The Biological Basis of Language (Acquisition) LIGN 171 Wednesday, January 17, 2001 Andy Hickl
Where we’re headed… <ul><li>Today :  </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Why humans (think we) are  so  special… </li></ul></ul><ul><li>...
What do you believe? <ul><li>Language Acquisition </li></ul><ul><li>Linguistic </li></ul><ul><li>Domain-Specificity </li><...
There’s still something about  Human Language <ul><li>All humans seem to acquire language following the roughly the  same ...
Pidgins  and Creoles <ul><li>Pidgin : a  structurally-simple  language that arises when people who share no common languag...
Pidgins and  Creoles <ul><li>Creole: a language that develops when children acquire a pidgin as their native language.  (e...
Language Creation <ul><li>All  creoles  share some universal grammatical properties, regardless of how/when/where they wer...
Nicaraguan Sign Language <ul><li>1978:  First deaf schools in Nicaragua. </li></ul><ul><li>More complexity found with  who...
How does this happen? (Two familiar views, no?) <ul><li>Nativist </li></ul><ul><li>All humans have an innate  “linguistic ...
Critical Period Effects <ul><li>Critical Period:   the biologically-determined period in which acquisition of a behavior o...
Kids gone WILD! (The cases of feral children…) <ul><li>Limited number of children have been found who have developed  with...
No pressure, dudes… (More evidence for the Critical Period Hypothesis) <ul><li>Second Language Acquisition : </li></ul><ul...
How does  this  happen? <ul><li>Nativist </li></ul><ul><li>Language modules are only fully-operational  during a specific ...
The tough questions… (Reprised from before…) <ul><li>Why does language acquisition always follow the  same developmental p...
Why can’t it be  both ? <ul><li>Short answer :  It probably is. </li></ul><ul><li>Longer answer :  </li></ul><ul><li>The d...
Consider this… (New insights that might prove useful…) <ul><li>Human infants pay attention to faces and people who are tal...
What’s my motivation? <ul><li>Any time we ask  why  a behavior evolved in the way that it did, we have to consider 4 diffe...
The Teleological Trap (For catching Teleogies, right?) <ul><li>Insects developed wings  in order to fly. </li></ul><ul><li...
Teleological Explanations <ul><li>What’s wrong here? </li></ul><ul><li>We can’t say that kids start babbling  in order to ...
So, what  can  we say? <ul><li>Instead of adopting a  teleological approach , let’s try a  teleonomic  one. </li></ul><ul>...
A  Teleonomic  Explanation Behavior Kid learns mother’s voice. Kid recognizes mother. Kid figures mother is a good person ...
Making Sense… <ul><li>A  teleonomic  approach should make some intuitive sense… </li></ul><ul><li>Complex behaviors like l...
Hopeful Monsters… Behavior Kid learns mother’s voice. Kid recognizes mother. Kid figures mother is a good person to attach...
…and Missing Links. Behavior Kid learns mother’s voice. Kid recognizes mother. Kid figures mother is a good person to atta...
Hopeful Monsters:  A big assumption <ul><li>The hypothesis that a  mutation  could be the single factor that allows humans...
The flip side:  Missing Links <ul><li>Conversely, the hypothesis that animals lack  certain cognitive aspects needed to pr...
