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Language Acquisition: Nature or Nurture?

by Kim Packard
Language Acquisition: Nature or Nurture? by Kim Packard
Created June 2011 “It is the task of the translator to release in his own language that pure language that is under the spell of another, to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work.” — Walter Benjamin (Illuminations: Essays and Reflections) Wiki- Language Acquisition Wiki- Animal Language Wiki- Feral Child Wiki- List of languages by number of speakers Wiki- Universal Grammar Wiki- Emergent Grammar Wiki- Speech Perception Wiki- Phonology Wiki- Register Wiki- Audience Design Dell Hymes’s SPEAKING Model Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy- Speech Acts Jean Berko Gleason psycholinguistics on PBS The Secret… Read more

Created June 2011

“It is the task of the translator to release in his own language that pure language that is under the spell of another, to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work.” — Walter Benjamin (Illuminations: Essays and Reflections)

Wiki- Language Acquisition
Wiki- Animal Language
Wiki- Feral Child
Wiki- List of languages by number of speakers
Wiki- Universal Grammar
Wiki- Emergent Grammar
Wiki- Speech Perception
Wiki- Phonology
Wiki- Register
Wiki- Audience Design
Dell Hymes’s SPEAKING Model
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy- Speech Acts

Jean Berko Gleason psycholinguistics on PBS The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

The Child’s Learning of English Morphology by Jean Berko (ca. 1958)

NOVA Science Now— Bird Brains
Birds have an undeserved reputation for low brainpower. In fact, they produce one of the most glorious phenomena in nature: birdsong. How do their brains do it? And what does this skill tell us about the evolution of another remarkable phenomenon, human language? Research on an Australian songbird called the zebra finch is shedding light on babbling in babies, stuttering, and the neuronal processes of understanding and making sounds. Evidence of the evolution of birdsong as well as human speech may lie in our genes, including an intriguing gene called FOXP2.

International Phonetic Alphabet=

BBC- Languages Across Europe article

BBC Languages- Languages of the world- Interesting facts about languages A guide to which languages are most widely spoken, hardest to learn and other revealing facts; links for learning different languages.

BBC Radio 4- In Our Time, Language and the Mind Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of our ideas about the formation of language. The psychologist George Miller worked out that in English there are potentially a hundred million trillion sentences of twenty words in length – that’s a hundred times the number of seconds since the birth of the universe. “Language”, as Chomsky put it, “makes infinite use of finite media”. “Language”, as Steven Pinker puts it, “comes so naturally to us that it’s easy to forget what a strange and miraculous gift it is”. “All over the world”, he writes, “members of our species spend a good part of their lives fashioning their breath into hisses and hums and squeaks and pops and are listening to others do the same”. Jean Jacques Rousseau once said that we differ from the animal kingdom in two main ways – the use of language and the prohibition of incest. Language and our ability to learn it has been held up traditionally as our species’ most remarkable achievement, marking us apart from the animals. But in the 20th century, our ideas about how language is formed are being radically challenged and altered. With Dr Jonathan Miller, medical doctor, performer, broadcaster, author and film and opera director; Steven Pinker, cognitive scientist, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Centre for Neuroscience, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California. (Feb. 1999)

BBC Radio 4- Material World Quentin Cooper investigates the cultural and genetic evolution of language. Professor Nick Chater of University College, London, believes that the evolution of language is cultural, rather than genetic. He argues because language is so unstable and quick to change, it is a creation of culture, and is bolted onto humans’ biological abilities to adapt and process changing information. While Professor Mark Pagel of Reading University builds family trees for the words in a language, linking them to their cousins and ancestors. He has identified some meanings whose words evolve slowly enough to have time depths of at least 20,000 years, making them candidates for deep reconstruction of prehistoric, Neolithic languages. Professor Pagel has also shown how up to a third of the words in a language can change quite rapidly if a group of people split off and form a culturally or geographically new society. (0:15:25 to end, Feb. 2009)

