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first language acquisition

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onymously with native language (NL). First language is also known as L1.
Piske & Young-Scholten 2009; Richards & Schmidt 2010

first language acquisition


also child language acquisition

the process of learning a native language. It seems that normal children all
over the world go through similar stages, use similar constructions in order
to express similar meanings, and make the same kinds of errors. The stages
of development can be summarized as follows:
Language stage

Beginning age

Crying
Cooing
Babbling

Birth
6 weeks
6 months
8 months
1 year
18 months
2 years
2 years 3 months
5 years
10 years

Intonation patterns

One-word utterances
Two-word utterances
Word inflections
Questions, negatives
Rare or complex constructions
Mature speech

These stages are not language-specific, although their actual realization obviously is.
Similarly, when studying the emergence of a number of structures in English, a consistent order of acquisition was found. Browns so-called morpheme study is probably the best-known first language study of that time,
and was to be very influential for second language acquisition research (see
MORPHEME STUDIES, ACQUISITION ORDER). In an in-depth study of three children of different backgrounds, he compared the development of 14 grammatical morphemes in English. Brown found that although the rate at which
children learnt these morphemes varied, the order in which they acquired
them remained the same for all children, as listed below in a simplified form:

Present progressive
Prepositions
Plural
Past Irregular
Possessive
Articles
Past regular
Third person singular
Auxiliary be

boy singing
dolly in car
sweeties
broke
Babys biscuit
a car
wanted
eats
he is running

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first language acquisition

What is striking is that, not only do children acquire a number of grammatical morphemes in a fixed order, but they also follow fairly rigid stages during the acquisition of a given area of grammar. For example, children all
over the world not only acquire negatives around the same age, but they also
mark the negative in similar ways in all languages, by initially attaching
some negative marker to the outside of the sentence: no go to bed, pas faut
boire (= not need drinking), etc., and gradually moving the negative marker
inside the sentence, following the stages exemplified below for English:
Stage 1: Negative utterances consist of a nucleus (i.e., the positive
proposition) either preceded or followed by a negator.
wear mitten no
no mitten
no sit there
not a teddy bear
Stage 2: Negators are now incorporated into affirmative clauses. Negators
at this stage include dont and cant, used as unitary items, and with no
and not, are increasingly used in front of the verb rather than at the beginning of the sentence. Negative commands also appear.
there no squirrels
you cant dance
dont bite me yet
He no bite you
Stage 3: Negators are now always incorporated into affirmative clauses.
Other auxiliary forms such as didnt and wont appear while the typical
stage 1 forms disappear. The Auxiliary + not rule has been acquired, as
dont, cant, etc., are now analyzed. But some mistakes still occur (e.g.,
copula be is omitted from negative utterances and double negatives occur). A very late acquisition is the negative form isnt, with the result that
some stage 2 forms (with not instead of isnt) continue to be used for
quite a long time.
I dont have a book
I didnt caught it
She wont let go
Paul cant have one
I not crying
no one didnt come
This not ice cream

first language acquisition

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These developmental sequences are not unlike the stages followed by second
language learners. The study of the developing use of negative forms has
produced some delightful examples of children operating their own rules for
negative sentences. One famous example also shows the futility of overt
adult correction of childrens speech.
CHILD: Nobody dont like me.
MOTHER: No, say nobody likes me.
CHILD: Nobody dont like me.
(Eight repetitions of this dialog)
MOTHER: No, now listen carefully; say nobody likes me.
CHILD: Oh! Nobody dont likes me.
Similar phenomena can be observed for the acquisition of interrogatives and
other structures. For example, in forming questions, the childs rst stage has
two procedures. Simply add a Wh-form (e.g., Where, Who) to the beginning
of the expression or utter the expression with a rise in intonation towards the
end, as in these examples:
Where kitty?
Doggie?
Where horse go?
Sit chair?
In the second stage, more complex expressions can be formed, but the rising
intonation strategy continues to be used. It is noticeable that more Wh-forms
come into use, as in these examples:
What book name?
You want eat?
Why you smiling?
See my doggie?
In the third stage, the required inversion of subject and verb in English questions appears (I can go Can I go?), but the Wh-questions do not always
undergo the required inversion. In fact, children beginning school in their
fth year may still prefer to form Wh-questions (especially with negatives)
without the type of inversion found in adult speech. Apart from the occasional lack of inversion and continuing trouble with the morphology of
verbs, stage 3 questions are generally quite close to the adult model, as in
these examples:

134

FI style

Can I have a piece?


Did I caught it?
Will you help me?
How that opened?
What did you do?
Why kitty cant stand up?
Another important characteristic of child language is that it is rule-governed,
even if initially the rules children create do not correspond to adult ones. As
early as the two-word stage, children express relationships between elements
in a sentence, such as possession, negation or location, in a consistent way.
Also, it has been demonstrated convincingly that when children produce an
adult-like form which is the result of the application of a rule, such as for
example adding -s to dog in order to produce the plural form dogs, they are
not merely imitating and repeating parrot-fashion the adult language around
them.
From the account of first language acquisition research, the following characteristics emerge:
children go through stages
these stages are very similar across children for a given language, although the rate at which individual children progress through them is
highly variable
these stages are similar across languages
child language is rule-governed and systematic, and the rules created by
the child do not necessarily correspond to adult ones
children are resistant to correction
childrens processing capacity limits the number of rules they can apply
at any one time, and they will revert to earlier hypotheses when two or
more rules compete.
see also COOING, BABBLING, ONE-WORD STAGE, TWO-WORD STAGE, TELEGRAPHIC SPEECH

Aitchison 1989; Berko 1958; Cazden 1972; Ellis 1994; Klima & Bellugi 1966; McNeill
1966; Mithcell & Myles 2004; Yule 2006

FI style

an abbreviation for FIELD INDEPENDENCE STYLE


Flow Theory

a school of thought that highlights the importance of an experiential state


characterized by intense focus and involvement that leads to improved performance on a task. Flow Theory claims that as a result of the intrinsically