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Language acquisition

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Much of what is written in the media about language is actually churned out by "pseudo-linguists" rather than actual researchers in linguistics. This post offers help in sorting the wheat from the chaff.
[The title of this post is inspired by the title of a famous work by one of my favorite scholars of all time, Moshe ben Maimon, aka Maimonides, an extremely influential Jewish philosopher, astronomer, Torah scholar, and physician. His Guide to the Perplexed, a philosophical work tying together Aristotle’s philosophy and Jewish theology, was written …
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Frustrated rant about the state of modern neuroscience, apparently by a postgrad somewhere in Massachusetts. Mapping the brain doesn't mean you know much about how it works, and it takes tremendous computing power just to look at part of a worm. Some neuroscientists apparently concur with the post.
This is a guest post by a neuroscientist who may or may not be a graduate student somewhere in Massachusetts. You asked me about the Human Brain Project. Well, there is only one way to properly add...
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Language acquisition

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If you're a fat man standing with a buddy on a railway bridge, be sure to chat to them in their native tongue.

A University of Chicago psychology study found that people make less emotional moral decisions when acting in a non-native language than when wrestling with dilemmas in their native language. The team think that working in another language forces the user into a more distant relationship with the subject matter. The test involved the famous conundrum of what to do when a runaway trolley is set to kill several railway workers, and only by pushing a fat man onto the tracks can you avert their demise. Those who participated in the test while using a non-native language were more likely to say they'd shove the fat guy to his death to save the workers.

It seems that this is not an argument for the 'Sapir-Whorf' hypothesis that language constrains or even determines thought, rather that the act of working in a language that is not completely familiar puts extra strain on the brain, which blocks more emotional responses.
Would you sacrifice one person to save five? Such moral choices could depend on whether you are using a foreign language or your native tongue. A new study from psychologists at the University of Chicago and Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona finds that people using a foreign language take a relatively utilitarian approach to moral dilemmas, making decisions based on assessments of what’s best for the common good.
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People distinguish syllables they've never heard before according to how universally well- or ill-formed they are, i.e. whether they occur in languages and if so, how frequently. Broca's area, a part of the brain associated with language, registered activity when processing ill-formed syllables, rather than areas associated with memory or motor control.
BOSTON (April 17, 2014) – People blog, they don't lbog, and they schmooze, not mshooze. But why is this? Why are human languages so constrained? Can such restrictions unveil the basis of the uniquely human capacity for language? A groundbreaking study published in PLOS ONE by Prof.
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Linguistics researchers and graduate students on Google+ who have been posting recently.
 
Academic linguists and PhD students active on Google+.
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The value of joined-up handwriting: learning to write cursive letters is cognitively more beneficial than practising with print (unjoined) letters, finds a Quebecan study, at a time when most U.S. states are phasing out the teaching of cursive handwriting in favour of keyboard skills. The study reveals that a focus on cursive letters, which are written more quickly than printed ones, leads to better motor skills and spelling. Interestingly, improvements are only seen when joined-up handwriting is taught alone, not alongside or after print writing.
Learning cursive in the first grade helps students. 13 September 2013 Université de Montréal. By 2014, 45 American states will stop teaching cursive writing in favour of keyboard proficiency. In Québec, there are no plans for the moment to abandon this type of writing. “Teaching and daily use of ...
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'Faculty of Language' is a blog well-worth following for a more technical yet approachable view of modern linguistics. This example begins a discussion by Norbert Hornstein (University of Maryland) about the study of 'generative grammar' over the decades. What is it, and what progress has been made?
0. One of the striking characteristics of modern scientific practice, at least in the successful domains of inquiry, is that it is possible to stand on the shoulders of one’s predecessors (of various heights), thereby allowin...
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There's a lot of truth in this article on reading, phonics and Western schooling, by someone from the 'alternative education' movement, though it does veer into anti-science territory at times.
The following statement somehow showed up on my Twitter feed the other day: “Spontaneous reading happens for a few kids. The vast majority need (and all can benefit from) explicit instruction in...
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While Irish is dying in its native western Ireland, it's been revived in formerly English-only urban areas because people enjoy it and identify with it. The article discusses the wisdom of a language policy based on geography.
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Signed and spoken languages are equally complex - including in how their diversity declines. The same arguments also apply - is the rise of standard British Sign Language a good thing in some ways, especially for learners, or is the loss of regional signs a problem? 
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New paper on language universals, focusing on syllables. Research has long demonstrated that newborns exhibit a preference for syllables over other sounds units and for certain sequences of segments within those syllables.
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Young children learn the word for non-solid materials more quickly if they're able to poke, squeeze and throw them. So parents apparently need to allow their kids to get covered in food gunk once in a while.
Parents, let your children get messy in the high chair. They learn better that way. That's according to a new study from the University of Iowa, which concludes that a 16-month-old's setting and degree of interaction enhances his or her ability to identify nonsolid objects and name them. Results are published in the journal Developmental Science.
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For those interested in the process of coming to language
Introduction
Language acquisition is the process of how people come to be able to use language to understand information and express themselves appropriately. It is also the name of the academic sub-discipline in linguistics (the scientific study of language) and other language-related fields that are devoted to researching this phenomenon. Linguists study not just how people develop a specific first or subsequent language, but how the system of language itself emerges.

This page is for anyone interested in language acquisition, and is maintained by an academic linguist with some background in the topic. Please feel free to comment on and '+1' its posts!