How Many Languages are There in the World? Answer: > 6809 (in 2004), 6912 (in 2005), ??? (in 2011, 2060, 2100?)
“Languages are not at all uniformly distributed around the world. Just as some places are more diverse than others in terms of plant and animal species, the same goes for the distribution of languages. Out of Ethnologue’s 6,809, for instance, only 230 are spoken in Europe, while 2,197 are spoken in Asia. One area of particularly high linguistic diversity is Papua-New Guinea, where there are an estimated 832 languages spoken by a population of around 3.9 million. That makes the average number of speakers around 4,500, possibly the lowest of any area of the world. These languages belong to between 40 and 50 distinct families. Of course, the number of families may change as scholarship improves, but there is little reason to believe that these figures are radically off the mark. We do not find linguistic diversity only in out of the way places. Centuries of French governments have striven to make that country linguistically uniform, but (even disregarding Breton, a Celtic language; Allemannisch, the Germanic language spoken in Alsace; and Basque), Ethnologue shows at least ten distinct Romance languages spoken in France, including Picard, Gascon, Provençal, and several others in addition to “French.” " (2004)

Film—The Linguists Directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger (2008)

Roughly 80 percent of the world’s human population speaks 83 different languages. Nearly half of the world’s 7000 languages could be lost by the year 2100. (K. David Harrison, Swarthmore College)

TED 2003—Steven Pinker chalks it up to the blank slate
TEDGlobal 2005—Steven Pinker on language and thought

TED 2010—Patricia Kuhl on the linguistic genius of babies
TED 2011—Deb Roy on the birth of a word
Effects of Caregiver Prosody on Child Language Acquisition

Stanford’s Robert Sapolsky Spring 2010 Lecture 23- Language

The Ideas of Chomsky- 1977 BBC Interview
Linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology transformed the nature of linguistics before he was 40. In this program with world-renowned author and professor Bryan Magee, the outspoken Chomsky challenges accepted notions of the way in which language is learned, examines the relationship of language to experience, and discusses the philosophical nature of knowledge. A BBC Production. (47 minutes)

Language and the Mind Revisited-The Biolinguistic Turn
UC Berkeley presents the The Charles M. and Martha Hitchcock Lecture series, featuring linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky. Chomsky examines biolinguistics – the study of relations between physiology and speech. Series: “UC Berkeley Graduate Council Lectures” [7/2003]
Language and the Mind Revisited-The Rest of the World Second part of the above (1:16:45)

Biolinguistics and the Human Capacity (Chomsky, 2004 pdf)

Recursion and Human Thought:
Why the PIRAHÃ Don’t Have Numbers (2005)
A Talk With Daniel L. Everett

“I think that the way that Chomskyan theories developed over the last 50 years has made it completely untestable now. It’s not clear what usefulness there is in the notion of universal grammar. It appeals to the public at large, and it used to appeal to linguists, but as you work more and more with it, there’s no way to test it—I can’t think of a single experiment—in fact I asked Noam this in an e-mail, what is a single prediction that universal grammar makes that I could falsify? How could I test it? What prediction does it make? And he said, It doesn’t make any predictions; it’s a field of study, like biology. Now that is not quite right. No scientist can get by without believing in biology, but it’s quite possible to study human language without believing in universal grammar. So UG is really not a field of study in the same sense.”
Pirahã Language

Starling and recursion research
Chomsky’s response to starling research (April, 2006)
Babies, birds and words (2008)

Singing Therapy Helps Stroke Patients Speak Again

Language and the Orang-utan, the Old ‘Person’ of the Forest (H. Lyn White Miles, 1993)

Dan Isaac Slobin has extensively studied the organization of information about spatial relations and motion events by speakers of different languages, including both children and adults. He has argued that becoming a competent speaker of a language requires learning certain language-specific modes of thinking, which he dubbed “thinking for speaking”. Slobin’s “thinking for speaking” view can be described as a contemporary, moderate version of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, which claims that the language we learn shapes the way we perceive reality and think about it. This view is often contrasted with the “language acquisition device” view of Noam Chomsky and others, who think of language acquisition as a process largely independent of learning and cognitive development.
Relating Events in Narrative A recurrent perspective on language and thought is that of Dan Slobin’s theory of “thinking for speaking,” an approach to cognitive consequences of linguistic diversity. (2003)
Dan Slobin-Thinking for Speaking (2005 Interview pdf.)

