Likewise, Grenfell and Harris report that some studies have suggested that language is acquired through a universal natural order wherein language acquisition follows an identifiable sequence in the stages through which learners pass to achieve competence.
According to Levy and Schaeffer (2003), though, “It is a truism of research in developmental psycholinguistics that children’s behavior looks quite different in different languages. Of course, it is expected that different developing languages will exhibit properties that are different simply because the languages themselves differ. But the errors look different too” (36). These authors emphasize that this general problem in the field has been the source of concern for some time now and the issue of why children make different types of errors in different languages remains unclear as well. For instance, Levy and Schaeffer ask, “Why should children subject to universal principles make a different kind of error, even when the error is not simply the missetting of a parameter?” (36). In fact, Bates and her colleagues (2001) assert that psycholinguistic universals do exist and play an important role in language acquisition, depending on the individual setting:
Languages such as English, Italian, and Chinese draw on the same mental/neural machinery. They do not ‘live’ in different parts of the brain, and children do not differ in the mechanisms required to learn each one. However, languages can differ (sometimes quite dramatically) in the way this mental/neural substrate is taxed or configured, making differential use of the same basic mechanisms for perceptual processing, encoding and retrieval, working memory, and planning. It is of course well-known that languages can vary qualitatively, in the presence/absence of specific linguistic features (e.g. Chinese has lexical tone, Russian has nominal case markers, English has neither). In addition, languages can vary quantitatively, in the challenge posed by equivalent structures (lexical, phonological, grammatical) for learning and/or real-time use. (Bates et al. 369)
These authors cite as an example the fact that passives are rare in English but extremely common in Sesotho; likewise, relative clause constructions are more common in Italian than in English (Bates et al. 369). Therefore, to the degree that frequency and recency facilitate structural access is the degree to which these differences should result in earlier acquisition and/or a processing advantage (Bates et al. 369).
In recent years, both of the foregoing psycholinguistic fields have enjoyed significant additions to the collection of theoretical ideas guiding research. For example, in text processing, Mckoon and Ratcliff (1998) point out that new consideration has been given to “fast, passive, parallel retrieval processes that can make multiple complexities of meaning available to comprehension processes quickly and at low cost. In sentence processing, the new idea is that the frequency with which a particular syntactic structure occurs in natural language may be a powerful determinant of how easy it is to process” (26).
Finally, based on his analysis of how psycholinguistics has been and can be used in real-world settings, Steinberg (1982) identifies five fundamental principles that can be followed to provide for optimal results in the teaching of reading to children; these principles are:
Reading should involve only meaningful words, phrases, and sentences;
Reading should depend on speech understanding and not speech production;
Reading should not depend on teaching new language or concepts;
Reading should not depend on teaching writing; and,
Learning to read should be enjoyable (197).
The research showed that psycholinguistics examines the psychology of language and concerns the study of the psychological processes involved in language acquisition. Based on the seminal work by Chomsky and others, psycholinguists today seek to understand how language is produced and remembered, and are therefore concerned a wide range of behaviors that can affect this process including listening, reading, speaking, writing, and memory applications used in language process. Psycholinguists also investigate how people acquire language, and the way in which this function interacts with other psychological systems. Finally, the research also showed that these concepts and techniques have assumed increasing importance in recent years as more and more people seek to become proficient in a second and third language, and it is reasonable to assert that the existing body of knowledge concerning psycholinguistics will continue to grow in the future.
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Levy, Yonata and Jeannette Schaeffer. Language Competence across Populations: Toward a Definition of Specific Language Impairment. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003.
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