An ecological theory of language learning  

Francisco Lacerda & Ulla Sundberg

In the Proceedings of the 148th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, San Diego, California, 15-19 November 2004. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 116 (4), Oct. 2004: 2523.


An ecological theory of language acquisition (ETLA), attempting to account for the linguistic development during about the first 18 months of age, is proposed in this contribution. The theory does not assume that the infant is endowed with specialized linguistic devices or strategies at the onset of life. ETLA considers instead the multi-sensory aspects of the adult-infant interaction and the typical ecological setting of that interaction. Rather than focusing on the speech signal per se, ETLA considers the infant's multi-sensory exposure to the phonetic, prosodic, syntactic and semantic characteristics along with visual, tactile, olfative and other sensory information as a key to the spontaneous emergence of linguistic structure early in life---a structure implicit in the adults use of the language, and that is partly simplified by the infant's limited production, perception and representation capacities. A functional model illustrating how such general-purpose mechanisms interacting with the typical sensory input available to the infant may lay the ground for linguistic structure will be presented for discussion. [Research supported by grants from the Swedish Research Council and the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation.]

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