The Answer? <ul><li>See you Friday! </li></ul>
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Bio Basis Of Language

  1. 1. The Biological Basis of Language (Acquisition) LIGN 171 Wednesday, January 17, 2001 Andy Hickl
  2. 2. Where we’re headed… <ul><li>Today : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Why humans (think we) are so special… </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Friday : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Why we can’t talk to (or with) the animals… </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Monday : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The neurocognitive basis of language, or “BRAINS, master, MORE BRAINS”! </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Wednesday : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Summary of Section 2 </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. What do you believe? <ul><li>Language Acquisition </li></ul><ul><li>Linguistic </li></ul><ul><li>Domain-Specificity </li></ul><ul><li>Structure </li></ul><ul><li>Genes/Instinct </li></ul><ul><li>Modularity </li></ul><ul><li>Specific Capacity </li></ul><ul><li>Child Language </li></ul><ul><li>Psychological </li></ul><ul><li>Domain-Generality </li></ul><ul><li>Function </li></ul><ul><li>Learning </li></ul><ul><li>Experience </li></ul><ul><li>Generalized Intelligence </li></ul>
  4. 4. There’s still something about Human Language <ul><li>All humans seem to acquire language following the roughly the same developmental path . </li></ul><ul><li>At birth, infants seem to have an infinite capacity to learn any language . </li></ul><ul><li>Humans can create new languages to communicate with other humans. </li></ul><ul><li>Language learning seems to be subject to specific critical period effects . </li></ul>
  5. 5. Pidgins and Creoles <ul><li>Pidgin : a structurally-simple language that arises when people who share no common language come into contact. </li></ul><ul><li>Vocabulary is old, but (limited) grammar is new. </li></ul><ul><li>Often limited to specific situations, communicative functions, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Examples : </li></ul><ul><li>Hawaiian Fish Market Pidgin </li></ul><ul><li>Chinese-English Pidgin </li></ul><ul><li>Russenorsk </li></ul>
  6. 6. Pidgins and Creoles <ul><li>Creole: a language that develops when children acquire a pidgin as their native language. (e.g. Swahili, Tok Pisin, Nicaraguan Sign Language…) </li></ul><ul><li>Big boost in grammatical complexity as time goes by, more speakers acquire it… </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Grammatical properties of the creole don’t have to look like either of the “parent” languages. </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Language Creation <ul><li>All creoles share some universal grammatical properties, regardless of how/when/where they were created. </li></ul><ul><li>Where does this come from? </li></ul><ul><li>Something in the human mind/brain/genetic makeup? </li></ul><ul><li>Something about the way the new (creole) languages are used communicatively? </li></ul><ul><li>Something particular about the languages that have often been involved in forming creoles? </li></ul>
  8. 8. Nicaraguan Sign Language <ul><li>1978: First deaf schools in Nicaragua. </li></ul><ul><li>More complexity found with who learned the language at an early age. </li></ul>Idiosyncratic Signing Systems Pidgin NSL Fully-formed NSL
  9. 9. How does this happen? (Two familiar views, no?) <ul><li>Nativist </li></ul><ul><li>All humans have an innate “linguistic bioprogram” or a “core grammar” which allows them to learn or (in some cases) create languages based on the input they receive. </li></ul><ul><li>Empiricist </li></ul><ul><li>Creoles get to be more complex grammatically because they are used in a wider variety of communicative situations – these new uses require the language to encode more differences. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Critical Period Effects <ul><li>Critical Period: the biologically-determined period in which acquisition of a behavior or property must occur to be successful. </li></ul><ul><li>Some environmental input is necessary for development to occur “normally”: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Imprinting in ducks, geese </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Photoreceptors in humans </li></ul></ul>
  11. 11. Kids gone WILD! (The cases of feral children…) <ul><li>Limited number of children have been found who have developed without exposure to language . </li></ul><ul><li>Victor of Aveyron (19 th century France, ???) </li></ul><ul><li>Isabelle (1930’s France, 6 years old) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Normal IQ </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Normal (?) use of language as an adult </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Genie (1970’s California, 13 years old) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Abusive situation, likely brain damage </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Learned vocabulary, limited (if any) syntax. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Language processed on the right hemisphere , not the left. </li></ul></ul>
  12. 12. No pressure, dudes… (More evidence for the Critical Period Hypothesis) <ul><li>Second Language Acquisition : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Younger learners  native fluency. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Older learners (>17) never quite make it. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>ASL Acquisition : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs) have an advantage over later-learners of ASL </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Aphasia : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Less chance of recovery of linguistic function after age 5. </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. How does this happen? <ul><li>Nativist </li></ul><ul><li>Language modules are only fully-operational during a specific period of time . After that, a child’s conception of grammar (and language) is relatively fixed. </li></ul><ul><li>Empiricist </li></ul><ul><li>The CP for learning language is the time when the child’s cognitive capacity is best attuned to learning the complex systems of grammar. </li></ul>
