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Language Acquisition

Nature of language acquisition and its complexities, including critical age | the four theories on language acquisition | case study (Oxana Malaya) about language acquisition

Pauline Azarcon

on 26 April 2015

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Transcript of Language Acquisition

Nature of Language Acquisition
Language Acquisition is the process involved in learning to use and understand a language, and the subsystems of language; it almost always occurs during early childhood. It is one of the most typical and ultimate human traits, due to the authenticity that other animals do not use language as a means of communication. Language acquisition also involves complex processes in the brain.

The human brain's left hemisphere is involved in language and analysis. It has been observed by physicians that individuals who have received trauma on the left side of their brain had impaired language abilities, while those who had injured their right sides did not. More precisely, the middle back of the left frontal lobe ( area known as the Broca) is responsible for the expression of spontaneous speech and motor speech control. The frontal lobe is also known for its complex processes, such as problem solving, social behaviour, and creativity, useful in language acquisition.

There is often a debate on whether language is developed or a biologically determined process. There are four main theories that speculate these two conceptions.
Cognitive Approach Theory #2
This theory automatically links itself to a child's intellectual development, theorises that children can only use linguistic structures when they understand the concept involved.
Nativist Approach Theory #3
The nativist theory hypothesises that children have the innate capacity for language development - when the brain hears language, it immediately receives and understands utterances
Interactionist Approach Theory #4
The interactionist approach theorises that language is the result of both a child's environment and their human characteristics - it emerges from the continuous interaction between social and cognitive development
Behaviourist Approach Theory #1
This theory is based on B.F Skinner's hypothesis- that if children imitate phrases and sentence structures they hear repeatedly, then they will learn language.
Language Acquisition
Pauline Azarcon
Complexities & Critical Age
Language acquisition requires a complex set of skills:
Putting together sounds
Figuring out the lexicon of language and meanings
Ordering words in utterances
Recognising the different ways to pack messages depending on the function and social context

Language also involves the understanding of both verbal and non-verbal communication, and the ability to process and reaction to it, as well as understanding the social dynamics that govern the language used.

Language acquisition is also linked to physical growth, social factors, and critical age. The critical age is the age (usually 5-6 years old) in which the learning and development of language is vital; if language is learned before this point of a child's physical growth and mental development, learning will be easy, complete, and effortless. Individuals who are exposed to language after the critical age will usually experience difficulty in acquiring that language.

Language and the Human Brain
In-text: (Robertson)
Bibliography: Robertson, Sally. 'Language And The Human Brain'. News-Medical.net. N.p., 2010.
Web. 29 Mar. 2015.

Brain Dysfunction by Location: Brain Dysfunction: Merck Manual Home Edition
In-text: (Merckmanuals.com)
Bibliography: Merckmanuals.com,. 'Brain Dysfunction By Location: Brain Dysfunction: Merck Manual Home Edition'. N.p., 2015.
Web. 29 Mar. 2015.

WebsiteTraumatic Brain Injury Resource Guide - Frontal Lobes
Traumatic Brain Injury Resource Guide - Frontal Lobes
In-text: (Neuroskills.com)
Bibliography: Neuroskills.com,. 'Traumatic Brain Injury Resource Guide - Frontal Lobes'. N.p., 2015.
Web. 29 Mar. 2015.

Disorders of Speech & Language | UCSF Memory and Aging Center
In-text: (Memory.ucsf.edu)
Click to copy and paste this in text citation
Bibliography: Memory.ucsf.edu,. 'Disorders Of Speech & Language | UCSF Memory And Aging Center'. N.p., 2015.
Web. 29 Mar. 2015.

Gone to the dogs: the girl who ran with the pack
In-text: (Grice)
Bibliography: Grice, Elizabeth. 'Gone To The Dogs: The Girl Who Ran With The Pack'. The Age 2006: 1-2.
Web. 29 Mar. 2015.

