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Psychological Theories on Language Development - Dictionary of Arguments

Slater I 191
Language Development/psychological theories: Between 12 months of age, when infants begin to utter their first word, and 36 months, when toddlers have learned up to a thousand words, they have also mastered many of the intricacies of their native language grammar. How is it possible for such a complicated system to be acquired, via mere exposure rather than by overt instruction, by the vast majority of children in only two years?
Slater I 192
Categorical perception/phonetics: categorical perception (CP, >Phonetics/psychological theories). Around 1957 [when Chomsky(1) and Liberman(2) published] CP was only present for speech, and only for the components of speech when they are heard as speech (not when these same components are heard as non-speech). This led to the proposal that humans have evolved a special neural mechanism — the speech mode — that is innate and dedicated to the interpretation of articulatory signals that are produced by the human vocal tract. These two nativist perspectives — Chomsky at the level of syntax and Liberman at the level of phonetics — set the stage for a definitive test of innate constraints on language. >Language Development/Eimas, >Chomsky/psychological theories.
Slater I 199
Two decades after Eimas et al. (1971)(3), the first studies of auditory word recognition in fluent speech were begun (Jusczyk & Aslin, 1995)(4), documenting the fact that eight month olds could recognize chunks of speech even when they were embedded in sentences. Infants of this same age were also shown to be remarkably adept at extracting auditory word-forms from fluent speech, even when these word-forms were defined solely on the basis of temporal order statistics (Saffran, Aslin, & Newport, 1996)(5). However, when infants were required to map word-forms onto objects in a reference task, they often failed until much later (14 months of age), unless those word-forms were familiar and/or the visual objects were familiar (Stager & Werker, 1997)(6). Recent evidence suggests that under the right circumstances, this mapping process can take place, along with segmentation from fluent speech, even in six month olds (Shukla, White, & Aslin, 2011)(7). See also >Language Acquisition/psychological theories.



1. Chomsky, N. (1957). Syntactic structures. Mouton: The Hague.
2. Liberman, A. M., Harris, K. S., Hoffman, H. S., & Griffith, B.C. (1957). The discrimination of speech sounds within and across phoneme boundaries. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 54, 358—368.
3. Eimas, P. D., Siqueland, E. R.,Jusczyk, P., &Vigorito,J. (1971). Speech perception in infants. Science, 171, 303-306.
4. Jusczyk, P. W., & Aslin, R. N. (1995). Infants’ detection of the sound patterns of words influent speech. Cognitive Psychology, 29, 1—23.
5. Saffran, J. R., Aslin, R. N., & Newport, E. L. (1996). Statistical learning by 8-month-old infants. Science,274, 1926—1928.
6. Stager, C. L., & Werker, J. F. (1997). Infants listen for more phonetic detail in speech perception than
in word leaming tasks. Nature, 388, 38 1—382.
7. Shukla, M., White, K. S., & Aslin, R. N. (2011). Prosody guides the rapid mapping of auditory word
forms onto visual objects in 6-mo-old infants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108,


Richard N. Aslin, “Language Development. Revisiting Eimas et al.‘s /ba/ and /pa/ Study”, in: Alan M. Slater and Paul C. Quinn (eds.) 2012. Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Psychological Theories
Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-03-02
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