Language, Language acquisition

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Summary

Language is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, and a language is any specific example of such a system. The scientific study of language is called linguistics.

Details

All healthy, normally developing human beings learn to use language. Children acquire the language or languages used around them: whichever languages they receive sufficient exposure to during childhood. The development is essentially the same for children acquiring sign or oral languages. This learning process is referred to as first-language acquisition, since unlike many other kinds of learning, it requires no direct teaching or specialized study. In The Descent of Man, naturalist Charles Darwin called this process "an instinctive tendency to acquire an art".

First language acquisition proceeds in a fairly regular sequence, though there is a wide degree of variation in the timing of particular stages among normally developing infants. From birth, newborns respond more readily to human speech than to other sounds. Around one month of age, babies appear to be able to distinguish between different speech sounds. Around six months of age, a child will begin babbling, producing the speech sounds or handshapes of the languages used around them. Words appear around the age of 12 to 18 months; the average vocabulary of an eighteen-month old child is around 50 words. A child's first utterances are holophrases (literally "whole-sentences"), utterances that use just one word to communicate some idea. Several months after a child begins producing words, she or he will produce two-word utterances, and within a few more months will begin to produce telegraphic speech, or short sentences that are less grammatically complex than adult speech, but that do show regular syntactic structure. From roughly the age of three to five years, a child's ability to speak or sign is refined to the point that it resembles adult language.

Acquisition of second and additional languages can come at any age, through exposure in daily life or courses. Children learning a second language are more likely to achieve native-like fluency than adults, but in general, it is very rare for someone speaking a second language to pass completely for a native speaker. An important difference between first language acquisition and additional language acquisition is that the process of additional language acquisition is influenced by languages that the learner already knows.

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External Links

  • WikipediaWorld Atlas of Language Structures: a large database of structural (phonological, grammatical, lexical) properties of languagesEthnologue: Languages of the WorldThe Linguistic Diversity of the Planet

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