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Category Archives: Learn English Free: Linguistics

Linguistics is the scientific study of Language, English is being studied widly and logically, Here I will describe major parts of English Linguistics. Some Linguistic Questions and Answers, some Linguistic Temrs and their Explanations.

Shades of Meaning and Semantic Roles

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10. From Sentence to Storytelling

You begin to learn about pragmatics—how we move beyond the literal meaning of sentences to real-world matters like attitude, general presuppositions, and what is known versus what is new. Pragmatics is what makes strings of words express the full range of humanity and consciousness.

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AFFIXATION

Affixation is a morphological process that adds phonological material to a word in order to change its meaning, syntactic properties, or both. Some examples of affixation in English are given in (1).

(1)
a. fond  fondness
b. start  restart
c. car  cars

In this article, an overview of different types of affixation processes is given, followed by a discussion of how to distinguish affixation from other processes. Then, a number of theoretical problems related to affixation are presented.

Types of Affixation
The phonological material added in affixation is called the affix. The affix is attached to the base. Different types of affixation can be distinguished on the basis of the position of the affix with respect to the base or on the basis of how affixation affects the meaning of the base. In this section, the emphasis is on the former. The latter is discussed in the section on delimitation issues.

Suffixation is the most common type of affixation. In suffixation, the affix is added to the end of the base. Examples are (1a) and (1c) above. In (1a), the suffix-ness is added to the adjective fond to produce the noun fondness. In (1c), the suffix -s is added to the noun car to produce the plural of the noun. In most languages, suffixation is the most widespread form of affixation. In languages such as Turkish and Finnish, it is the only type of affixation.

In many respects, prefixation is the mirror image of suffixation. In prefixation, the affix is attached to the beginning of the base. An example is (1b) above, where the prefix re- is added to the base start. Prefixation is less widespread than suffixation, but some languages, e.g. Khmer, only have prefixation. In languages that have both suffixation and prefixation, the former usually has a larger range of functions. Thus, in English, all inflection is expressed by suffixation. In word formation, we find both, but prefixation only rarely changes the syntactic category of the base, as when the verb enrich is formed from the adjective rich.

In most languages, affixation only involves suffixes and prefixes. Infixation, in which the affix is attached inside the base, is much rarer. An example is the infixum- in Tagalog, illustrated in (2).

(2)
a. bilih (‘buy’) bumilih (‘bought’)
b. gradwet (‘graduate’) grumadwet (‘graduated’)

The infix in (2) is used to express the past tense of the verb. It attaches itself after the first consonant or cluster of consonants of the base. This is its anchor point. In general, the anchor point of an infix is at most one syllable removed from the left or right boundary of the base.

Whether other types of affixation exist depends on the theoretical framework adopted. Thus, circumfixation is the simultaneous addition of a prefix and a suffix. The mere observation of a form such as enrichment is not sufficient evidence for the existence of a circumfix in English, because the form can be analyzed transparently as a result of suffixation of -ment to the verbal base enrich, which is in turn the result of prefixation of en- to the adjective rich. A better candidate for a circumfix is Dutch ge…te, exemplified in (3).
(3) steen (‘stone, rock’)  gesteente (‘type of stone/rock’)

The change in meaning in (3) can be expressed as a generalization to a type. It can be argued that ge…te is a circumfix, because neither *gesteen nor *steente are possible Dutch words. A theory that excludes circumfixes would have to postulate one of these nonexisting forms as an intermediate form in the derivation.

Delimitation Issues
As affixation is the most salient morphological process, it is no surprise that many of the foundational discussions in morphology are directly related to affixation.

A first set of issues concerns the function of affixation. Traditionally, inflection and derivation are distinguished. Inflection adapts a word to its syntactic environment. A prototypical example is the agreement of a verb with its subject in person and number, as illustrated for sleep in (4).

(4)
a. The child sleeps.
b. The children sleep.

Derivation is a type of word formation that involves affixation. It forms new lexemes, marked by a different syntactic category and/or a different lexical meaning, as illustrated in (1a-b). Another contrast is the one between inflection and stem formation. An example of the latter can be observed in Dutch kinderstoel (‘highchair’), a compound of kind (‘child’) and stoe (‘chair’). The form kinder is different from the singular ( kind) and the plural ( kinderen). The suffix -er can be said to produce a secondary stem used in compounds.

Another set of delimitation issues concerns the nature of the affix as a phonologically dependent, morphological unit. Affixes contrast on the one hand with clitics, and on the other with stems used in compounding. Clitics are phonologically dependent particles, i.e. particles that must attach to a host word much like an affix, whose distribution is, however, determined by syntactic rules rather than morphological rules. An example is the Italian clitic pronoun -ti (‘you’) in incontrarti (‘to meet you’). While these clitics are generally not considered as affixes, Turkish case and number endings as in (5) are more of a borderline case.

