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Re: [xmca] Deb Roy: The birth of a word
As I read the comments on Deb Roy's massive data collection efforts I've been thinking back over the various approaches to language acquisition research over the years, and it occurs to me that Roy's approach assumes that the best way to study his child's development is from a thoroughly third-person perspective, with a computer peering Hal-like from the ceiling. Contrast that with another case study of a single child, Michael Halliday's study of Nigel in 'Learning How to Mean.' There we had the boy's father drawing crucially on his involvement as a participant in interaction with the child. The latter seems to me to have produced a much richer understanding of what a child is doing as they begin to talk.
On Mar 15, 2011, at 9:33 PM, Lois Holzman wrote:
> I watched the Roy video a few days before it began to be discussed here and found it to be one of those TED talks that dazzles. I'm fascinated that not only a family but a funding source and research lab all put significant resources into it—and so, for me, what's fascinating is this is but one instance of what human beings get on board for and are passionate about. We're amazing in this regard!
> But I failed to be impressed by the substance of the talk and thought I would share that here. The approach to understanding language development/acquisition that apparently prompted the "study" seems to me to be very outdated, not even something Lois Bloom and I might have done 35 years ago had the technology been invented and available. For even then, we and others researching early language had moved beyond utterances in isolation to the unity, semantics/syntax/pragmatics in/and the cultural/conversational context.
> Further, our approach (as was that of many others at the time) was looking at what we assumed was development or, to give us the benefit of the doubt (since we were not yet influenced much by Vygotsky) the unity learning/development.
> So, David, when you say "we assume that first language acquisition is learning rather than development" I am truly puzzled. Who is the "we"?
> Ditto the other two assumptions.
> I haven't kept up with the language acquisition literature, so maybe it's the case that these assumptions are out there. But what about the distributed language literature?
> Does anyone else here think that words are not born?
> On Mar 15, 2011, at 9:46 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
>> Now, I want to argue that this disproves, or at least severely undermines, some of our heartfelt beliefs about acquiring a first language.
>> a) We assume that first language acquisition is learning rather than development. By this we assume that it can be plotted linearly and quantitatively by measures such as vocabulary size and MLU. But the data suggests that what is going on is not the learning of a single word but rather the development of a system. What the child learns is not the single fact of the word "water", but (like Helen Keller before him) the general principle of language, in this case, the principle that words tend to divide into syllables, and that these syllables are marked by consonants and vowels. This allows the child to completely reorganize as syllables and perhaps even as consonant-vowel strings all material learned in the past, and anticipate the structure of all the material to be learnt in the future.
>> b) We assume that the first language acquisition is nondeliberate, unintentional, and to a very large degree unconscious. By this we assume what we remember: we woke up one day and discovered that we could miraculously understand what people were saying to us and that the world made sense for the first time. But the data suggest that what is going on is deliberate, intentional, and if we refer to it as unconscious we mean "unconscious" only in the very special sense that the child, lacking language, does not yet have consciousness as we know it.
>> c) We assume that first language acquisition is a completely DIFFERENT experimence from learning a second language in a classroom. By this we assume an invidious comparison: the first is painless and completely successful, while the latter is a daily torment with very doubtful prospects. But the data suggest that what is going on is actually quite similar to the data I will give below, and from the child's point of view, the prospects of success must seem similarly precarious.
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> Lois Holzman, Ph.D.
> Director, East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy
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