Sla Lecture Notes

Topics: Linguistics, Language acquisition, Second language acquisition Pages: 11 (2829 words) Published: September 3, 2013
Chapter 1: First Language Acquisition
1. Theories of First Language Acquisition
1. Behavioral approaches (BA)

- Behaviorism is a psychological theory of learning, very influential in the 1940s – 1950s, especially in the US. It was the popular model for all animal and human learning. (show a lemon to see the salivation reaction). - Traditional behaviorists believed that language learning is the result of imitation, practice, feedback on success, and habit formation. Blank slate……. - The quality and quantity of language which the child hears, as well as the consistency of the reinforcement offered by others in the environment, should have an effect on the child’s success in language learning. - The BA focused on the immediately perceptible aspects of linguistic behavior – the publicly observable responses. - BA may consider effective language behavior to be the production of correct response to stimuli. If a particular response is reinforced, it then becomes habitual, or conditioned.

2. Challenges to Behavioral approaches

- The fact is that every sentence we speak or write – with a few trivial exceptions- is novel, never before uttered by you or anyone else. These novel utterances are nevertheless created by very young children. Where such sentences come from? (if learning is by imitation? - There have been a few attempts to teach language (American Sign Language) to chimps, but failed (handouts of Chimps and kids to show this).

3. The Nativist approach
- Language acquisition is innately determined & we are born with a genetic capacity that predisposes us to a systematic perception of language around us, resulting in the construction of an internalized system of language. - The innate properties enable children to master a native language in such a short time. - This innate knowledge was referred to as “Little Black Box” in the brain, or a language acquisition device - LAD. For the LAD to work, the child needs access only to samples of a natural language. These language samples serve as a trigger to activate the device. - This position is in sharp contrast to behavioral, stimulus- response (S-R) theory, which was so limited in accounting for the creativity present in child language. - Today the term LAD is not used anymore, but researchers focus on what is known as Universal Grammar (UG). - According to Chomsky, although thousands of human languages differ enormously in their surface structures, they all share a common deep structure called UG. UG rules are extremely general and abstract. - Analogically, although differences in skin color and other “surface structure” contrast are immediately apparent when we look at people from different parts of the world (black, white, yellow), it is obvious that all human beings share similar “deep structure” characteristics (eg: same organs). - Examples of UG: all languages have N, V, A….

- Unlike the behaviorists, who held that the mind of a newborn was a clean slate upon which were written all of a child’s experiences, the innatists believe that children are born with innate linguistic abilities that allow them to anticipate and develop the rules and patterns of whatever language they are exposed to as infants. - Evidence supporting Chomskyan view: Creole languages – - Creoles are languages that are developed and formed when different societies come together and are forced to devise their own system of communication. The system used by the original speakers is typically an inconsistent mix of vocabulary items known as a pidgin. As these speakers' children begin to acquire their first language, they use the pidgin input to effectively create their own original language, known as a creole. Unlike pidgins, creoles have native speakers and make use of a full grammar. - Children in some areas of Hawaii were born into families who spoke different languages, but when they lived...
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