Gene expression, expressions of genes that are passed on from parent to offspring during reproduction. ...
*
Evolutionary psychology of language Evolutionary psychology of language is the study of the evolutionary history of language as a psychological faculty within the discipline of evolutionary psychology Evolutionary psychology is a theoretical approach in the social Social organis ...
*
Fis phenomenon Fis phenomenon is a phenomenon during a child's language acquisition that demonstrates that perception of phonemes occurs earlier than a child's ability to produce the appropriate allophone. It is also illustrative of a larger theme in child langu ...
*
FOXP2 Forkhead box protein P2 (FOXP2) is a protein Proteins are large s and s that comprise one or more long chains of . Proteins perform a vast array of functions within organisms, including , , , providing and , and from one location to ano ...

FOXP2
* Gestures in language acquisition * Glossary of language teaching terms and ideas * Identity and language learning *
KE family The KE family is a medical name designated for a British British may refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * British people, nationals or natives of the United Kingdom, British Overseas Territories, and Crown Dependencies. ** Britishness, t ...
*
Language acquisition by deaf childrenLanguage acquisition is a natural process in which infants and children develop proficiency in the first language or languages that they are exposed to. The process of language acquisition is varied among deaf children. Deaf children born to deaf par ...
*
Language attrition Language attrition is the process of losing a native or first, language. This process is generally caused by both isolation from speakers of the first language ("L1") and the acquisition and use of a second language A person's second language, or ...
*
Language transfer Language transfer is the application of linguistic features from one language to another by a bilingual or multilingual speaker. Language transfer may occur across both languages in the acquisition of a Simultaneous bilingualism, simultaneous b ...
* List of children's speech corpora * List of language acquisition researchers *
Metalinguistic awareness Metalinguistic awareness, also known as metalinguistic ability, refers to the ability to consciously reflect on the nature of language. The concept of metalinguistic awareness is helpful in explaining the execution and transfer of linguistic knowl ...
*
Natural-language processing Natural language processing (NLP) is a subfield of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed l ...
* Non-native speech database *
Origin of language The origin of language (spoken and signed, as well as language-related technological systems such as writing), its relationship with human evolution, and its consequences have been subjects of study for centuries. Scholars wishing to study the ...
*
Passive speaker (language) A passive speaker (also referred to as a receptive bilingual or passive bilingual) is a category of speaker who has had enough exposure to a language in childhood to have a native-like comprehension of it, but has little or no active command of it ...
* Second-language attrition *
Spoken language A spoken language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. La ...


References


Further reading

* * * * *Kennison, S. (2013). ''Introduction to language development.'' Los Angeles, CA: Sage. * * * * *


External links


Language acquisition in American Sign Language
Rich, detailed documentation of language acquisition in ASL.
Innateness and Language, Encyclopedia Entry
*Beth Skwarecki, "Babies Learn to Recognize Words in the Womb", ''
Science Science () is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is something that is truth, true. The usual test for a statement of ...
'', 26 August 201

{{Authority control Language acquisition,