jueves, 16 de octubre de 2014

Children and First Language Acquisition

The beginning of everything

Human beings have always been referred to as social beings. This characteristic is what allowed our society to exist and to create the world in which we live. But in order to be sociable creatures humans developed something called language. Without language our society would not be called society and our world would be completely different. Language is the beginning of almost everything we know. Curiously, language and children share this faculty. Children are also called the beginning of life and their relationship with language is one of the most relevant issues that has been studied.

If you happen to observe a baby who is few days old, you will probably find him/her moving his/her head and eyes as if trying to find something in this world. Some weeks or months later you will find this same baby playing with his/her vocal cords and smiling when someone makes a response. When this baby is older and he/she starts speaking, you might find that if he/she cannot transmit his message, he/she can get desperate, anxious or frustrated. Moreover, children tend to tell everything to everybody and they can repeat it lots of time just because they love doing it.

This shows us that children have the need to communicate; in fact, language is the first system they accurately manage at an early age. There is no other explanation other than that language is innate in every human being and that we all are capable of acquiring a language without any kind of instruction. A baby, unconsciously, constructs his/her own language system. He/she does not need to be taught grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation or nay rule. They simply get it by being exposed to it.

Once our children get to what the spoken words refer to, they move to the following step: managing time and space. Now our children words can refer to different moments in time and to different places. If children master this, then they are able to do almost anything with language. Sometimes children come up with words or phrases that could not have been uttered by an adult who already knows how grammar operates. This fact also demonstrates that children create their own language and “trial and error” is useful for them to do it. It is clear that there is something that happens in their mind; that language evolves there, in their brains and that there is little we can observe from the outside that determines what is going on inside.

Noam Chomsky is a linguist that believes that language is somewhere in our genes. He argues that behaviorism cannot explain how we get a language. He suggests that the process of acquiring a language is done due to the access children have to Universal Gramar (UG). He also says that every child is equipped with it and thus they are allowed to construct grammar from the given data. Moreover, UG not only processes input, it also contributes things of its own. Something comes into it and something comes out of it.

Chomsky introduced a very well know concept that is Universal Grammar (UG) and states that every child has access to it. That is why they can learn a great variety of languages while still being children; the child’s mind is open to any human language and grammatical competence is automatically incorporated. In Chomsky’s own words “the child does not acquire rules but setting of parameters, which, interacting with the network of principles, create a core grammar”

Chomsky’s hypothesis can be applied to any child in the world acquiring his/her first language. Besides, he refuted many other older hypotheses with his research. May be his theory cannot be empirically proved but it is the one that matches every case. Everybody can speak at least one language without making the effort. Not all of us can run a marathon or sing in tune without making any kind of effort. Language is something that we all come with to this world and naturally becomes ours in less than five years. Our first language is the most valuable inheritance and we can only acquire it when we are children. That is why language and children can be considered the beginning of everything.

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