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General Linguistics Notes

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General Linguistics Language Acquisition
- How do we pick up capacity to acquire and use language from what appears to be very little input, are we born prepared in some way?
- Behaviourism, Skinner's 'Verbal Behaviour' (1957), successful use of a sign such as a word, given a certain stimulus, reinforces its probability (reinforced more recently by Relational Frame Theory)  Chomsky argued that this was delusional, argued for theoretical approach based on study of syntax; innate Universal Grammar connected to a separate language faculty in the brain, each language sets its own parameters within universal principles o Criticism of Chomsky's generative theory - the brain and vocal chords adapt gradually to use of language, rather than sudden appearance of complete set of binary parameters delineating the whole spectrum of possible grammars that have existed and will exist
- All theories of language acquisition posit some degree of innateness, but a less convoluted theory may involve less innate structure and more learning - everyone agrees that we are programmed to do something, which is potentially linguistic (evidence from babbling in babies), but does infant-directed teaching/repetition/imitation help?  Emergentist theory argues that nature and nurture both have role to play, neither is sufficient on its own, language acquisition is a cognitive process which emerges from interaction between biological pressures and environment - general cognitive processes subserve language acquisition and the end result is language-specific phenomena such as word-learning and grammar acquisition (i.e. much more complex process than first thought)
- From studies of babies, we perceive all sounds and gradually lose certain distinctions (e.g. /r/ and /l/ in Japanese); implies we are born with universal knowledge that then narrows into language specific variations, which must rely on input data; but if Motherese is not actually that effective, and we acquire much more complex grammars than we are exposed to in first few years of life, is there an instinctive 'principles and parameters' process?  or, like connectionists ascertain, do innate general cognitive abilities mean we recognise patterns, with experience and reinforcing neural pathways, from which linguistic structure emerges?
- Debate now surrounds question of whether we have innate language-specific abilities (i.e. language is a separate faculty in the brain) or whether language develops as any other human behaviour, part of general cognitive abilities  Frequent theme is that language emerges from uses in social contexts, using learning mechanisms that are part of general cognitive learning apparatus (memory/pattern recognition/spreading activation, all of which is what is innate - Bates' studies of children with trauma to Broca's/Wernicke's areas show they learn and use language normally due to 'neuroplasticity'); e.g. speech repetition is what aids vocabulary expansion, children with reduced abilities to repeat non-words (a marker of repetition abilities) show slower rate of expansion
- There is most likely a critical period, or at least a more sensitive period for 'tuning' part of the brain most suited to grammatical acquisition - if you have not acquired language during the period, you will never acquire it properly? this period is when the brain is developing to full capacity, so again, questionable whether language is separate or not - evidence of children compensating for left-hemisphere damage, and acquiring language fluently in the right hemisphere would suggest language does not depend on specific cognitive skills; feral children show variable ability to acquire

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