Answers to Comprehension Questions:
"Language Acquisition in Humans"

© 1998-2003--Loretta F. Kasper, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved

  1. The sounds of a baby's native language first emerge during the second stage of language acquisition.

  2. The term "critical period" refers to the time when the baby must be exposed to language in order to learn it normally. The critical period is defined as occurring between the ages of 4 and 12 years. At the end of the critical period, the brain loses plasticity necessary for normal language acquisition.

  3. Chomsky's theory of language acquisition says that the ability to learn and use language is inborn. Human beings are set up to learn language. Chomsky's theory is supported by studies of child language that show that children produce utterances in the correct word order for their native language without being taught what that order is.

  4. B.F. Skinner believes that the ability to use language is learned not inborn. Children must be exposed to and taught to use language, or they will not acquire it. Skinner's theory is supported by cases such as Genie's.

  5. The analogy of the light switch explains language acquisition as a combination of inborn and learned behaviors and abilities. The ability, or circuitry, to learn and use language is built into the brain, just as the wiring that enables a room to be lit is built into the wall. However, unless the child is exposed to and taught language, that is the light switch is turned on, the child will not be able to produce language.

  6. The idea of a "bilingual brain" relates to the theory of brain plasticity and lateralization in the following ways: The brains of early bilinguals are plastic and able to learn new language patterns easily. Early bilinguals are often able to switch easily between the two language systems. However, the brains of later bilinguals have already lost plasticity, making the process of second language learning less natural and more difficult.

  7. We may explain the difficulty many people have in learning a second language through a loss of brain plasticity and right hemisphere processing of the second language.

  8. SUMMARY OF SECTION ON "GENIE": Genie was locked in a small closet-like room from the age of 18 months until she was found at the age of 13 years. Genie was just learning language when she was locked up. Even after she was found and sent to school, Genie was unable to learn acquire normal language skills. Her case gives support to the critical period theory. Because Genie was not exposed to language during the critical period, her brain lost its ability to learn normal language. Genie was not only deprived of language; she was also deprived of contact with other people. This probably also kept her from learning normal language.
    Page last updated on March 20, 2003