HOW DOES CHILD LEARN
Ask this question to an average person
and you’ll probably be told ‘by imitating
On the face of it,that makes a lot of sense.
But the imitation explanation won’t take us
• That’s because there are major parts of
language that cannot be immitated.
• Children aren’t very good at imitating
sentences containing unfamiliar words and
• And they can sometimes say mouses or
hitted even if they don’t hear these words
In fact, the answer that Chomsky gave in
arguing against behaviorist views and that
conclude the argument from the poverty of
stimulus is that this knowledge is inborn.
Children are born expecting that,
whichever language they are going to
hear, it will have the properties that their
genetic equipment is prepared to cope
According to this nativist view, acquisition
results from the interection between inborn
factors and the environment.
Our genetic endowment makes it possible
to learn any human language.
Chomsky explained it with The
Head Directionality – Optional Polysynthesis Adjective Neutralize
Quechua Ergative caseSubject Side
Verb Attraction Tzotzil
Subject Placement Serial Verbs
Zapotec English Edo
Syntactic and morphological values of the principles and parameters of Universal
In that model, principles encode the
invariant properties of languages, that is,
the universal properties that make
Parameters encode the properties that
vary from one language to another. They
can be thought of as swiches that must be
turned on or off.
This theory proposes that the child is endowed with a
richly articulated set of innate, specifically linguistic
principles. Also there is a set of universal principles,
some of which have associated wiht parameters.
Each parameter expresses the limited range of
variations that language exibit with respect to the
For example, there is grammatical principles that which
specifies that phrases are headed. Thus, VP contains V,
NP contains N. Languages vary, however, with respect
to the position of the head within its phrase.
Thus, there are head initial languages
such as English and head final languages
such as Turkish and Japanese. So, child’s
task is to determine the position of the
head, first or last, within its pharasal
This parameter is set for the child’s
particular language based on certain
triggering data in the input.
On the other hand, empiricist view sees
the learner as a blank slate, equipped with
general associative learning mechanisms.
Empiricist approaches don’t assume any
inborn knowledge. Language acquisition is
seen as a product of general intellectual
development rather than of a seperate
language processing capacity.
To Sum Up…
Now, think of language acquisition as
a door that needs to be unlocked by the
For nativist, the lock already comes with
a set of keys.
For empiricist, the child needs to make
the keys with an effort, strongly influenced
by the environment and caregivers.
CHILD DIRECTED SPEECH AND THE
ROLE OF THE IMPACT
•Since the late 1950s there has been an explosion
of research into children’s language acquisition,
which has been aimed at finding evidence and
counter-evidence for Chomsky’s ideas. For example
much of the research into Child Directed Speech
and the early social interaction between mothers
and babies was a response to Chomsky’s view that
the ‘poverty of stimulus’ (the fact that real speech
contains numerous hesitations, false starts and
grammatical errors) makes it impossible for children
to acquire a system as abstract and as complex as
human language without some prior inborn
knowledge about the way it works.
• However, Snow and others observed a
special register used when talking to
young children. Called motherese, this
type of speech is characterized by slow,
careful articulation and the use of basic
vocabulary items, short sentences, and
somewhat exaggerated intonation.
Some properties of motherese
– Slower speech with longer pauses between utterances and after content words
– Exaggerated intonation and stress
– Fewer words per minute
• Vocabulary and meaning:
– More restricted vocabulary
– Three times as much paraphrasing
– More reference to the here and now
– Fewer broken or run-on sentences
– Shorter, less complex utterances (approx. 50% are single words or short
– Calling the child by name, often using a 'pet' name or term of endearment
– Use of 'baby-talk' words
– More commands and questions (approx. 60% of total)
– More repetitions
Child directed speech is used not just by mothers,
but also by other caregivers, and by older children as
well. (See p.4 in the textbook for the example)
However in CDS,
• The utterances contain a range of syntactic types:
imperatives, questions, and declaratives; the child is not
presented with neat packages of structures.
• They contain many elliptical utterances, e.g., subjectless
questions (Want some juice?) and imperatives; the child
is not always presented with fully explicit structures.
Does motherese help?
Although infants prefer to listen to motherese
than normal adult speech, studies show that
motherese does not significantly effect the
child’s language development. In many cultures
adults don’t use a special register with children,
and even in some cultures they don’t even talk
to babies. But somehow the child acquires the
language. The exaggerated intonation and other
properties of motherese may be useful for
getting the child’s attention and holding it, but it’s
not necessary for language development.
Some examples of widely-used baby talk words
and phrases in English
• baba (blanket or bottle)
• beddy-bye (go to bed, sleeping, bedtime)
• boo-boo (wound or bruise)
• bubby (brother)
• dada (dad, daddy)
• din-din (dinner)
• num nums (food/dinner)
• icky (disgusting)
• jammies (pajamas)
• nana (grandmother)
• oopsie (small accident)
• potty (toilet)
• sissy (sister)
• tummy (stomach)
• wawa (water)
• yum-yum (meal time)
• mama (mother)
• uppie (wanting to be picked up)
Some examples of baby talk words and
phrases in Turkish
• çufçuf (train)
• Dıgıdık (horse)
• Düdüt (car)
• Hınhın (car)
• Atta (somewhere)
• Bum bum (water)
• mama (meal)
• öcü (monster)
• Umacı, gürgür baba (monster)
• Kığh (dirty)
• nenni (sleeping time)
Snow’s (1995) research into the effects of the input
on the language acquisition process highligths an
important point.While the early CDS studies looked
at the effects of variation in caregiver input within a
particular community,more recent studies have
shifted the level of interest to the actual language
system being acquired:
THE LANGUAGE SYSTEM AS A KEY INPUT
– All babies start to learn language by the means of
speech sounds in their own language.
