Thursday, April 18, 2013

First language acquisition

The research problems here are massive: you've got to deal with small children as your informants. I can't think of too many areas of research where the child—some just a few months old—have exclusive hold on the answers.

As part of the first language acquisition class I'm finishing up, I did a bit of research involving 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children. There is something very intimidating about realizing that as an adult, you cannot answer the questions. You can ask. You can interpret the responses. But you can't answer. Your subjects may not want to answer, and they're all you've got.

The other wildly difficult thing about first language acquisition research is that a lot of the principles involved are highly intuitive. For example: when applying names to objects, children assume that things have only one name. Researchers call it the Mutual Exclusion principle. Obvious, but you have to put some scientific rigor to it if you're going to use it in your work.

Anyway, what I want to impart is that this area of linguistics is both specialized and accessible for ordinary people.

Here's my final paper for the curious.