First Language Acquisition

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Lectures 4-5


1. Child language development: stages
2. FLA Theories: Skinner, Piaget vs. Chomsky.
3. Roger Brown & Morpheme Order
4. Child-Directed Speech (motherese); CHILDES
5. Gordon Wells & The Bristol Project

============================================================== Summary of Theories of First Language Acquisition

Three broad theories of L1 acquisition:
1. behaviourist (e.g., Stimulus-response conditioning- Skinner) 2. innatist (e.g., Universal Grammar- Chomsky)
3. interactionist (e.g., Constructional learning- Tomasello)

1. Behaviourism

Behaviourism doesn't explain learning with reference to mental activities, but with reference to physical activities. An example is the way Pavlov trained dogs to respond to oral commands. Dogs don't understand language, but they understand the consequences of not behaving in the desired way to commands 'sit'-this understanding is 'conditioned' by behaviour modification; 'spanking' or 'rewarding'.

In this view, learning is habit formation, learned set of responses to stimuli which are reinforced if they are correct (‘Operant Conditioning’--Skinner):

Stimulus--->response--->positive reinforcement=learning

The main mechanisms for L1 learning are imitation and practice.

What is heard (stimulus)--->imitation (response)---> communication/approval (reinforcement=learning)

* Limitations of behaviourism

2. Innatism

Innatists believe we are born with a mental faculty for learning languages. All children have the same faculty, and the same set of initial hypotheses about language. These are confirmed or disconfirmed by the input, which 'triggers' their knowledge of the shape of their language-its grammar.

Biological endowment (the LAD)---> input from the...
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