(5)
Ankara ve I˙zmire gideceg˘im
‘Ankara and Izmir I go’,
i.e. I go to Ankara and Izmir

In (5), Ankara does not have any case ending, whereas I˙zmir is followed by the dative ending -e. Nevertheless, the dative ending applies to the coordinated noun phrase Ankara ve I˙zmir. Therefore, it can be argued that the dative marker is not an inflectional affix but a clitic. Similar observations can be made about the genitive marker in the queen of England’s hat.

Compounding usually combines items that occur as independent words, e.g. bookshelf. Words such as philanthropic and anthropomorphic share many properties with compounds, but their constituent parts do not occur as independent words (in English). They are often called neoclassical compounds. In fact, anthropo is the Ancient Greek word for human being, a sense it also has in English words. Although it is not a word in English, it does not behave like an affix either. It has a stem-like meaning and can appear in different positions in a compound. Other elements of the same general type, e.g. pseudo, occur almost exclusively as a prefix, often with a reduced meaning more typical of an affix than of a stem, e.g. pseudocultured. It is very difficult to draw a clear borderline between stems and affixes among such neoclassical elements. The term affixoid is sometimes used to refer to items for which it is difficult to determine whether they are stems or affixes. An example from outside neoclassical word formation is German reich (‘rich’) in ertragreich (‘productive, profitable’). In English, -ful in successful is similar.

Affix or Process?
One of the central questions in morphology is whether affixation should be seen as a rule applying to two elements, a base and an affix, or as a process applying to a base. Charles Hockett (1954) calls the first position Item & Arrangement, and the second Item & Process. Although all morphological processes can be described in either framework, some descriptions are more natural than others.

In a strict Item & Arrangement position, such as defended by Rochelle Lieber (1992), stems and affixes have separate entries in the mental lexicon. The suffix -ness is described as a noun that requires an adjective to its left. Given an appropriate concept of headedness (cf. below), this explains why fondness is a noun. The Item & Arrangement approach works particularly well as long as the form of the resulting word is the concatenation of the forms of the stem and the affix, as in fondness. Special provisions have to be made for cases where phonological processes interact with the concatenation, as in (6–8).

(6)
a. active  activity
b. intend  intention

(7)
a. a house to house asylum seekers
b. to read a good read

(8)
a. live  life
b. extend  extent

In (6), suffixation triggers a phonological change of the base, stress shift in (6a), and a change of the final consonant in (6b). In an Item & Arrangement account, one might say that these phonological changes are triggered by the affix. In (7), there is no affix, but the relationship between the nouns and verbs is very similar to what we find in cases of genuine affixation such as encase and entertainment. In an Item & Arrangement account, one might either say that (7) is not affixation but something else (e.g. conversion), or that (7) involves zero affixes, i.e. affixes that do not have a phonological realization. The examples in (8) show that phonological changes can occur without an affix. This can be interpreted as phonological rules triggered by a zero affix or by conversion. The general approach in Item & Arrangement is that concatenation of base and affix is taken as central. Cases such as (6–8) are treated as exceptions to be fitted in.

In an Item & Process approach, as argued for by Stephen Anderson (1992), the process of affixation takes priority over the affix. In (7), the word formation process changes the syntactic properties of the input without affecting its form. In (8), the process modifies the form of the input by changing the quality of the final consonant and, in (8a), of the vowel. In (6), the process affects the form of the input by changing the stress position or the voicedness of the final consonant and appending some further phonological material, the suffix. Affixation of the type illustrated by fondness, the prototypical case in Item & Arrangement, is a special case in Item & Process where there is a perfect match between the input and a part of the output of the affixation process.

It is difficult to find conclusive arguments for either Item & Arrangement or Item & Process approaches to affixation. Proponents of Item & Arrangement usually claim that their approach is theoretically more restrictive than Item & Process. Proponents of Item & Process typically argue that processes such as infixation, reduplication, vowel change, consonant change, and conversion are too frequent, especially in non-European languages, to treat them as exceptional compared to ‘pure’ affixation. Linguistic data alone cannot determine as to which of the two approaches is correct, because every Item & Arrangement account can be reformulated into Item & Process and vice versa.

Headedness
The concept of head of a word only makes sense in an Item & Arrangement-based account of morphology. The head determines the syntactic category of the resulting word as well as other properties such as gender in languages that distinguish them. Thus, fondness is a noun because -ness is the head, and French activité (‘activity’) is a feminine noun because -ité is the head.

Different methods have been proposed to determine the head. Anna Maria Di Sciullo and Edwin Williams (1987) propose that the head is always the rightmost element. This concurs with the observation that suffixes often change the syntactic category of their base, but prefixes, as in (1b), usually do not. Exceptions include cases such as enrich and debug, where the prefixes make verbs out of an adjective and a noun. An alternative proposed by Lieber (1990) is that the last affix to attach is the head. This generalization makes re- the head in (1b) and accounts correctly for enrich and debug, but has problems with prefixes such as counter- in (9).

(9)
a. intuitive  counterintuitive
b. example  counterexample
c. sign  countersign

In (9), counter- is the only (hence last) affix attached, but the syntactic category depends on the word it attaches to. The Spanish diminutive, illustrated in (10), is problematic for both.

