From Whence Came Language?
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Knowing a language means one can speak, be understood and understand others who know the language. Although I have taken three years of Spanish, I would not say that I definitively know Spanish. I would not feel comfortable going to Spain alone and trying to survive merely with the three years training that I received. I would inevitably make mistakes, conjugating verbs improperly or stringing nonsensical sentences together. Knowing a language means knowing the things that you aren?t taught. I could spend five more years in a Spanish class, learning all the rules and vocabulary, but I still would not feel I knew the language. Knowing the language means understanding the unspoken rules behind that language. It is in understanding what is possible and, conversely, what is impossible in a language that one can truly know that language.
Logically it follows then to ask; if this unspoken knowledge is not taught, how is it learned? Prior to the lecture on language competence I would have said, purely from an observational standpoint, that those rules of language are learned chiefly through imitation. A child hears what his or her parents say and mimics them. Through correction and over time, these rules are then conditioned into that child. When asked, however, how do you explain the fact that children do not make random mistakes, but rather predictable ones, this theory begins to break down. Allotting sole propriety to imitation as the means by which we learn a language also brings to light further problems. If children are merely imitating, why do they make mistakes and simplify rules, applying them in the wrong context? Furthermore, how can children, if merely imitating, make up words we don?t have or form sentences they have never heard before? While I still believe that the role of imitation holds credence as a factor in language acquisition, there must be some other explanation.
Since the imitation explanation of language acquisiti...
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