Christopher and Language Acquisition
This video shows how UCL linguist, Professor Neil Smith, has gathered evidence to support Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar (UG) with studies involving Christopher – a savant capable of learning tens of languages. (ca. 1995)
The Polyglot (Language) Savant
“Most persons with savant syndrome have impoverished language skills as part of their basic disability, while musical, artistic, mathematical or mechanical skills flourish as particular islands of genius. Very rarely however, in an already rare condition, spectacular language (polyglot) skills, surprisingly, represent the island of genius in stark contrast to other overall handicaps.” Darold Treffert, MD
The Genetic Roots of Language-What SLI and Williams Syndrome Can Teach Us About the Roles Played by Genes in the Development of Language and Intelligence (2003, Andrea McColl)

Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong

NOVA- Secret of the Wild Child
NOVA transcripts- Secret of the Wild Child

American Tongues (25:17 the voice from nowhere // 30:05 stereotypes reinforced in movies, cartoons, etc. )
Rich in humor and regional color, this sometimes hilarious film uses the prism of language to reveal our attitudes about the way other people speak. From Boston Brahmins to Black Louisiana teenagers, from Texas cowboys to New York professionals, “American Tongues” elicits funny, perceptive, sometimes shocking, and always telling comments on American English in all its diversity. (1988)
NPR Interview with William Labov—American Accent Undergoing Great Vowel Shift
PBS- American Varieties

IDEA- International Dialects of English Archive

Creole Language and Culture- Notre Dame U. open course

University of Adelaide Student Radio Footnote to Plato-Wittgenstein and Language Games According to many Ludwig Wittgenstein is the rock star of 20th century philosophy. This week the whole team crammed into the studio in an attempt to get the maximum amount of brain power plugged into the task of understanding Wittgenstein’s language games. Listen in to see how things panned out! (Recorded May 3, 2011)

Scientific American Article by Katharine S. Pollard—What Makes Us Human ….those rare stretches of DNA that are ours alone; Pollard is a biostatistician at the University of California, San Francisco. In 2003, after completing a Ph.D. and postdoctoral research at U.C. Berkeley, she began a comparative genomics fellowship at U.C. Santa Cruz, during which she participated in the sequencing of the chimpanzee genome. Pollard used this sequence to identify the fastest-evolving regions of the human genome. A recipient in 2008 of a Sloan Research Fellowship in Computational and Evolutionary Molecular Biology, she recently began studying the evolution of microbes that live in the human body.

Distinguishing blue from green in language Wikipedia
Grue and bleen Wikipedia

Forensic linguistics New Yorker magazine article by Jack Hitt
The pioneer of forensic linguistics is widely considered to be Roger Shuy, a Georgetown University professor and the author of such fundamental textbooks as “Language Crimes: The Use and Abuse of Language Evidence in the Courtroom.” The field’s more recent origins might be traced to an airplane flight in 1979, when Shuy found himself talking to the lawyer sitting next to him. By the end of the flight, Shuy had a recommendation as an expert witness in his first murder case. Since then, he’s been involved in numerous cases in which forensic analysis revealed how meaning had been distorted by the process of writing or recording. In recent years, following Shuy’s lead, a growing number of linguists have applied their techniques in regular criminal cases, such Chris Coleman’s, and even certain commercial lawsuits. Mentions a suit between Apple and Microsoft over the use of the phrase “app store.” Writer visits Robert Leonard at Hofstra University and describes some of his cases, including the investigation of the murder of Natalee Holloway in Aruba. Mentions Carole Chaski, the executive director of the Institute for Linguistic Evidence and the president of Alias Technology, which markets linguistic software. Chaski has been working to perfect a computer algorithm that identifies patterns hidden in syntax.

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