(10)
a. el pintor .‘the painter’
el pintorsito ‘ the little painter’
b. la cancyón ‘ the song’
la cancyonsita  ‘the little song’

The final -o and -a in (10) are not a part of the affix, but so-called word markers, whose form is determined in this case by the grammatical gender of the word (-o for masculine, -a for feminine). Although the suffix -sit is the rightmost element and the only affix, it is the base that determines the gender as indicated by the article. In an Item & Process approach, there is no need for a head, because its function is subsumed in the affixation process.

 

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Acquisition Theories

The goal of acquisition theories is to explain how it is that any normal child, born into any linguistic community, learns the language (or languages) of that community. For many theorists, the challenge is also to explain what appears to be the relatively short time period in which acquisition is achieved, the fact that it appears to be done without either overt teaching or sufficient information from the input (what the child hears [or sees, in the case of sign language]), and to follow a path that seems remarkably similar in all children, despite variation in early childhood experiences and in the types of languages they are exposed to. There is also a consensus that language acquisition is largely independent of cognitive development, despite the fact that some deficits in cognitive development can have an effect on certain aspects of language development. Whether the language is a spoken language or a sign language, whether the language is highly inflected like Finnish or uninflected like Mandarin, whether the child is raised in poverty or luxury, by highly educated or illiterate adults, or even other children, it seems that normally developing children pass through roughly the same stages in the same sequence, and achieve the steady state of acquired language by about the same age.

We know from unfortunate natural experiments in which children are raised in isolation (or near isolation) from language-using older members of our species (i.e. they are severely neglected, or are raised by other animals) that language does not emerge without at least some linguistic exposure—input—during the first few years of life. This strongly suggests that there is a critical or sensitive period during which the mechanism or mechanisms responsible for language development is/are primed to receive input. However, the resilience of language development to quite wide variations in input within any given language community, as well as the similarities among children learning quite different languages, suggest that these mechanisms, whatever they are, must either be quite tolerant of such variation, or be primed in such a way that the crucial input for language acquisition is always made available.

There are important roles for both ‘experience dependent’ (nurture) and ‘experience-expectant’ (nature) learning in language development, and theories are distinguishable in terms of the relative contributions they see for these two types. On the one hand, there are those researchers who see a large didactic role for input (experience-dependent learning), and on the other, there are those who see a much smaller role for input and a much larger role for genetic predispositions that are triggered by linguistic experience (experience expectant learning). Theories are also distinguishable in terms of whether they are trying to explain how language emerges on a day-by-day basis in any given child or whether they are trying to explain how what is perceived as a gulf between experience as a child and adult knowledge of language could be bridged in principle. The latter are engaged in trying to solve the ‘logical problem of language acquisition’.

Another dimension of difference between theories concerns the nature of the experience-expectant (innate) aspects of language acquisition. There are those researchers, most notably the generative linguists in a broadly Chomskyan paradigm, who argue for a dedicated language acquisition device (LAD), that has evolved to serve the precise purpose of language acquisition. This device is primed specifically to receive linguistic input, and requires a minimal amount of it to set to work building mental representations for language in the mind of the child. The fact that the required triggering input is so minimal provides an explanation for the consistency of language acquisition paths across otherwise fairly widely varying life experiences.

The most elaborated version of the LAD account – the Principles and Parameters approach—suggests that children are born with a Universal Grammar (UG), which means they are (unconsciously) anticipating those features that are common to all languages (the principles), as well as limited options for those things that differ among languages (the parameters). Upon exposure to actual input from a given language, children are able to ‘decide’ which sort of language they have encountered. So, for example, some languages have basic subject–verb–object organization in which complements are attached to the right of the heads of phrases (thus objects follow verbs, relative clauses follow noun heads, and noun phrases follow prepositions), while other languages are subject–object–verb where the reverse order of complements is found. A child exposed to a language of the first type need only process a simple structure (say one with a verb followed by an object) and it will trigger the expectation that all the other head-complement structures will be in the same order. When all the open parameters have been set, the child possesses the ‘core’ grammar of the specific language he or she is exposed to. At the same time, however, the child has also been acquiring those aspects of the language that are not anticipated by UG, using experience- dependent learning. These aspects are often together referred to as ‘peripheral’ grammar. Some researchers in this paradigm have assumed that all principles and parameters are operational or sensitive to the input from the beginning of life. Others have suggested that some may at least emerge with maturation.

In the course of acquisition, generalization (and overgeneralization) allows new knowledge to permeate across-the-board, and ‘bootstrapping’ allows learning in one area of language to trigger new learning in another. Semantic bootstrapping involves understanding an utterance in context and using it in conjunction with innate expectations of language principles to crack the code of the syntax. (For example, a child who does not yet know the required complements of the verb ‘put’, can work these out from understanding utterances such as ‘Put the cup on the table’ in context.) Syntactic bootstrapping involves working from an already understood structure to fill in meanings, semantic information, by deduction. (For example, if you hear ‘John glopped his friend on the head and he fell down’, you may not know exactly what ‘glopped’ means, but you can work out a lot of what it must mean.)

