Mentalist views of acquisition


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Language as an instinct; the logical problem of language acquisition.

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Mentalist views of acquisition

  1. 1. Second Language Acquisition 1 the cognitive revolution 2 Universal Grammar 3 second language teaching
  2. 2. Myths about language <ul><li>language is designed by human intelligence </li></ul><ul><li>advanced civilisations have more complex languages </li></ul><ul><li>people with more education speak their language better </li></ul><ul><li>children learn language by imitating their parents </li></ul><ul><li>the language faculty is part of general human intelligence </li></ul><ul><li>language is a biological adaptation </li></ul><ul><li>all languages are equally complex </li></ul><ul><li>all speakers master language equally well </li></ul><ul><li>children acquire language without instruction </li></ul><ul><li>the language faculty is a specialised skill, different from other forms of cognition </li></ul>
  3. 3. Language is an instinct <ul><li>(Pinker, 1994) </li></ul><ul><li>Language is creative </li></ul><ul><li>Language is universal </li></ul><ul><li>Complex language is universal </li></ul><ul><li>Children reinvent language </li></ul><ul><li>Language has a seat in the brain </li></ul>
  4. 4. First language acquisition <ul><li>Children have knowledge which they are never taught </li></ul><ul><ul><li>* is the unicorn that _ eating a flower is in the garden? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>He walk s </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Person (I vs you vs he) </li></ul><ul><li>Number (singular or plural) </li></ul><ul><li>Tense (walks vs walked) </li></ul><ul><li>Aspect (walk vs is walking) </li></ul><ul><li>the wug test </li></ul>
  5. 5. The ‘wug’ test They’re wugs
  6. 6. Language has a seat in the brain <ul><li>Broca's aphasia: </li></ul><ul><li>damage to frontal lobe of left hemisphere </li></ul><ul><li>leaves people without grammar </li></ul><ul><li>can produce content, but not grammatical words </li></ul><ul><li>cognition is otherwise preserved </li></ul>
  7. 7. Language has a seat in the brain <ul><li>b) Specific Language Impairment: </li></ul><ul><li>hereditary problems with language </li></ul><ul><li>trouble with grammar, conversation effortful </li></ul><ul><li>otherwise normal IQs </li></ul>
  8. 8. Language has a seat in the brain <ul><li>c) Williams syndrome: </li></ul><ul><li>retarded children with overdeveloped language skills </li></ul><ul><li>chatterbox syndrome </li></ul><ul><li>imaginative conversation, rare vocabulary </li></ul><ul><li>very low IQ, unable to take care of themselves. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Nature versus nurture <ul><li>The central problem of language acquisition </li></ul><ul><li>(Lightfoot 1982: The language lottery) </li></ul>Language competence <ul><li>NATURE </li></ul><ul><li>Is it part of our inherent nature ? </li></ul><ul><li>Is it apparent from birth? </li></ul><ul><li>NURTURE </li></ul><ul><li>Does it arise through nurturing ? </li></ul><ul><li>Does it come through contact with our environment, i.e., hearing others speak our language? </li></ul>
  10. 10. Innate knowledge (nature) alone <ul><li>children are not born able to speak and understand a language. </li></ul><ul><li>wild children do not speak any language. </li></ul><ul><li>So . . . some input is required for acquisition to take place </li></ul>IMPOSSIBLE
  11. 11. Environmental stimulus (nurture) alone <ul><li>speakers (even children) know things that they could not have learned from speech samples </li></ul><ul><li>native speaker competence is not explained by experience </li></ul><ul><li>it is underdetermined by the input. </li></ul>IMPOSSIBLE
  12. 12. Poverty of the stimulus <ul><li>ungrammatical language: 5% of the language we produce is ungrammatical </li></ul><ul><li>finite number of sentences: We only hear a certain number of sentences, yet can produce any number </li></ul><ul><li>knowledge about language that is never taught </li></ul><ul><li>L1 acquisition like learning chess </li></ul><ul><li>by watching </li></ul><ul><li>no explanation of rules </li></ul><ul><li>5% of moves illegal </li></ul><ul><li>don't know which. </li></ul>the dog that tossed the cat that killed the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built <ul><li>John is easy to please </li></ul><ul><li>(it is easy for someone to please John) </li></ul><ul><li>Mary is eager to please </li></ul><ul><li>(Mary is eager to please someone) </li></ul>
  13. 13. Nature versus nurture? <ul><li>Neither argument is satisfactory alone. </li></ul><ul><li>we are not born with language </li></ul><ul><li>our environment does not provide enough information </li></ul><ul><li>How do we use our innate language capabilities (nature) to interact with our language environment (nurture)? </li></ul><ul><li>logical problem of language acquisition </li></ul><ul><li>Universal Grammar (Noam Chomsky) </li></ul>