COM 374 -- Week 2 outline
Daniels’ first 3 facts about language
A. #1: “Children learn their native language swiftly, efficiently, and largely without
B. #2: “Language operates by rules.”
C. #3: “All languages have a sound system, a vocabulary and a system of grammar.”
Daniels #3
A. 3 levels of language structure: sound level (phonology), word level (morphology),
sentence level (syntax)
B. Grammar
i. Prescriptive
1. Prescribes rules governing what people should/ shouldn’t say
2. Prescriptive rules are not natural, must be learned by rote
3. They reflect value judgments about the speaker
4. Example: “Don’t use double negatives”
ii. Descriptive
1. Describes rules that govern what people can or do say
2. Descriptive rules are followed intuitively, need not be taught
3. Example: apt, tap, pat are possible English words, but not *atp, *pta
C. Linguistic competence
i. What it means to know a language
ii. Know how to speak so as to be understood by another speaker of your
iii. Understand rules that govern sounds, words, sentences in your language (i.e.,
what is possible vs. impossible)
iv. Can be studied by observing linguistic performance
Daniels #2: “Language operates by rules.”
A. Phonological rules (past tense, plural formation, wug test)
B. Morphological rules (expletive infixation, compounding with irregular plurals)
C. Syntactic rules (understanding grammatical vs. ungrammatical sentences)
D. Knowledge of these rules is unconscious
Daniels #1: “Children learn their native language swiftly, efficiently, and largely without
How do children acquire language?
A. Memorization?
i. We memorize words (mental lexicon)
ii. But… the ability that we have to produce/understand an infinite # of novel
utterances (Productivity) must mean we do not store whole sentences in our
brains, but rather words and patterns, or rules (= Mental Grammar)
B. Imitation?
i. Children say things parents never say
1. Phonological: fis ‘fish’, goggie ‘doggie’
2. Morphological: runned, goed, bringed, holded
3. Syntactic: I am cute, amn’t I?
C. Teaching/Reinforcement?
i. Sometimes language is not taught
1. Rules of language are unconscious
2. Children can learn language parents don’t know (e.g., immigrants)
ii. Sometimes language can’t be taught
1. ‘Nobody don’t like me’ dialogue
2. ‘Other one spoon’ dialogue
Paradox of Language Acquisition
A. Problem: Children acquire unconscious patterns/rules unconsciously, with little or no
deliberate training.
B. Solution: Universal Grammar (the innate knowledge of language that all humans
are equipped with; it is what helps children during the language learning task)
C. Language = Part learned (Mental Grammar) + Part innate (UG)
Stages of acquisition: All (normal) children go through same stages in same order
(though age and rate of progression can vary)
A. Crying (0-1 month)
B. Cooing (2-3 months)
C. Vocal Play (3-6 months)
D. Babbling (6 months): http://www.vocaldevelopment.com/
i. CV monosyllables
ii. reduplicated babbling: repeated CV syllables (mamama, papapa, dididi)
iii. variegated babbling: different CV syllables (badigu, potaki)
iv. jargon babbling: meaningless word-like units w/ intonation
E. One-word stage (1 - 1 ½ years):
i. Lexicon < 50 words (avg. ~ 15)
ii. Words for people and things
iii. Holophrases (one-word phrases, e.g., gimme, whassat, allgone)
F. Two-word stage (1 ½ - 2 years):
i. Lexicon > 50 words
ii. 2-word combinations indicate semantic rather than syntactic relations, e.g.,
Mommy book, baby sleep, kick ball, baby up
iii. No inflections
G. Telegraphic speech (2+ years):
i. Can combine more than 2 words
ii. contains only content words (i.e., nouns and verbs, but no function words)
iii. Syntactically organized
H. Word inflections (2+ years):
i. Progressive -ing
ii. Plural -s
iii. Possessive -s
iv. 3rd person singular -s
v. Past tense
vi. Negatives
Study questions:
Give some examples of how linguists observe linguistic performance to determine a person’s
linguistic competence.
Test the rule of expletive infixation with your friends. Do they follow the rule? Can they figure
out what the rule is? Do you notice a different success rate with your friends who are not native
English speakers? What about the other rules of grammar that we discussed?
What is the difference between Mental Grammar and Universal Grammar?
Provide examples of some rules that we use in speech that support the claim that children cannot
learn strictly by example. What does this say about the language learning process?