Feral Children, Oxana Malaya
In-text: (Mymultiplesclerosis.co.uk)
Bibliography: Mymultiplesclerosis.co.uk,. 'Feral Children, Oxana Malaya'. N.p., 2015.
Web. 29 Mar. 2015.
Pros & Cons of the Behaviourist Approach
Explains how imitation can contribute to development
Care takers have an active role
Varies according to how much children can imitate - understanding is questionable
Motivated by rewards
Little support from parents to correct structures
Not a creative way of learning (conditional/generalisation)
Does not account for social influences
Ignored the internal and mental process
Role of Parents/ Caregivers
Parents and caregivers automatically positively correct utterances and reinforce them to form the child's basic vocabulary. This is encouraged by their rewarding to the child.
Pros & Cons on the Cognitive Approach
Explains the process of thinking and how it influences language abilities
Does not explain the role of the caretaker
Does not consider implications of reinforcement/imitation
Role of Parents/ Caregivers
In the cognitive theory, there are no roles for caregivers and parents
Pros and Cons of the Nativist Theory
Does not explain the correction feedback from adults needed when a child is learning to speak
There is no known universal grammar element found in every known language
Indivduals neglected from exposure to language do not understand and know how to apply language
Recognises that children need to be exposed to language
Understands that children acquire grammatical skills at the same rate and order
Role of Parents/ Caregivers
Parents and caregivers do not have a role in the nativist approach
Pros & Cons of the Interactionist Approach
Considers many factors, including social and linguistics, maturation, and level of cognitive development
Role of Parents/Caregivers
Parents and caretakers modify their language to supply appropriate and meaningful language that the child required
Oxana Malaya - Ukranian Girl Dog
Case Study
Oxana Malaya was born on November 1983 in Ukraine. She is what is known as a feral child. At an early age, she was neglected by her alcoholic parents and was left to sleep and feed with her dogs. By the age of 7, she had the behavioural and mental characteristics of a canine.

She was later moved to a foster home for disabled children where she underwent therapy to address her issues. There, she was able to be taught how to eat with her hands, walk upright, and talk. Psychologists agree that Oxana Malaya was able to learn language again because she had some childish speech before she was abandoned. However, psychologist Dr. Lyn Fry described her language as "odd" and "flat, as if it's an order", and that there is no "candence or rhythym or music to her speech, no inflection or tone". Malaya cannot read or spell her name correctly, and has learning difficulties.

Today, she lives in a home for the mentally disables, and although she has regained human characteristics, doctors say that she will never be completely rehabilitated into the normal society.
Personal Theory on Language Acquisition
Language has been biologically "programmed" in the human brain, but still needs to be biologically developed and evolved, as well as developed using social factors, experience, and language exposure.

It is hypothesised that language was originally developed or "invented" as a survival skill, in order to communicate, contribute, and share ideas with other members of a species' tribe. The language developed would be later taught and passed on to younger generations. As this language was passed on, the brain would adapt to its frequent use and therefore dedicate a part of its structure to language recognition and use, but need to be further developed to reach its optimum use. There are scientific discoveries that support this theory:

In the prehistoric period, Homosapiens ( modernly known as humans) and Neanderthals competed against each other for resources and land. Although the Neanderthals had a better physique than Homosapiens, their disadvantage lay in their facial structures. Compared to Homosapiens, Neanderthals had larger and deeper eye sockets and a more prominent brow bone. This facial structural adaptation allowed them to see more efficiently in the dark winters of Europe, which would require Neanderthals larger visual processing. Because homosapiens did not have this disadvantage, they were able to develop frontal lobes for higher brain processes including creativity, problem solving, and language. Homosapiens used this to their advantage and used language as a way to survive against the Neanderthals.

Although humans have gained the ability of language, only 10% of the human brain is in use. Brain processes must be further developed to achieve the complete use of language. In the mean time, language must be taught and developed with the help of social and cultural factors, as well as the participation of parents and caregivers.
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