First Language Acquisition & Child Language Acquisition

First Language Acquisition & Child Language Acquisition is the process by which newly born children acquire their 1st language. In other words, it is the process by which they gain mastery over the various structures that make up their 1st language.

What is acquired?

What awaits the child in this process of 1st language acquisition?

– To answer these questions, psycholinguists try to find out what are the design features & the essential characteristics of language. They come up to discover the key properties that make up the nature of human language.


– Charles Hocket was the 1st one to discover those design features in the 1960s, & they are the following:


Content:

  •   – Arbitrariness
  •   – Structure Dependence
  •   – Semanticity
  •   – Productivity and Creativity
  •   – The duality of structure ( Double Articulation)
  •   – Cultural Transmission and Tradition
  •   – Displacement

1. ARBITRARINESS:

– There is no natural/logical nor a relationship of resemblance between the linguistic shape of a word/clause/utterance & what it means.
– One of the tasks that await the newly born children is matching the forms with their meanings.


2. STRUCTURE DEPENDENCE:

– It is the reliance on the internal structure of sentences. This idea is restricted to the syntactic component & to the human language.
– It is the adherence of syntactic operations to the organization of sentences into phrases. We can’t produce a sentence just randomly.


Ex: “The dog is hungry”. In this example, we want to produce a yes-no question. So, we use the question formation: “Is the dog hungry?” The process we follow to form this question is that we look at the phrase functioning as Subject (the dog), then we move the linking verb (is) to the initial position of the sentence.


3. SEMANTICITY:

– The use of symbols to mean or to refer to objects & actions.
– A symbol is any signal whose physical shape has no natural relationship to its meaning. All words are symbolic.


Ex: “House” is made up of a sequence of sounds (phonetic shape) but it can be used by people to mean or refer to an object (the building where a group of people lives).


– Semanticity also means that humans have the ability to generalize by applying a word to a group of objects or entities. So, the child needs to acquire this ability.
– Some scholars think that this feature of Semanticity does not exist.


4. PRODUCTIVITY/CREATIVITY:

– The capacity of language users to produce & understand an indefinitely large number of sentences that they have never heard before.
– The property of permitting novel/new combinations of elements.
– Humans have this ability, animals don’t.
– This productivity has nothing to do with the truth or reality.


Ex: “The yellow mouse chased the white elephant”. This sentence is empirically false but we manage to understand it, & that’s why humans can produce lies. Animals never lie.


– Creativity is also used to describe the human ability to respond freely. In other words, on hearing a particular utterance, humans do not have to make a fixed response.
– The creativity is thought to be absent from most or perhaps all animal communication systems.


Ex: If a bee performs a certain dance to indicate the presence of food, all the other bees will follow her & that is the only way they know to react or to respond in this situation.


– Creativity is another important design feature of language that children need to acquire as part of the total process of 1st language acquisition.


5. DUALITY OF STRUCTURE (DOUBLE ARTICULATION):

– This property means that language is structurally organized into two levels. At one level, language is analyzed into combinations of meaningful units, such as words & sentences. At the other level, it is analyzed as a sequence of phonological segments that lack meaning.
– This feature has never been witnessed in the animal communication systems.
– Body language & facial expressions cannot be divided into these two levels of duality.


6. CULTURAL TRANSMISSION OR TRADITION:

– The transmission from one generation to the next through membership of a society as opposed to genetic inheritance.
– Although humans are genetically programmed to acquire language, it does not mean they will automatically speak. Language is culturally transmitted. Baby born in isolation from society does not acquire human language.
– Human language is totally conditioned by the environment.
– This feature indicates that human beings hand down their languages from one generation to another.
– A far greater proportion of communication is genetically built in animals than in humans. A human child brought up in isolation away from human beings (Feral), does not acquire language. In contrast, birds reared in isolation sing songs.
– There is a need for, what is called in psycholinguistic, “Exposure”: a need for linguistic input from the surrounding environment.



First Language Acquisition & Child Language Acquisition

7. DISPLACEMENT:

– Language can be used to refer to contexts removed from the immediate situation of the speaker, such as “past” & “future” time reference. Removed from the present space & the present time.
– The meaning of animal signals, by contrast, is restricted to the setting in which they are used.


Ex: An animal can produce a hunger cry meaning that hunger is present now, not yesterday nor tomorrow.


– The ability to refer to objects, states of fears, processes, actions, etc…Which are not part of the immediate setting in space & time?
– A child as part of the process of the 1st language acquisition is expected to learn displacement.

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