The Principles and Parameters (P&P) model has been a highly influential linguistic approach in language acquisition research, even while researchers in psychology and anthropology have been pursuing significantly different lines of investigation. In linguistics, the P&P model lies at the intersection of generative (specifically Chomksyan) linguistic theorizing about the nature of adult mental representations for language and accounts of how children acquire language. It has evolved as an account of how language could actually develop across time, even while its roots are in the ‘logical problem of language acquisition’ because it assumes that what cannot be learned from the input must be genetically prespecified. It advances various arguments in support of the thesis that the input is in fact incapable of providing sufficient information for language to be learned entirely through experience-dependent mechanisms, and thus that there is an essential problem of the ‘poverty of the stimulus’. The account is also strongly modular in the sense that it sees language as being acquired by a specially dedicated mechanism (the LAD), independent of other types of mental representations or mental functioning.

Despite its power within linguistics, accounts predicated on some version of the UG story actually attract only a minority of adherents within the broad field of child language research. Most researchers are convinced that language in its entirety can be worked out by the child on the basis of the input, coupled with innate (nonspecific) predispositions for analyzing their environment. As a result of their analysis, children possess the capacity to produce and comprehend language. They may also have stored mental representations for how language works, but, unlike the P&P account, most of the accounts that rely on processing of the input as the way in which acquisition occurs also regard the endpoint as processes for production and comprehension, without independent mental representations.

Ann Peters and Dan Slobin, for example, have argued that children possess strategies, operating principles, for carving up the speech stream into repeating bits, storing those bits, recognizing the commonalities across them, and thereby building up a performance grammar for comprehension and production called Basic Child Grammar, which subsequently becomes elaborated into an adult grammar.

Another of the processing theories of language acquisition is Elizabeth Bates’ and Brian Mac Whinney’s Competition Model. Unlike the operating principles approach, this does not argue for a steady state in the form of a grammar at the end of acquisition, but rather for a permanently dynamic response to input throughout life. The impression that language has been definitively learned comes simply from the fact that new input changes the child’s system very little if a child remains in the same speech community (although it will usually change with exposure to a new dialect or to a new language). Acquisition takes place as children respond to the distribution of various cues to meaning (word order, inflectional information, intonation and stress, etc.) and respond probabilistically to conflict among them. Since each child processes the input independently, individual differences between children are expected, and advocates of this approach argue that the differences found among children support the model. As they learn more of their language, they pay attention to more and more of the cues and let the stronger ones win out over the weaker ones for their language. So, at an early stage, a child learning English may assume that nouns at the beginning of sentences are agents, but when they begin to pay attention to passive morphology, they will have to adjust their assumptions accordingly. As should be clear from this example, the ability to derive meanings for language from context, in advance of actually understanding how language is structured is crucial (as it is in semantic bootstrapping). Active application of this and other distributional models, aimed at demonstrating that the input is sufficient to account for language acquisition, is seen in the computer-modeled connectionist networks. Attracted by the architectural similarity between computer networks and neurons, these researchers argue that experience with language teaches the network so effectively and so quickly that it gives the impression of prior knowledge.

As already indicated, children frequently seem to rely on pragmatic expectations of what language ought to mean in a given situation as a basis for learning how it is structured. Some theories of language acquisition place an even greater emphasis on the role of the sociopragmatic environment. Jerome Bruner, for example, argues that the behavior of a child’s caretaker provides all the cues that the inherently social child needs to acquire language. The way in which language is used in the here and now, in conjunction with actions that match what is being said, ‘scaffolds’ the child’s understanding of the language. Others see difficulties with this approach, not only because not all successful language learners receive the kind of careful scaffolding it seems to require but also because the parental complexity of language seems to follow rather than lead increasing complexity in the child’s language. In these and other ways, the account seems too simple to account for the complexity of the task. A similar approach was advocated by Jean Piaget, who saw language development as the logical extension not of social behavior, but of cognitive development. In Piaget’s initial proposal, embedding of sentences was seen as analogous to nesting boxes, and the former dependent on the latter. Although most of his specific predictions have not been supported by subsequent research, it is clear that at least certain aspects of language are intimately related to cognitive development, although the direction of influence is not clear. One area of current research concerns the emergence of the capacity to make informed guesses about what other people know (‘theory of mind’), and its relationship to language development. There is considerable discussion about whether the capacity to embed clauses under main verbs such as ‘thinks’ and ‘know’ drives or is driven by the capacity to understand that others may not share the same assumptions as oneself.

Finally, it is worth noting that significant debate surrounds the issue of whether, when an individual learns a second language, they go about it in the same way as a first language learner, or whether it is a fundamentally different process. Evidence suggests that there is some kind of critical period for second language development, as children seem to be able to do it so much better than adolescents and adults. However, it is not yet known when bilingual first language development should be seen as having given way to second language development. Nor is it clear that adults, when given the kind of input and motivation of children, are always incapable of the same level of success. It is also unclear whether second language learners are able to reaccess the learning capacities they had as children learning their first language, or whether these are permanently overridden and made unavailable by the presence of the first language.

