Thursday, December 28, 2006

Language Acquisition - Part 2: The Influence Of Physiological Formation

How closely related are the physiological and biological formation of a being with the language being used? Does instinct directly or indirectly influence the language that being formulates? This is a question worth investigation, but my personal conviction is YES, physiology and instinct do influence the language. I will try to investigate my position in this part as well as part 3.

Assume that you raise some pet at home. Say, a cat. Isn't it curious that a home-raised cat meows?! How does a cat grown at home know that it is supposed to meow?! What is even more interesting is that a home grown cat can make mating calls that other cats can respond to. To explain this phenomenon, I guess that the physiology of the cat's throat is adapted to the simplest forms of "cat language". I am not sure if cats can develop more advanced forms of "cat language", but even at that simple level it is interesting.

An interesting hypothesis that I have once read about is the "Critical Period Hypothesis" (read more). This hypothesis suggests the existence of biological constraints on the language acquisition in humans. The hypothesis states that language acquisition would be at its best before the age of 12. It is suggested that language acquisition is a function of the left-hemisphere of the brain whose functions decline after the age of 12.

In the study of the critical period hypothesis, feral babies (babies raised in the wild) are taken as examples. Unlike what Hollywood would like us to believe in films like Tarzan, it is believed that feral babies have NOT developed any kind of "animal language" [anyone who has knowledge of a contradicting story, please inform us]. This is an interesting finding, as it gives a direct hint that humans are NOT adapt to develop non-human lingual abilities, even when they have lived among animals a large period of their life.

As an additional note, the feral babies that have been found before the age of 12 have been able to develop human language, while those found beyond the age of 12 had failed to properly acquire human language (which is in accordance to the critical period hypothesis).

In this series:
Language Acquisition - Part 1: General Discussion
Language Acquisition - Part 2: The Influence Of Physiological Formation
Language Acquisition - Part 3: Deep Structure Hypothesis
Language Acquisition - Part 4: Ambiguities
Language Acquisition - Part 5: The Problem Of Representation
Language Acquisition - Part 6: Linguistic Determinism Hypothesis
Language Acquisition - Part 7: Possible Applications For The Investigation


Tala said...


Tala said...

physiology and instinct has to do with basics of animal language but not its development i guess.

I raised plenty of cats, there is quite a difference between their meows, i learned some of them, sometimes i blabble them and i see the cat looking at me, i laugh i say maybe i told her something frightening or something. hehehe
i noticed that mom cats call their kitens praaaw , and she calles them like praw nao nao nao nao, growing narrower in pitch sound.
one cat used to use mia mia, short high frequency.. another, niah naih naih.. when a mom cat loses a kiten, she looks for it, she uses patterns of sound, ya3ni if i hear them i know what she wants.

its easier with dogs, coz there is no variety in their barking,
but its like, i have my language and i dont understand theirs, but we get our messages across. like when they want to eat, when they want to walk, when they want me to keep o brushing their hair, they knw their names, and they know ours. sometimes i swear that the cat called me with my name, when im at my desk, and he is 2 rooms away, he made something like mia miaa, sounded like tala, and when he jumped up the desk, he was like,, found you.

but its like when a home cat sees a street cat, the homecat like seeking the acceptance of the street cat and following up with what the street cat does. its like i can understand you .. teach me. and it loses interest in home and start wanting to go out more frequent. thats why with this cat that i have now, i let it out, sometimes i allow it to be beaten to learn to distinguish between home and street and alley cats.

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Devil's Mind said...

sometimes i swear that the cat called me with my name, when im at my desk, and he is 2 rooms away, he made something like mia miaa, sounded like tala, and when he jumped up the desk, he was like,, found you. - An interesting story of a cat recognizing human patterns when calling one another!! One has to wonder, does the cat understand the concept of names?! I'm not sure its an easy question to answer :S

Tala said...

yeah sure they understand the concept of names. i guess =)

Aisha said...

Salam bro,

I found this very interesting! Thanks for all the useful links!!

I have my own input on the Tarzan thinggy :

I'd love to know what your opinion is!