  14. 14. The tough questions… (Reprised from before…) <ul><li>Why does language acquisition always follow the same developmental path ? </li></ul><ul><li>How can infants learn any natural language ? </li></ul><ul><li>How do humans create new languages in order to communicate? </li></ul><ul><li>Why should language learning be subject to specific critical period effects ? </li></ul>
  15. 15. Why can’t it be both ? <ul><li>Short answer : It probably is. </li></ul><ul><li>Longer answer : </li></ul><ul><li>The development of language isn’t directly observable – so we can’t reliably determine what is innate and what is ultimately learned. </li></ul><ul><li>Approaches like nativism and empiricism give us logical extremes to start with… </li></ul><ul><li>But we can do better, can’t we? </li></ul>
  16. 16. Consider this… (New insights that might prove useful…) <ul><li>Human infants pay attention to faces and people who are talking. </li></ul><ul><li>Human infants like listening to human speech – and especially speech from their own language. </li></ul><ul><li>Human infants constantly seek new sources of stimulation. </li></ul><ul><li>Human infants attach to nurturing figures and environments. </li></ul><ul><li>Human infants babble long before they are able to produce words. </li></ul><ul><li>WHY? </li></ul>
  17. 17. What’s my motivation? <ul><li>Any time we ask why a behavior evolved in the way that it did, we have to consider 4 different factors: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Evolutionary Component </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>How did the behavior develop? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Developmental Component </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>How does the behavior develop in infants? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mechanistic Component </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>How does the body perform such a behavior? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Functional Component </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Why does the individual engage in the behavior? </li></ul></ul></ul>
  18. 18. The Teleological Trap (For catching Teleogies, right?) <ul><li>Insects developed wings in order to fly. </li></ul><ul><li>Birds fly south in winter because it’s too cold for them in the north. </li></ul><ul><li>Kids babble at 9 months because they’re getting ready to start speaking. </li></ul><ul><li>Teleology : </li></ul><ul><li>The notion that a process (like development) proceeds to achieve a single logical goal. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Teleological Explanations <ul><li>What’s wrong here? </li></ul><ul><li>We can’t say that kids start babbling in order to get to language any more than we can say that insects decided that wings would be a good idea! </li></ul><ul><li>Kids (like insects) have no idea where the course of development will take them! </li></ul>
  20. 20. So, what can we say? <ul><li>Instead of adopting a teleological approach , let’s try a teleonomic one. </li></ul><ul><li>Teleonomic : </li></ul><ul><li>The notion that a process (like development) proceeds in a sequence of stages, each of which facilitates or reinforces the next step in the sequence. </li></ul><ul><li>Okay, this is more than a little fuzzy… </li></ul>
  21. 21. A Teleonomic Explanation Behavior Kid learns mother’s voice. Kid recognizes mother. Kid figures mother is a good person to attach to. Kid is taken care of by mother. KID LIVES! Kid isn’t so scared of the world. Kid is comfortable in a nurturing environment Kid undergoes fruitful social-cognitive development. Kid exposed to plenty of language stimuli from mother. KID ACQUIRES LANGUAGE! <ul><li>We can build similar chains of events for most behaviors… </li></ul>
  22. 22. Making Sense… <ul><li>A teleonomic approach should make some intuitive sense… </li></ul><ul><li>Complex behaviors like language can now be seen as a series of complementary developmental advances. </li></ul><ul><li>Unfortunately, this doesn’t get rid of the nativist/empiricist distinction entirely: we still need to figure out where each individual advance, skill, or module “comes from”… </li></ul>
  23. 23. Hopeful Monsters… Behavior Kid learns mother’s voice. Kid recognizes mother. Kid figures mother is a good person to attach to. Kid is taken care of by mother. KID LIVES! Kid isn’t so scared of the world. Kid is comfortable in a nurturing environment Kid undergoes fruitful social-cognitive development. Kid exposed to plenty of language stimuli from mother. KID ACQUIRES LANGUAGE! <ul><li>Mutation causes a leap “across” the teleonomic chain. </li></ul>
  24. 24. …and Missing Links. Behavior Kid learns mother’s voice. Kid recognizes mother. Kid figures mother is a good person to attach to. Kid is taken care of by mother. KID LIVES! Kid isn’t so scared of the world. Kid is comfortable in a nurturing environment Kid undergoes fruitful social-cognitive development. Kid exposed to plenty of language stimuli from mother. KID ACQUIRES LANGUAGE! <ul><li>Without the acquisition of certain stages  no language. </li></ul>
  25. 25. Hopeful Monsters: A big assumption <ul><li>The hypothesis that a mutation could be the single factor that allows humans (and only humans) to have language is a powerful one… </li></ul><ul><li>It presumes that human language may be fundamentally different than any other form of animal communication. </li></ul>
  26. 26. The flip side: Missing Links <ul><li>Conversely, the hypothesis that animals lack certain cognitive aspects needed to process language forces us into an opposite position: </li></ul><ul><li>Human language may not be fundamentally different than the forms of communication employed by animals . </li></ul>
  27. 27. The Answer? <ul><li>See you Friday! </li></ul>
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