 

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Acquisition

Language acquisition is the study of the development of a person’s language. It generally refers to the way people learn their native, first, second, or other languages. More specifically, it may refer to the time a language feature has been acquired. This may vary from the first emergence or onset of a language item to the time of its accurate use. As a field of study, it is the subject of linguistics, psychology, and applied linguistics. Its object is to study (1) how languages are learned, (2) what are the developmental stages in this process, and (3) what is the nature of language. To find answers to these questions, researchers apply longitudinal and cross-sectional methods. In the first of these, they study specific developments in the language of individuals or groups over a period of time. In the second, they research a particular feature in the language of a group at a given point in time.

First Language Acquisition
First language acquisition is the child’s learning of his or her first or native language. Traditionally, and especially in monolingual societies, ‘first’ and ‘native’ language were used synonymously. With the expansion of cross-cultural communication, the two terms become more distinct. For example, children may acquire some knowledge of another language from a nurse or a relative before they acquire their native language, e.g. the language of the country they live in. Thus, a Chinese child born in the United States may first learn Chinese from her parents, and learn English later from English-speaking children and adults. To avoid the confusion arising from the use of ‘first’ and ‘native’, another term, ‘primary’, is sometimes used to indicate a child’s first language chronologically.

First Language Acquisition
First language acquisition is the child’s learning of his or her first or native language. Traditionally, and especially in monolingual societies, ‘first’ and ‘native’ language were used synonymously. With the expansion of cross-cultural communication, the two terms become more distinct. For example, children may acquire some knowledge of another language from a nurse or a relative before they acquire their native language, e.g. the language of the country they live in. Thus, a Chinese child born in the United States may first learn Chinese from her parents, and learn English later from English-speaking children and adults. To avoid the confusion arising from the use of ‘first’ and ‘native’, another term, ‘primary’, is sometimes used to indicate a child’s first language chronologically.

While early work on children’s language acquisition focused on the development of children’s ability to produce novel sentences, more recently, researchers have emphasized children’s acquisition of word meanings and their linguistic and cognitive development, their acquisition of the phonology of their native language, and their language development in relation to their interaction with parents and peers. Some researchers also see a parallel between the stages of children’s language development regardless of the specific language they are learning.

First Language Acquisition and Cognitive
Development
A child’s language development is closely related to his or her cognitive development. Here, the ability to identify and form categories and concepts is of crucial importance. ‘Categorization’ involves the treatment of distinct linguistic phenomena, such as ‘worked’, ‘studied’, ‘saw’, and ‘went’, as if they were part of the same phenomenon, or the same grammatical category, i.e. past tense. Young children do not have fully developed abilities in categorization. Many childhood first language errors, for example, ‘*I eated it’, point to the gaps in their ability to form categories. Furthermore, even seemingly correct utterances do not imply that the child has achieved an adult stage in the mastery of the corresponding language category.

Closely related to the ability to categorize is the ability to differentiate a category, for example, tense, from the mental structure, which it represents, in this case, time. These mental structures are known as ‘concepts’. To learn a language, a child must acquire the concepts that underlie linguistic structures. It is not possible to master grammatical categories, such as tense, in any language without mastering concepts such as time, space, modality, causality, and number. Young children’s errors in tense indicate that they do not grasp the concept of time.

First Language Acquisition and Social Development
Children’s social adjustment is as important as their cognitive growth to their language development. As they acquire various language categories and the concepts they represent, children also learn about the cultural, moral, religious, and other conventions of the society they live in. They learn how to express their thoughts, feelings, and wishes in a socially acceptable manner. For example, children learn that it is not always advisable to speak their minds. As they come to realize that words can serve to make friends as well as enemies, they learn that it is not always possible to tell the truth. In this way, while acquiring their first language, children also develop a social identity. How-ever, their progress is slow and not devoid of some rather amusing or even embarrassing errors. Children learning their first language, therefore, have a long way to go, even after they have acquired the basic concepts and their corresponding language categories. By comparison, adult foreign language learners, who are knowledgeable about the sociocultural aspects of their native language, are a step ahead of child learners, even though they may also be prone to similar social blunders because of sociocultural differences.

First Language Acquisition and the Critical Period
The ‘critical period hypothesis’ claims that there is a period in child development during which language can be acquired with native-like proficiency. Some, like the biologist Lenneberg, believe that this period lasts until puberty, after which the brain loses some of its ability to adapt due to its laterization, i.e. the establishment of specific language functions in particular parts of the brain. After that, the decreased plasticity of the brain makes the acquisition of another language a psychologically different and more difficult process. While there is compelling evidence that supports those claims, there are also important facts that undermine their veracity. First, the strictly biological evidence is by no means conclusive. Second, other factors, such as lack of motivation, may explain nonnative pronunciation.

