sábado, 4 de octubre de 2014

First Language Acquisition

First Language Acqusition

Language acquisition is without doubt the greatest intellectual feat any person is ever required to perform and what makes it more amazing is that it is acquired at an age when we are notably incompetent at most other activities. By the time a child starts school, about 80% of the structures of his/her native language and more than 90% of the sound system have been mastered. Furthermore, this complex system is acquired by virtually every human being regardless of intelligence, age, race, sex, class or other variables. The purpose of this essay is to explore the ways children acquire their first language and analyze Chomsky‘s theory as regards first language acquisition.
All infants come to the world with linguistic skills. Even though there is great variation as regards at which children reach   a given milestone, first language acquisition follows the same stages:

Typical age
0 -6 months
During the period from about 2-4 months, infants begin making "comfort sounds", typically in response to pleasurable interaction with a caregiver.
At birth, the infant’s vocal tract is in some ways more like that of an ape than that of an adult human and babies start to experiment the sounds that may be produced with their larynges

6- 8 months
Infants start to make extended sounds that are repeated rhythmically.
Consonant+vowel sequences are often produced, such as [bababa] or [nanana].
During this stage children learn how to move each muscle and  to produce each sound.
Both vocal play and babbling are produced more often in interactions with caregivers, but infants will also produce them when they are alone.

9-18 months
One stage- word
Children start to produce isolated words which very often name objects, parts of the body,toys,animals,people, etc belonging to their closest family environment.
18 months – 24 months
Two-word stage

Children produce "mini-sentences" with simple semantic relations.

24 months- 30 months
Telegraphic stage
or early multiword stage

The child is still mostly understood by his/her parents and caregivers.
The process is usually a somewhat gradual one, in which the more telegraphic patterns alternate with adult or adult-like forms.
Over a year to a year and a half, sentences get longer, grammatical elements are less often omitted and less often inserted incorrectly, and multiple-clause sentences become commoner.

30 + months
Later multiword stage

Grammatical or functional structures emerge.

Analyzing the above chart we can observe that children can really acquire first language very quickly and effortlessly. There are many theories that try to explain how we all acquire first language.
·         Nativist position ( Chomsky)
·         Cognitive position ( Piaget)
·         Behaviorist position( Eric Lenneberg)
·         Pragmatical – social position( Brunner)

Far from contradicting one another these theories complementone another. However, the most defining characteristic of first language acquisition is that it is universal, that is to say that it is acquired regardless of any external factor. Regarding the stages, it has been demonstrated that there is a natural order that applies both to first and second language acquisition. That is to say that both systems (the system of sounds and the system of meanings) follow the same process.
Chomsky’s Theory
Chomsky’s theory states that the brain of human beings is genetically predisposed for language. Just as we are made to have two arms and are designed to walk, we are made to talk. His theory also called universal grammar or generative grammar claims that human beings are endowed with a language acquisition device (LAD) which contains the principles and parameters of different languages. Whenever those parameters are triggered by parents or caretakers’ motherese, children process that primary linguistic data through their LAD. They acquire linguistic competence in the language (generative grammar) as they are able to make hypothesis regarding how their parents’ language works. Children‘s minds are open to any human language. However, only by experiencing positive or negative evidence through a series of parameters that show how language works children will eventually develop a particular language. The environment determines the way the parameters of universal grammar are set, yielding different languages.UG cuts down the potentially infinitive number of languages to the smaller number of possible human languages by imposing strong restrictions on their syntactic form.

As a lot of people I used to think that first language was acquired partly through imitation and positive reinforcement. However, after reading about Chomsky’s theory I realize that language is a very complex system. It is creative, so children produce sentences that they have never heard before and thus it is unpredictable from the stimulus. Therefore, it is stimulus free and not stimulus bound.

I also believe that first language depends a lot on the interaction and stimulus provided by loving parents or caretakers.  The fact that many children are brought up in very poor social contexts determines poor vocabulary and poor social competence. As a consequence of this fact, very often the process of learning during primary school becomes slow.

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