Research Paper: Individual to Develop the First Language

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¶ … individual to develop the first language and roughly before reaching the puberty, and if development of first language does not occur when an individual has reached the puberty, it is unlikely that the development of first language will occur. There is a little doubt that young children have inherent ability to learn language quickly, and there is a widespread believe that younger children =better.

With reference to CPH, modern technique of magnetic imaging has revealed that there is a fundamental difference in the brain of young children and adolescent. The assumption is that young children have the capability to acquire first language very fast because they were born with special intuitive capacity for language. However, having reaching the puberty, the innate capacity begins to atrophy and more cognitive systems, which are located in the brain, start to take over. Thus, after the onset of puberty, it will be difficult for a leaner to acquire native speaker intonation, competence and pronunciation. Underlying assumption of Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) is a biological view of development of second language, and the view assumes that as young children grow older, there is a fundamental change in their brain, which makes it impossible for them to acquire languages like the initial years. However, there is an extensive debate about the critical period for subsequent language acquisition.

The objective of this paper is to summarize a research paper titled "The Critical Period Hypothesis: A coat of many colors" (Singleton, 2005). Additionally, this study provides sustainability of Critical Period Hypothesis to reveal the validity of CPH.

Review of Singleton, (2005) Literature

"The Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) in essence contends that the ability to learn a language is limited to the years before puberty after which, most probably as a result of maturational processes in the brain, this ability disappears." ( Moskovsky, 2001 P. 1). Singleton (2005) provides greater understanding on the concept Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) by referring to the Penfield et al. (1959) assertion on Critical Period (CP). While Lenneberg (1967) might have been considered as the father of CPH, however, Penfield et al. (1959) is widely seen as proto-CP theorist. For the purpose of learning language, Penfield believes that the human brain progressively becomes rigid and stiff as a child arrives the age of nine. This is the time when language acquisition has taken up the second decade of life. On the other hand, Lenneberg argues that children deafened before completion of the second year will not have any facilitation for oral skills compared to with congenital deaf. Lenneberg further points out that people who have lost their hearing could be trained in all the oral language arts. Lennerberg reveals that at developmental stage, language acquisition could quickly outgrow at the age of puberty and this is the point the lateralization process is deemed to be completed. Lennerberg points out that injury on children at the right hemisphere could cause language acquisition disturbances on children. However, the injuries at the right hemisphere could cause more disturbances on children than adults. With references to the L2 acquisition, he asserts that the language learning will block after a child has reached the age of puberty. While at this stage young adult may have ability to learn foreign language, it is not easy to overcome foreign accents easily. Typically, foreign language could only be learned through the labored and conscious effort. Despite his position on this issue, his argument is undermined by the impressionistic nature of data due to the discovery of new evidence revealing that language development started from birth and the young adults could develop native speaker competency even after the puberty.

Singleton (2005) reveals in the on-going debate about lateralization where certain low level-functions of phonological or phonetic may complete in the first year of life. Typically, the sensorimotor cognitive structure, which is underlying in a child early year of age, may be represented in both hemispheres. The author further argues that phonetic or phonological functions are generally localized by puberty. However, the syntactic functions could be acquired later in life. Typically, pyramidal cells that could enhance the phonetic or phonological acquisition only develops when a child reaches the age of 6 or 8 and the authentic L2 accents could be developed at these ages. Singleton refers to the argument of Scovel (1988) who points out that acquiring vocabulary is quite different from learning pronunciation, and people who are exposed to an L2 after the age of 12 cannot to become a native speaker phonologically. Singleton also refers to other researches such as Johnson and Newport (1989) who reveals that learning capacity gradually disimproves and subsequently leading to an abrupt stop and decline after the puberty.

Singleton (2005) further points to the study of Hyltenstam and Abrahamsson (2003) who assert that children who experience temporary hearing impairment in the first year due to the infection in the middle ear will subsequently experience a defect in phonetic perception and verbal memory. Based on this conclusion, CP for phonology or phonetics usually ends at the twelfth month of infancy. Singleton (2005) points to the Lenneberg (1967) argument on acquisition. The impact on the acquisition of phonetics has a long history. For example, learners of French at the University could outperform the elementary pupils in comprehension. However, "younger beginners' pronunciation was generally much superior to that achieved by older beginners." (Singleton 2005 P. 275).

The author distinguishes pronunciation from other language domain claiming that acquiring vocabulary and morphosyntax is quite different from learning pronunciation. Those who begin to be exposed to L2 when reaching age of 12 cannot be categorized to be native speakers' phonetics. Singleton, (2005) further quotes Johnson and Newport (1989) by pointing out that CP generally ends progressively around age of six or seven. Judging from the attainment of English by immigrants in the U.S.A., it is revealed that maturational phase could be achieved within 7 years. The deterioration of capacity to acquire language is at the age of twelve where a native L2 accent could not be acquired."The prerequisite for the acquisition of L2 morphology and syntax to native levels is exposure to the L2 before age fifteen." (Singleton, 2005 P. 272). For example, children having general impairment in the first year due to the infection in the middle ear generally show deficit in the phonetic perception and verbal memory. Thus, CP for phonology/phonetics usually ends at the twelfth month of infancy.

Singleton, (2005) reveals that late L2 learners generally have problems in mapping lexical array in the language, aptitude test and grammatical judgment task. With reference to the underlying causes of the CP in his study. The author refers to neurobiology as the causes of CP where there is a decrease in cerebral plasticity as brain matures. Typically, "as the brain matures, the axons of neurons are progressively wrapped by glial cells, whose purpose is to supply the neurons with nutrition so that they can conduct electrical signals more efficiently." (P 276). Brain structure or organization of brain is likely to experience different type of experience, which is affecting all aspects of language acquisition including language proficiency.

Despite the underlying argument stated above, there have been laid critique on CPH based on the fact that there is a general diminishing capacity in learning complex abstract systems, which includes language acquisition. Typically, the consequence of cognitive maturation gradual declines in language learning. Learning that occurs in the formal language classroom does not ultimately provides the advantages for ultimately performances.

Having reviewed the study written by the Singleton (2005), this study examines the sustainability of the CPH.

Sustainability of Critical Period Hypothesis

Despite the argument surrounding the CPH, expert opinion has started to swing away from the CPH. Marinova-Todd et al. (2000) review several literatures and conclude that while 35 of the recent studies offer support for the CPH, however, there are twenty-one studies providing negative evidence. From Marinvova-Todd point-of-view, there are several studies indicating that learners are capable of acquiring native speaker competence at post-puberty. The authors argue that the researchers favoring CPH are committing three fallacies: misattribution, misinterpretation and misemphasis. Typically, children are efficient and fast at picking second languages, and data reveal that children learn new language effortlessly and slowly with more effort and less speed than adults or adolescents. Misattribution of conclusion pointing to the language proficiency is attributed to brain. While many adults second language learners have ability to acquire native speaker proficiency, the adults generally fail to develop commitment of energy, and sufficient motivation to develop native speaker proficiency. While the Marinova-Todd (2000) agrees that adults generally achieve low level of proficiency than younger language learners, however, the attributes are contextual rather than biological factors. Observers reveal that children are generally highly motivated and the motivation is associated with pleasure of learning. Johnston (2002) support this argument by pointing out that

"young adults are in fact capable of attaining a native-like accent, which runs counter to the CPH"….The author relates his argument with recent findings that reveal… [END OF PREVIEW]

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