First Language Acquisition and Bilingualism
Cognitive and social development, as well as the language acquisition device and the critical period affect the language development of the bilingual as well as the monolingual child. Bilingual first language acquisition is defined as the parallel acquisition of two languages, which is, supposedly, an evenly paced process. However, such a perfect balance can rarely be achieved. Commonly, the child would use one language in one environment, and another in a different setting. Thus, inevitably, one language gains dominance over the other. This dominance may extend to some or all areas of communication. As a result, the child’s other language may become secondary in both development and use. Furthermore, there may be some interference from the dominant language that causes errors in the child’s secondary language. However, there is no evidence that this results in massive confusion in one or both languages. Furthermore, there is no evidence that bilingual children differ from other children in their cognitive, social, or language development.

Second Language Acquisition
Second language acquisition (SLA) is defined as the process of becoming competent or proficient in a second or foreign language, from the first use of a language item to its advanced applications at a later stage. As a field of research, SLA is a fairly new interdisciplinary subject with most of its empirical research done since the 1960s. It is largely based on theories and research methods developed in the fields of education, psychology, linguistics, anthropology, foreign languages, English as a second language, and linguistics. In the United States, researchers study the way nonnative speakers acquire English phonology, syntax, and pragmatics. The purpose of SLA studies is to describe and explain the way second languages are learned in terms of both linguistic and communicative competence. To do this, researchers study learners’ performance and their intuitions about correct and incorrect use of language. The object of second language acquisition is to find more effective ways of teaching and learning foreign languages, and assumes that such research can affect the way foreign languages are learned.

The Meaning of ‘Second Language’ in Second
Language Acquisition
There are different interpretations and uses of both ‘second’ and ‘acquisition’ in SLA. ‘Second’ may be used to distinguish it from ‘foreign’ or ‘third’ language acquisition. Traditionally, the terms ‘second’ and ‘foreign’ have been used alternatively to refer to any language other than the first. More recently, with the emergence of English as a global language and the establishment of Teachers of English to Speakers of other Languages (TESOL) as a worldwide professional organization, a distinction is made between the two. ‘Second’ language acquisition refers to the study of English by foreigners in countries where English is the native or the official language, whereas ‘foreign’ language acquisition refers to the study of English everywhere else. Furthermore, this distinction extends to differences in what is learned and how it is learned. Learners of English as a foreign language (EFL) prefer standard varieties of English, whereas learners of English as a second language (ESL) try to blend with their sociolinguistic environment. All of these differences are reflected in the goals and methods of EFL and ESL. A further distinction is made between ‘second’ and ‘third’ language acquisition, which marks the learner’s relative proficiency rather than the order in which he or she acquired these languages. Sometimes, the term ‘alternative’ is used to refer to any nonnative language.

The Meaning of ‘Acquisition’ in Second Language
Acquisition
Acquisition is often used to refer to different aspects of the process and results of learning a second language. While trying to find out about the process, i.e. how second languages are learned, researchers often compare different learning experiences that lead to SLA, such as learning a language through organized instruction or in an immersion situation. From a sociolinguistic perspective, acquisition through organized instruction occurs in classrooms with the help of teachers and instructional materials. Acquisition through immersion occurs in social situations using contextual clues. Yet another distinction is made from the psycholinguistic perspective. Klein identifies ‘spontaneous’ and ‘guided’ acquisition. The first focuses on everyday communication, whereas the second targets the mastery of the language system. Similarly, from a psychological point of view, Krashen distinguishes between ‘acquisition’ and ‘learning’. In his analysis of the process of mastering a second language, he reserves ‘acquisition’ for the subconscious process of learning a language by being exposed to it. ‘Learning’, according to him, is the conscious process of mastering a language by studying it. Ellis finds this distinction problematic and considers its demonstration difficult. Furthermore, he states that researchers disagree about what kinds of performance constitute evidence of ‘acquisition’. For some, such evidence can be found in the ways learners speak and write. For others, it is the learner’s intuitions about the second language that matter. Yet another group of scholars seek evidence of acquisition by assessing the learner’s introspections.

Other researchers analyze what it means to know a second language. From a linguistic perspective, Chomsky focuses on the results of SLA, which he defines as ‘competence’ and ‘performance’. According to him, ‘competence’ in a second language is the mastery of the internalized grammar that the ideal speaker or hearer, not a real one, has of the whole language. Such mastery enables him/her to produce grammatically correct sentences as well as recognize existing and nonexisting sentences. For example, knowing the rule, which makes ‘I speak English’ possible, a person can produce ‘I speak French’ even though he or she may not have seen this before. Furthermore, he or she would know that the form ‘*I speaking English’ is nonexistent. ‘Performance’ in Chomsky’s Generative Transformational Grammar, on the other hand, refers to a person’s actual use of a language in the understanding and production of sentences. Unlike communicative competence, which is internal and invisible, performance is external and observable. Furthermore, performance does not mirror competence, since people may know how to produce a sentence but may err when they try to do so. Thus, performance can also be defined as the grammar that a person uses to understand and produce language, which is both correct and appropriate. Performance could be used to investigate competence through the analyses of samples of spoken or written discourse. Within performance, Widdowson distinguishes ‘usage’, which refers to the learner’s ability to apply grammar rules accurately in the production of grammatically correct sentences. ‘Use’, on the other hand, signifies their ability to apply linguistic and sociolinguistic knowledge appropriately and communicate effectively in diverse contexts.

