Language Acquisition

Language acquisition is the process by which humans acquire the capacity to perceive and comprehend language, as well as to produce and use words and sentences to communicate. Language acquisition usually refers to first-language acquisition, which studies infants' acquisition of their native language. This is distinguished from second-language acquisition, which deals with the acquisition (in both children and adults) of additional languages.

The capacity to successfully use language requires one to acquire a range of tools including phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and an extensive vocabulary. Language might be vocalized as speech or manual as in sign. The human language capacity is represented in the brain. Even though the human language capacity is finite, one can say and understand an infinite number of sentences, which is based on a syntactic principle called Recursion. Evidence suggests that every individual has three recursive mechanisms that allow sentences to go indeterminately. These three mechanisms are: relativization, complementation and coordination.

The capacity to acquire and use language is a key aspect that distinguishes humans from other beings. Although it is difficult to pin down what aspects of language are uniquely human, there are a few design features that can be found in all known forms of human language, but that are missing from forms of animal communication. For example, many animals are able to communicate with each other by signaling to the things around them, but this kind of communication lacks the arbitrariness of human vernaculars (in that there is nothing about the sound of the word "dog" that would hint at its meaning). Other forms of animal communication may utilize arbitrary sounds, but are unable to combine those sounds in different ways to create completely novel messages that can then be automatically understood by another. Hockett called this design feature of human language "productivity". It is crucial to the understanding of human language acquisition that we are not limited to a finite set of words, but, rather, must be able to understand and utilize a complex system that allows for an infinite number of possible messages. So, while many forms of animal communication exist, they differ from human languages, in that they have a limited range of non-syntactically structured vocabulary tokens that lack cross cultural variation between groups.

A major question in understanding language acquisition is how these capacities are picked up by infants from the linguistic input. Input in the linguistic context is defined as "All words, contexts, and other forms of language to which a learner is exposed, relative to acquired proficiency in first or second languages". Nativists find it difficult to believe, considering the hugely complex nature of human languages, and the relatively limited cognitive abilities of an infant, that infants are able to acquire most aspects of language without being explicitly taught. Children, within a few years of birth, understand the grammatical rules of their native language without being explicitly taught, as one learns grammar in school. A range of theories of language acquisition have been proposed in order to explain this apparent problem. These theories, championed by the likes of Noam Chomsky and others, include innatism and Psychological nativism, in which a child is born prepared in some manner with these capacities, as opposed to other theories in which language is simply learned as other cognitive skills, including such mundane motor skills as learning to ride a bike. The conflict between the theories assuming humans are born with syntactic knowledge and those that claim all such knowledge is the product of learning from one's environment is often referred to as the "Nature vs. Nurture" debate. Some think that there are some qualities of language acquisition that the human brain is automatically wired for (a "nature" component) and some that are shaped by the particular language environment in which a person is raised (a "nurture" component). Others, especially evolutionary biologists, strongly object to assuming syntactic knowledge is genetically encoded and provided by automatic wiring of the brain.

Read more about Language Acquisition:  History, Syntax and Morphology, Representation of Language Acquisition in The Brain, Vocabulary Acquisition, Meaning, Neurocognitive Research

Other articles related to "language acquisition, language":

Critical Period Hypothesis - Evolutionary Explanations - Hurford’s Model
... for the evolutionary functionality of the critical period in language acquisition, Hurford (1991) generated a computer simulation of plausible conditions of evolving ... Language is an evolutionary adaptation that is naturally selected for ... Any given individual’s language can be quantified or measured ...
Competition Model - Theoretical Components - Emergentism
... the Competition Model is an emergentist theory of language acquisition ... Rather than viewing language acquisition as a process that is based on innate, language-specific mechanisms (e.g ... Chomsky's concepts of the language acquisition device and universal grammar) or as completely dependent upon one's experience with language or the influence ...
Language Acquisition - Neurocognitive Research
... According to several linguists, neurocognitive research has confirmed many standards of language learning, such as "learning engages the entire ... become most active and important for language acquisition, fMRI and PET technology has allowed for some conclusions to be made about where language may be ... on several neuroimaging studies, that there may be a "grammar center", where language is primarily processed in the left lateral premotor cortex (located near the pre central sulcus ...
Competition Model - Theoretical Components - Language Acquisition
... the Competition Model has been developed into a unified theory of first and second language acquisition ... of psycholinguistic processes involved in language acquisition, including arenas, cues, storage, chunking, codes, and resonance ... mechanisms controls the activation of representations in the target language (and, in the case of second language learners, the native language) that compete in the mind of the learner during ...
List Of Language Acquisition Researchers
... Below are some notable researchers in language acquisition listed by intellectual orientation and research topic ... Smith Jenny Saffran Elena Lieven Dan Slobin Barbara Landau Generative Language Acquisition Lydia White Second language acquisition researchers Stephen Krashen Richard Schmidt Teresa Pica ...

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