The Comparative Method of Language Acquisition Research

University of Chicago Press
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The Mayan family of languages is ancient and unique. With their distinctive relational nouns, positionals, and complex grammatical voices, they are quite alien to English and have never been shown to be genetically related to other New World tongues. These qualities, Clifton Pye shows, afford a particular opportunity for linguistic insight. Both an overview of lessons Pye has gleaned from more than thirty years of studying how children learn Mayan languages as well as a strong case for a novel method of researching crosslinguistic language acquisition more broadly, this book demonstrates the value of a close, granular analysis of a small language lineage for untangling the complexities of first language acquisition.

Pye here applies the comparative method to three Mayan languages—K’iche’, Mam, and Ch’ol—showing how differences in the use of verbs are connected to differences in the subject markers and pronouns used by children and adults. His holistic approach allows him to observe how small differences between the languages lead to significant differences in the structure of the children’s lexicon and grammar, and to learn why that is so. More than this, he expects that such careful scrutiny of related languages’ variable solutions to specific problems will yield new insights into how children acquire complex grammars. Studying such an array of related languages, he argues, is a necessary condition for understanding how any particular language is used; studying languages in isolation, comparing them only to one’s native tongue, is merely collecting linguistic curiosities.
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About the author

Clifton Pye is associate professor of linguistics at the University of Kansas, where he studies the crosslinguistic language acquisition among indigenous languages of the Americas with a primary interest in the acquisition of the verb complex.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jan 26, 2018
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9780226481319
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Language
English
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Genres
Language Arts & Disciplines / General
Language Arts & Disciplines / Linguistics / Historical & Comparative
Language Arts & Disciplines / Linguistics / Psycholinguistics
Language Arts & Disciplines / Linguistics / Sociolinguistics
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Eligible for Family Library

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This volume brings together ten contributions to the study of untutored (mainly) second but also first language acquisition. All chapters have been written from a functionalist perspective and take as the main theoretical framework a model of spontaneous second language acquisition centered on the "basic variety" as proposed by Klein and Perdue. The chapters in the volume are grouped around two research themes. The first theme concerns the acquisition of scope phenomena (negation, scope particles), the second one deals with referential movement (reference to person, time and space). Both parts provide insights in the structure of learner varieties at various stages of development, and are followed by a discussion chapter.

Scope phenomena, such as negation and frequency adverbials present an important learning problem, as learners have to reconcile the logical structure of their utterances with the syntactic specifics of the language being learned. Their acquisition has been relatively neglected in studies up to date, however, and we even lack detailed knowledge about the interpretation of scope particles in the target languages. The chapters in this part of the volume set out to provide more knowledge about scope phenomena in general; more detailed descriptions of the particles in the languages under consideration; and a more general understanding of how scope is acquired. Strong findings resulting from the "ESF" project suggested universal trends in how untutored learners deal with acquisition in the very early stages (the basic variety). Chapters in this second part of the volume on referential movement look at acquisition at more advanced stages, including the production of near native speakers. Learners who progress beyond the basic variety increasingly grammaticalise their productions. This later development is supposedly more variable, as more specific aspects of the target languages are now being acquired. Chapters in this part allow to shed more light on the question regarding universal and language-specific influences on language acquisition.

Winner of the International Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction

Animal tracks, word magic, the speech of stones, the power of letters, and the taste of the wind all figure prominently in this intellectual tour de force that returns us to our senses and to the sensuous terrain that sustains us. This major work of ecological philosophy startles the senses out of habitual ways of perception.

For a thousand generations, human beings viewed themselves as part of the wider community of nature, and they carried on active relationships not only with other people with other animals, plants, and natural objects (including mountains, rivers, winds, and weather patters) that we have only lately come to think of as "inanimate." How, then, did humans come to sever their ancient reciprocity with the natural world? What will it take for us to recover a sustaining relation with the breathing earth? 

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