Neurons & language acquisition

Beckwith beckwith at aristotle.ils.nwu.edu
Thu Sep 15 11:25:04 EST 1994

BFANTIE at american.edu wrote:
: I am looking for a reference that describes a neurodevelopmental explanation
: for why children below a certain age have a greater facility for acquiring
: a second language. A colleague told me that she had heard of such a report
: in the last year and thought it might have originated at UCLA........

I would have thought that the widespread neural cell death that occurs
during childhood would be a pretty good reason.  As far as I remember,
the areas weren't too specific.  Perhaps, one of the connectionist
people used that as an explanation.  

Of course, the accepted age for the end of this "critical period"
(following Lenneberg) is puberty and, I think, mass neuron death ends
at about five.

Undaunted by this, I would point out that Lenneberg also claimed that
the reason for the age being around puberty is that that's when
lateralization is "done(?)"  (Think of another word if you don't like
that one).  Well, language is lateralized from the first year but
childhood aphasia inducing trauma and recovery (a sign of plasticity)
has as its upper bound about five years of age (the same as the time
that cell death stops).

Now, there's still a problem with puberty.  What happens then?  Well,
perhaps nothing.  Error analyses suggest that although you see L1
intrusion errors, adults make mistakes that are quite similar to those
of children.  

This has been a pretty long non-answer to your question so I'll just
end by saying that I'd ask a connectionist and I hope this was helpful


beckwith at ils.nwu.edu

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