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First language acquisition is the procedure by which humans come to perceive and comprehend language. It is not the same as having to learn a language. Acquiring a language occurs through a human’s subconscious and when one is a child. In addition, it involves exposure to speakers, interaction, and a healthy environment. For centuries, children learned language through the process of imitation, reward, and habit. In the 1950s, it was a turning point for linguists that were studying language acquisition because a new proposition was developed. The proposition considered that a language acquisition device, unique to humans, was wired into the brain. Years later, an American linguist named Noam Chomsky introduced the idea that the principals of language acquisition are biologically determined in the human mind and thus, generally transmitted. Interestingly, Chomsky presented this theory without any evidence. According to Jerome Bruner, the entire notion was more of a hypothesis, rather than a theory. There are many similar theories relating to language acquisition. “The people at MIT… tend to believe that the language acquisition device simply springs into activation if one is exposed to language. And the rest of us have begun to think that you need something beyond exposure. You need interaction to acquire a language” (Berko-Gleason). In order to fully acquire a language, a child would need exposure to the language, interaction with the speakers, and an ambient environment.
Important questions arose in the film as investigators consider if a baby could be learning the characteristics of speech while still in the womb or does language begin on the first cry? Doctor Barry Lester attempts to observe and analyze a baby’s cries and the differences between each cry. It relates to Module 10: Language Acquisition because Elaine Lau (2012) discusses how “… researchers investigated whether children can tell the difference between various sounds” (p. 118). Lau also presents different investigators that accomplished a similar task to Doctor Barry Lester. The researchers observed infants less than one month old and showed them different sounds to see their various reactions. Babies are able to learn the root of communication at an extremely young age. They are universal listeners, so they can recognize all the sounds of the world’s languages fairly easily.
The development of a language for a baby begins with being able to produce sounds. Investigator David Crystal studies the beginning stage of language acquisition, which is a crucial one. He concludes that babies are aware of the two aspects of the development of language. It does not take long for a child to build from this and form different intonations.
Learning to build grammar is a complex and abstract problem. Chomsky put linguists on the right path in presenting the theory that a child must have a special learning device in order to work out a formal system, such as grammar. By studying various languages with different inflictions; the developing child is put into a more difficult position. Researcher Dan Slobin gives an example of the differences in the English language and the Turkish language. “The child must very early on separate out these different levels of processing, while looking for meanings of words, also look for relational meanings” (Slobin).
The most important insight of language acquisition is that the child is not only learning linguistic abilities, but he/she is also developing communication skills. Researchers should attempt to analyze early stages of language acquisition as attempts of communication.
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