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Historical & Social Influences on Language Acquisition & Development

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  • 0:00 Influences on Language…
  • 1:04 Universal Grammar
  • 2:03 Social and Cultural Influences
  • 4:33 Personal History and…
  • 5:23 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

It's pretty amazing that children are able to learn language so quickly without prior knowledge. How we acquire and develop language is something that fascinates researchers, and in this lesson we will examine some of the influences on this process.

Influences on Language Acquisition

Close your eyes and try to think back to your earliest memories. Go back further. Further. And try to remember how you learned your native language. Whether it was English, or Spanish, or Dutch, or Swahili, at some point you had to learn this language. Do you remember how you did it? Most of us don't. And that's because it's largely an automated process that begins in the first year of our life, and continues throughout the toddler years.

Now, if you've ever learned a second language, you know how much work that can be. So researchers are fascinated by the abilities of infants to internalize and conceptualize language, also known as the process of language acquisition. So how does this work? Well, let's start by looking at some of the major influences on how children are able to acquire language. Just close your eyes and try to recall your oldest memories of learning to talk.

Universal Grammar

So how do children, without any previous language to guide their cognitive thoughts, begin to learn a language? There are many theories. However, one that must be mentioned is the theory of universal grammar. According to this idea, all languages have the same basic grammatical structure. This means that while children aren't genetically designed to understand English or Mandarin, they are genetically designed to understand the universal grammar that underlies all language.

To linguists who follow this theory, this explains how infants first begin learning language. However, not everyone agrees, and opponents point out that many languages do not share anything in common with the supposed universal grammatical structure. Still, what this theory illustrates is a dominant idea that human children are somehow genetically predisposed to language acquisition, an idea that is both widely supported and deeply debated to this day.

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