Second Language Acquisition Research
A large part of SLA research is learner based. It describes and analyzes the nature of learner language and learner differences, learning processes, and pedagogical input and output. It does so to provide answers to important second language research questions, which may offer effective solutions to crucial second language classroom problems.

Learner Language in Second Language Acquisition Research
Researchers study learner language by examining samples of oral and written texts. Their goal is to identify errors, establish developmental patterns and sequences, trace variability, and explore use. Errors were first believed to be the result of native language ‘transfer’ or ‘interference’. This view was promoted by numerous contrastive analyses conducted from the 1940s to the 1960s. Such studies compared two languages to find out what similarities and differences existed between the two. Lado thought that similar elements would be easy to learn, while dissimilar ones would be difficult to master. The belief that linguistic difference could be a predictor of difficulty gave rise to the ‘contrastive analysis hypothesis’. That and the behaviorist approach to learning, which claimed that learning is a process of habit formation, led to the belief that SLA should be a process of overcoming habits from the native language and consolidating correct habits in the target language.

In 1967, Pitt Corder proposed a new definition of errors. He thought they were systematic deviations from the norm, which reflect the learner’s current stage of second language development. Errors, he claimed, are different from mistakes, which can easily be self-corrected. ‘Error analysis’ treated errors as a sign of the learner’s hypothesis testing, which would ultimately lead to the formation of the correct form and its underlying rule. Thus, errors were seen as part of the learner’s language at every stage of its development. To emphasize its unique features, Corder referred to learner language as ‘idiosyncratic dialect’. Nemser called it an ‘approximative system’ and Selinker coined the term ‘interlanguage’. Thus, the notion of learner language evolved from a faulty, deviant product of the target language to a continuous, approximative progress towards its mastery. Both contrastive and error analysis were criticized for their exclusive reliance on the analysis of a linguistic product, i.e. errors, to yield insights into a psycholinguistic process, i.e. second language acquisition.
Another feature of learner language is its passage through a sequence of developmental stages, which are universal. Thus, many of the initial utterances that learners produce may be simple formulae, for example, ‘What’s this’. These are followed by structures of greater morphological and syntactic complexity, for example, ‘I wonder what this might be’. The existence of developmental stages in SLA, which are similar to those in first language acquisition, along with some variations in the specific order in which particular features occur, have renewed interest in grammar instruction. In its systematic development, learner language also exhibits certain variability. For example, learners may use the third person singular ‘s’ correctly sometimes and omit it at other times. In addition to lexical and syntactic variability, they often have problems on the pragmatic level, i.e. they may use language or act in a socially inappropriate manner.

Factors in Second Language Acquisition
SLA is also influenced by the environment in which it occurs. Social factors, language input, and interaction affect the way learners acquire a second language. Ellis contends that social factors shape learners’ attitudes, which, in turn, may affect motivation and learning outcomes. Social factors include natural and educational settings. For example, natural settings, where English is the native or the official language, offer opportunities different from educational settings, such as the foreign language classroom where the native language is the medium of instruction.

While social factors influence second language acquisition indirectly, input, output, and interaction seem to have a direct impact. ‘Input’ is the learner’s access and exposure to the second language, both written and oral. Exposure to the foreign language may engage learners in ‘interactions’ with native or nonnative speakers, or it may involve them in listening to tapes, films, radio, and TV programs. Researchers vary in their assessment of the importance of input and interaction. Behaviorist theories emphasize the importance of input. Chomsky, on the other hand, claims that there is no necessary correlation between language input and learner output. Krashen believes that learners acquire language in a natural order as a result of being exposed to ‘comprehensible input’ addressed to them. In contrast to Krashen, Swain proposes the ‘comprehensible output hypothesis’, which claims that comprehending input alone will not prepare students to produce language. According to him, it is correct production resulting from challenging practice in speaking and writing that facilitates acquisition. Both the comprehensible input and comprehensible output hypotheses have been criticized on the grounds that the processes of comprehensible input and output and the process of SLA are not the same.

General factors, such as social setting, input, output, and interaction, result in a variety of individual differences in SLA. Furthermore, individual factors, such as age, language aptitude, motivation, cognitive style, and learning strategies can have similar effects. These factors affect second language learning in ways that are mostly independent of the learner. For example, a learner can do nothing about his or her age, or language aptitude. Few learners may have the opportunity to switch from one educational setting to another given the appropriate guidance, however, some learners may be able to improve their motivation and learning strategies over time. For example, ‘extrinsic motivation’, which derives from external rewards, may evolve into ‘intrinsic motivation’, which derives from personal interests. Learner strategies, which contribute to the learner’s conscious efforts to learn, may also change. For example, learners may expand their ‘cognitive strategies’ by learning new concepts. They may also perfect their ‘metacognitive strategies’ by developing their study skills, or enhance their ‘social strategies’ by practicing their knowledge in authentic social settings.

