The Acquisition of Hebrew

The Acquisition of Hebrew

The Acquisition of Hebrew

The Acquisition of Hebrew

Excerpt

In 1907, when the Sterns published the first edition of their great diary study of German child language, they were able to point to a significant body of nineteenth century research on the acquisition of a number of European languages. They, and their contemporaries, were aware that there were clear crosslinguistic parallels in development, based on common principles of child psychology. The goals of investigators were directed beyond individual languages to the discovery of general principles. For example, the great Russian diarist, A. N. Gvozdev, publishing an article in 1928 under the title, "The significance of the study of child language for linguistics," noted that ( 1961, p. 9):

The acquisition of the native language follows strict regularities and is characterized by the same features in different children. This supports the idea that native language acquisition is determined by general psychophysiological conditions which function uniformly in all people, thus leaving their mark on the strucuture of language.

The emphasis was on the universal, rather than the particular. The value of data from various languages was the same as that of data from various children: to demonstrate commonalities. And with the rise of an insular American psychology, "language development" became a summary of the facts of the acquisition of English, taken as representative of general patterns. Thus Dorothea McCarthy could summarize a large body of systematic observational studies and conclude, in 1950, that such studies:

have yielded considerable uniformity of results, and a fairly accurate description can now be given of linguistic development in the age range of two to five years (p. 165).

It is the burden of the present collection of studies to demonstrate that crosslinguistic study does more than reveal uniforrnities of development, because properties of individual languages influence the course of development. Beginning with Melissa Bowerman's study of the acquisition of Finnish in 1965 ( Bowerman, 1973), followed by a series of crosslinguistic studies organized by John Gumperz, Susan Ervin-Tripp, and Dan Slobin at Berkeley ( Slobin, 1967), it has become clear that different types of languages pose different types of acquisition problems.3 One cannot study universals without exploring particulars . . .

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