the many puzzles that language presents to the developmental psychologist,
the most fascinating is the relative ease with which a toddler picks up
Although infants know nothing of the rules of grammar and have only a
understanding of the physical and social world, they are able to master
structures of language by the age of three. The ease with which children
language contrasts with the more painful and incomplete process of learning
approach to this problem views language acquisition as an emergent process.
the traditional opposition betwee nativism and empiricism, I believe that
better understand language learning as a process grounded on competitive
that operate across a variety of time scales, including a phylogenetic
scale, and a synchronic processing scale.
the synchronic time scale of online language processing, I view utterances
cues that adjudicate the competition between alternative interpretations.
in 1978, Elizabeth Bates and I worked with over 20 colleagues studying
in 18 different languages to elaborate what we call the Competition Model.
Competition Model views language processing as a series of competitions
items, phonological forms, and syntactic patterns. Competition Model studies
that learning of language forms is based on the accurate recording of many
to words and patterns in different contexts. If a pattern is reliably present
adult input, the child picks it up quickly. Rare and unreliable patterns
are learned late
are relatively weaker even in adults.
recently, I have attempted to relate the communicative functions postulated
Model to the process of perspective-taking. This process allows the human
to construct an ongoing cognitive simulation based on linguistic abstractions
on perceptual realities. The perspective-taking approach views the forms
as emerging from repeated acts of perspective-taking and perspective-switching.
devices such as pronouns, case, voice, and attachment can all be seen as
of expressing shifts in a basically ego-centered perspective. One major
goal in this
line of research is to better understand the brain mechanisms underlying
the ontogenetic time scale, we can examine language emergence in at least
methodology uses neural network models to simulate the acquisition of detailed
structures. Beginning in 1989, I have worked on building conectionist models
the acquisition of morphology, syntax, and lexicon in English, German,
recently, I have examined the ontogenetic emergence of language from a
viewpoint, using data on language processing from child with early focal
results of studies of these children using reaction-time methodologies
tests indicate that, although they have completely normal functional use
language, detailed aspects of processing are slower in some cases. Using
resonance imaging technology, we have pinpointing areas of activation involved
specific linguistic tasks. These results have allowed us to evaluate a
regarding sensitive periods for the emergence of language in the brain.
of language learning need to account not only for the acquisition of a
by children, but also for the learning of second languages. The connectionist
on second language learning emphasizes the role of transfer and interference.
studies in the Competition Model framework have supported these predictions.
still need to construct a clearer view of the ways in which declines in
to a loss in language learning ability over time. However, for adults who
are able to
underlying compensatory processes such as the phonological loop and
supports, language learning is still possible in adulthood.
on the phylogenetic time scale, researchers have begun to examine the ways
language has emerged through competitive Darwinian processes. My work on
competition, and brain mechanisms suggests that the most likely
of the origin of language is one grounded on social mechanisms. In this
elaboration of an emergent account of perspective-taking suggests a Vygotskyan
to language evolution.