Human language development outline




vocal tract, intact auditory c.n.s , normal cognitive structures , a language model & interaction?

genes indirectly->("LAD[1]", e.g.. specific brain circuits)


Overview of normal language development: Keep the "basic plan"

of language (discrete, recombinable elements in hierarchical levels of phonology, morphology and lexicon, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics) in mind. Kids must "acquire" command of all elements and levels, as well as the pragmatics of using these structures.

This involves a process much like "code-breaking" (cf the Rosetta stone and the interpretation of hieroglyphs in terms of a known language.)


non-intentional and intentional communication ; gaze

(mammalese!) gestures



Linguistic communication intonation (speech acts?)


12 months

successive holophrases

18 months unified multiword (n<5) utterances


end of Piaget's Sensori-motor period, onset of "symbolic" functions

development of the "self" ,"self-consciousness", gender identity, & toliet training?

extensive neural "pruning" [See Limber, 1982, on Leibniz' model of innate ideas]


**onset of "syntactic" speech (distributionally defined categories)*****

slow, sometimes unintelligible speech

development of phonology ("possible words")

rapid increase in mlu and lexicon

beginning of complex sentences

24 months "watch-S" "want -S"

30 months Cognitive verbs ("I think S"; see Limber, 1973)

many cognitive & performative verbs

36 months other person subjects ("Mommy thinks..")

relative clauses (first on object NPS)

*****************INTERPRETING TRAINED APE STUDIES*******************

1.Compare the structures--the linguistic levels. Is there a conventionalized systematic rule-based system for constructing utterances? Remember you need long utterances in order to discern syntactic structure. See Limber (1977) "Language in child & chimp?"

2.Compare the functions--communication, representation, self- direction, memory, humor, creativity, etc.

3.Compare the training--deliberate?, observational?, variability due to environment? etc.

4.Compare the growth/acquisition rates.

5. Compare both production and comprehension; keep in mind that comprehension can occur with varying degrees of linguistic analysis from simple lexical associations to syntactically mediated combinatorial semantics.

6. Mammalese and/or human -based (HB) communication is NOT necessarily human language. Compare humans using "pidgins[2]" with animals using a HB code. You will find species differences in modality, differences in "syntactic structure", differences in concepts that are implicated in these codes -- and of course differences in the projective or creative aspect of these "languages."

[1]This is an abbreviation for Language Acquisition Device, a metaphor for the instinctive knowledge about acquiring human language possessed by humans.

[2]Remember a "pidgin" is a human communication system that is formed when humans come together who share no common language. The "pidgin" takes words from both languages but has very little structure -- a kind of telegraphic speech that serves pragmatic communication functions. Children exposed only to "pidgins" will form a new language that fills in the missing structure, complex clauses, verb structure, etc. These new languages are called Creoles. This is one strong piece of evidence that aspects of human language are instinctive.