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Beyond typical learning: Variation in language experience as a lens to the developing mind

  • Judith F. Kroll (a1), Andrea Takahesu Tabori (a1) and Emily Mech (a1)

Extract

Infants are exposed to the language of the environment in which they are born and, in most instances, become native speakers of that language. Although the history of research on language acquisition provides a colorful debate on the specific ways that nature and nurture shape this process (e.g., MacWhinney, 1999; Pinker, 1995), its primary focus has been on typically developing children exposed to a single language from birth. Pierce, Genesee, Delcenserie, and Morgan (2017) turn the table on this discussion to argue that critically important lessons can be learned by shifting the focus from typically developing children to children for whom the trajectory of language learning follows a different course. Some of the variation in language development reflects attributes of child learners themselves, such as whether they are born hearing or deaf and whether they have conditions that disrupt their ability to fully perceive the speech input to which they are exposed. Other variations reflect attributes of the external conditions in which learners develop, including whether they remain in their country of birth or move to a location in which another language is spoken, whether exposure to the native language is continuous or disrupted, and whether they are exposed to a second language (L2) early or late in development. For deaf children, there is also variation in whether their parents or caregivers are themselves deaf or hearing and able to expose them to sign language during infancy. Pierce et al. use the diversity of early language experience as a tool to examine the relation between phonological working memory and language development and to begin to suggest how conditions that may produce costs or benefits in language learning may be related to one another.

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