Research on language acquisition has long sought to increase our understanding of how infants’ linguistic experiences shape language development. A stunning majority of studies on early language acquisition are based on the Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) children who are easily studied given the location of most research labs. The developmental conditions these children experience are far from being representative of the most common contemporary situation of humans, since a statistical majority of humans today are not rich and/or living in industrial societies; nor are they representative of the situation that humankind has experienced for most of its biological history, which is probably better captured by that of current-day hunter-gatherers. In this seminar cycle, we invite experts working on different aspects of language development to present an overview of ongoing non-WEIRD research.

This cycle is financed with the support of the Labex-IEC, within the program New Ideas (in Linguistics)

Speakers and (preliminary) titles

All talks will be held at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, 29, rue d'Ulm, 75005, Paris.
Attendance is free but places are limited. Recordings will be made available shortly after the talks, and linked through this site.

Tuesday February 28 11:30-13 - Salle Djebar

    Marisa Casillas (Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics)

    Early language experience and communicative development in two rural indigenous communities

Our theories about the mechanisms that drive language acquisition are based in part on what we assume children’s linguistic “input” is. Decades of very careful work on (primarily) Western children’s linguistic environments has directed much attention toward behaviors like toy play, book reading, and infant-directed speech. However, in many parts of the world, language acquisition proceeds normally without these features, pushing us to discover the deeper mechanisms that underlie these behaviors and, even more, how those mechanisms adapt to the learning environment in which a child finds him or herself. I report here on a handful of preliminary findings and data sketches from an ongoing comparative study of communicative development in two communities: (a) a rural Tzeltal Mayan village in Mexico and (b) on Rossel Island, a remote island in Papua New Guinea. While these two communities are similar in many ways (small-scale language community, subsistence farming, multi-generation households, few books, etc.), they differ greatly in the way adults talk to young children. I capitalize on this difference to try and understand how early language experience changes the way children engage with their linguistic environments during the process of acquiring a language. I will present findings from both naturalistic data collection and experiments and will be very happy to hear suggestions for this ongoing project!

Tuesday March 14 11:30-13 - Salle Djebar

    Amanda Seidl (Purdue University)

    The role of touch in infant language acquisition: Comparison of mothers interacting with American hearing, American deaf and Korean hearing infants

Friday April 7, 2017 16:00-17:30 - Salle Djebar

    Ben Ambridge (University of Liverpool)

    Crosslinguistic acquisition of verb argument structure

How children acquire their native language remains one of the key unsolved problems in cognitive science. This work addresses a question that lies at the heart of this problem: How do children acquire the abstract generalizations that allow them to produce novel sentences, while avoiding the ungrammatical utterances that result from across-the-board application of these generalizations (e.g., *The clown laughed the man)? Previous theories (the entrenchment, preemption and verb semantics hypotheses) have enjoyed some success for English, but remain largely untested for other languages. In this talk, I present an outline of — and hopefully some preliminary findings from — a project designed to answer this question looking across five languages: English, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese and K’iche’ Mayan. In addition to the overarching theoretical question set out above, the research addresses four key questions: (1) What do learners bring to the task in terms of cognitive-semantic universals?; (2) How do children form linguistic generalizations in the first place?; (3) Why are languages the way they are; would other types of systems be difficult or impossible to learn?; (4) What is the nature of development?. I will present elicitation, grammaticality judgment and modelling studies (at ages  3-4, 5-6, 9-10 and 18+ years) designed to answer these questions.

Tuesday May 9, 11:30-13 - Salle Langevin

    Elena Lieven (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and University of Manchester)

    Cross-cultural variation in syntactic acquisition

Tuesday May 9, 14-15:30 - Salle de réunion Pavillon Jardin

    Damian Blasi (University of Zurich and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)

    Syntactic and lexical characteristics in input to children learning one of eight typologically diverse languages

Thursday July 6th  12:30-14:00 - Salle de réunion Pavillon Jardin
    Catherine Tamis-LeMonda (New York University)
    Cultural variation in mother-child interaction among immigrant families

Thursday July 13 12:30-14:00 - Salle de réunion Pavillon Jardin

    Celia Rosemberg (CONICET)

    Language use in a "culture of silence" 

A Cristia,
Jan 2, 2017, 6:39 AM