– Babies are born with the innate capacity of learning
– Although there are differences in language acquisition
development of children, common features are also
seen while children acquire their language.
– Related to this matter,Mehmet Şahin also says that;
– A)Children in all cultures are able to utter sounds of
all cultures in their first year.
• B)All children in the world learn to speak between the
ages of 2-4.(Şahin 1995)
• According to the researches carried on children’s
language acquisition process,all children in the world are
observed to use similiar grammar rules in the early
stages of learning how to speak.(Clifford 1980)
• The early words that children utter are generally
produced through the repetition of the same syllable.
• Children are primarily affected by the sound structure of the region
they live in.
• In Elazığ dialect a child say:
Bahan ver.(Bana ver)
Yuhum geli.(Uykum geliyor)
• While expressing himself, a child uses his language in a productive
• Gözde utters the verb kolasadım (because of the verb susadım in
Turkish) while expressing her wish to drink cola.
• Again she says köpürcük,kaydedik(instead of yenik or yenilmiş)
• Ben bu sıcamışları yemem.(due to the word soğumuş)
• Recep Nas also mentions such similiar uses in children:
• A 4 year old child says Elektriği söndür.
• In the same way he says Elektriği yandır.
• The same child uses hepleri instead of hepsini.(Nas
• Mehmet Şahin also says that irrespective of the
language they use,children produce some rules similiar
to that of adults.(Şahin 1995)
manavcı,bakkalcı,kasapçı (Can 2000)
• These productive uses can be seen almost in all
• In English-speaking children we see the uses below:
hisself instead of himself (Clifford 1980)
I goed there before.
I see your feets.(Celia Genishi)
Cookies are gooder than bread.
Bill taked the toy.
• Little children can perceive many things from a single
• When said baba,he perceives all men and he associates
all animals with dog or köpek.
• Children are born with the Universal Grammar wired into
their brains. This grammar offers a certain limited
number of possibilities - for example, over the word order
of a typical sentence. .(according to the parameter model
• Some languages have a basic SVO structure
The teacher gave a lecture
• 75% of the world's languages use either this (English,
French, Vietnamese) or
• SOV (Turkish,Japanese, Tibetan, Korean)
Öğretmen konferans verdi.
• Others prefer VSO (10 - 15% - Welsh)
• or VOS (Malagasy)
• Some languages, such as Latin, appear to have free
word order, but even here, SOV is very common
• OSV is very rare - but you will find an example in the
speech of Yoda, in Star Wars.
• Strong with the force you are.
• When the child begins to listen to his parents, he will
unconsciously recognise which kind of a language he is
dealing with - and he will set his grammar to the correct
one - this is known as 'setting the parameters'
In conversation,speakers often use ellipsis,that is,they
delete parts of the sentence that could be inferred.
Coffe? = Do you want coffe?
Ken water= Ken is drinking water.
Eve lunch=Eve is eating lunch.
For a Turkish child:
mama may mean I need water or I want to eat.
Baba attaa means Daddy has gone
• Verb movement rule
verb movement parameters provide the child with an
option:my language does/does not allow verb movement.
In English verbs do not move(only auxiliaries do)
I want a biscuit.
I don’t want a biscuit.
Do you want a biscuit?
In Turkish,the stressed part of the sentence is in the left
side of the verb.
Ayşe kurabiyeleri mi yedi?
Kurabiyeleri Ayşe mi yedi?
Yedi mi Ayşe kurabiyeleri?
Duch and Italien-speaking children form questions by moving the
verb,as their languages allow verb movement.
Wordt mama boos?
Becomes mama angry? (Is mommy angry?)
Weet je n kerk?
Know you a church? (Do you know a church?)
Veni teno? = Comes train? (Is the train coming?)
Vola cici? = flies bird? (Is the bird flying)
In these cases children have set the parameter at the correct value
for their language.
This supports the hypothesis that the parameter is set early in
development and cannot be undone.
• All of the studies have revealed a few
universally accepted facts about child
• Child Language acquisition is a natural
consequence of human society. All
children exposed to language acquire it
naturally without deliberate efforts of
teaching or learning.
• The outcome of first language acquisition
will be the same regardless of individual
differences in intelligence. Two children
with quite different intellectual abilities will
both acquire a highly complex native
language by age six.
• Although the basic ability to acquire language is
innate to the child, no specific structural property
of language has yet been proven to be innate.
Therefore, any infant is equally capable of
acquiring any language. Infants born of different
racial stocks will acquire the same form of
language if raised in the same linguistic
environment. There is no such a thing as a
Russian language gene or a Swahili language
gene. An infant born of Russian parents and
adopted into an American family will acquire the
same form of English as his stepbrothers and
As Paul Fletcher and Michael
Garman(1986) explain in their book:
• “No dominant theoretical framework has
emerged to change and unify the
approaches to data.” And this still holds
true today, although much more potentially
fruitful reconceptualizations of the problem
have been done.
• Language is seen not only as behavior to
be acquired, a structural system where
differing components, such as vocabulary,
syntax, and discourse skills may involve
quite different acquisition mechanism.
• The child as a passive learner has been
replaced by the child as an active
constructer of language.
• Language development is no longer
viewed as a process of children simply
increasing the quantity of their linguistic
knowledge. It is also seen as involving
children continuously reorganizing that
knowledge into new mental representation
that are increasingly more sophisticated,
abstract, and flexible.
• Focusing on either the child’s innate and
highly specific linguistic knowledge, their
general cognitive process or their
interaction with their caregivers as the
driving forces of language acquisition has
shifted to focusing on the interconnection
of the child’s co-developing linguistic,
cognitive, and the social systems.