Language Acquisition: Definition, Theories & Stages

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  • 0:04 Language Acquisition
  • 0:34 Nature vs Nurture
  • 0:52 Chomsky's Universal Grammar
  • 1:48 Phonemes
  • 3:34 Language Development
  • 5:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Bautista
Have you ever wondered how humans are able to learn, process, comprehend and speak a language? In this lesson on language acquisition, we'll take a look at some distinctions between languages and learn how babies come to understand and speak a language.

Once we fully understand language's complexity, it seems truly amazing that babies can learn to speak and understand without direct instruction. Studies of language acquisition are an important part of infant psychology that shed light on how our minds process language even as adults. We'll go over some debates in the field of language acquisition, take a look at an experiment used to study infants' abilities to understand speech and finally go over some of the main stages of language acquisition.

One of the big questions for psychologists who study language acquisition is whether we have innate language centers in our brains, or whether language is completely dependent on learning. This echoes the larger nature vs. nurture debate that underlies questions in many areas of psychology. The world famous linguist Noam Chomsky believes that everyone has a universal grammar hard-wired into their brains. He's come to this conclusion by looking at grammatical features shared among diverse languages. Scientists who have looked for the brain's language center have found some regions that impede language production and understanding when they're damaged. Broca's area seems to be involved in production, and Wernicke's area with understanding. But neither have been shown to house Chomsky's universal grammar. Chomsky's critics have also argued that there are obscure languages, like Pirahã, spoken by people in the Amazon region, that don't follow his 'universal' rules.

While some psychologists choose to tackle big questions, others prefer to study the specifics of how language is learned. As an example, have you ever wondered why people who learn a second language usually speak it with an accent?

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