 

Acoustic Phonetics

Acoustic phonetics is the study of the acoustic characteristics of speech. Speech consists of variations in air pressure that result from physical disturbances of air molecules caused by the flow of air out of the lungs.

This airflow makes the air molecules alternately crowd together and move apart (oscillate), creating increases and decreases, respectively, in air pressure. The resulting sound wave transmits these changes in pressure from speaker to hearer. Sound waves can be described in terms of physical properties such as cycle, period, frequency, and amplitude. These concepts are most easily illustrated when considering a simple wave corresponding to a pure tone. A cycle is a sequence of one increase and one decrease in air pressure. A period is
the amount of time (expressed in seconds or milliseconds) that one cycle takes. Frequency is the number of cycles in one second, expressed in hertz (Hz). An increase in frequency usually results in an increase in perceived pitch. Amplitude refers to the magnitude of vibrations, with larger vibrations resulting in greater peaks of pressure (greater amplitude), which usually result in an increase in perceived loudness.

Unlike pure tones, which rarely occur in the environment, speech sounds are complex waves with combinations of different frequencies and amplitudes. However, as first stated by the French mathematician Fourier (1768–1830), any complex wave can be described as a combination of simple waves. A complex wave has a regular rate of repetition, known as the fundamental frequency (F0). Changes in F0 give rise to differences in perceived pitch, whereas changes in the number of constituent simple waves and their amplitude relations result in perceived differences in timbre or quality.

Fourier’s theorem enables us to describe speech sounds in terms of the frequency and amplitude of each of its constituent simple waves. Such a description is known as the spectrum of a sound. A spectrum is visually displayed as a plot of frequency vs. amplitude,
with frequency represented from low to high along the horizontal axis and amplitude from low to high along the vertical axis.

The usual energy source for speech is the airstream generated by the lungs. This steady flow of air is converted into brief puffs of air by the vibrating vocal folds, two muscular folds housed in the larynx. The dominant way of conceptualizing the process of speech production is in terms of the source-filter theory, according to which the acoustic characteristics of speech can be understood as a result of a source component and a filter component. The source component is determined by the rate of vocal fold vibration, which in turn is affected by a number of factors, including the rate of airflow and the mass and stiffness of the vocal folds. The rate of vocal fold vibration directly determines the F0 of the waveform. The mean F0 for adult women is approximately 220 Hz, and approximately 130 Hz for adult men. In addition to their role as properties of individual speech sounds, F0 and amplitude also signal emphasis, stress, and intonation. For speech, the source component itself has a complex waveform, and its spectrum will typically show the highest energy at the lowest frequencies and a number of higher frequency components that systematically decrease in amplitude. This source component is subsequently modified by the vocal tract above the larynx, which acts as the filter. This filter enhances energy in certain frequency regions and suppresses
energy in others, resulting in a spectrum with peaks and valleys, respectively. The peaks in the spectrum (local energy maxima) are known as formant frequencies.

The lowest-frequency peak is known as the first formant, or F1, the next lowest is F2, and so on.
The vocal tract filter is determined by the size and shape of the vocal tract and is therefore directly affected by the position and movement of the articulators such as the tongue, jaw, and lips. Vowels are typically characterized in terms of the location of the first two formants, as illustrated in Figure 1 for the vowels of American English. For a given speaker, each vowel typically has a unique formant pattern. However, variation in vocal tract size among speakers often leads to a degree of formant overlap for different vowels.

Consonants can also be described in terms of their spectral properties. These sounds are produced with a complete or narrow constriction in the vocal tract, essentially creating a vocal tract with two sections:

one behind and the other in front of the constriction. The length of the section in front of the constriction is one of the primary determinants of the spectra of these sounds. The longer this section (i.e. the farther back the constriction), the lower the frequency at which a concentration of energy occurs. For example, consonants like k and g, which are produced at the back of the mouth, are typically characterized by a concentration of energy between approximately 1,500 and 2,500 Hz, whereas more anterior consonants like t and d typically have a concentration of energy above 3,000 Hz.

Similarly, the sibilants [ʃ,_] produced in the middle of the mouth have major energy around 2,500 to 3,500 Hz, whereas the more anterior ones [s, z] have major energy well above 4,000 to 5,000 Hz. However, in the case of consonants with a constriction toward the very
front of the vocal tract, the extremely short section in front of the constriction does not result in clearly defined spectra. As a result, bilabial [b, p] and labiodental [f, v] consonants are described as having diffuse spectra, without any clear concentration of energy.

From a linguistic point of view, a detailed description of speech sounds in terms of their frequency, in addition to amplitude and duration, can elucidate the factors that shape sound categories and determine phonological processes both within and across languages. In addition, acoustic phonetic analysis may serve to quantify atypical speech patterns produced by nonnative speakers or speakers with specific speech disorders.

 

Study of Morphology