Acquisition processes in maximally diverse languages: min(d)ing the ambient language

Chintang grandmother with child

Children can learn any language. This is astonishing given how different languages are. The main question driving the ACQDIV project [ˈækdɪv] is therefore: How is acquisition possible in spite of the great diversity found in the languages of the world?
Here is an example. The sentence 'Mummy, cook rice for me!' is expressed as follows in Chintang, a small Tibeto-Burman language which forms part of the ACQDIV corpus and which is spoken in the east of Nepal: Ama, kok thuktabidahã!

This simple sentence differs from the English version in many respects:

  • The noun ama does not only mean 'mother' but 'my mother' - it contains a prefix a- that indicates the possessor.
  • The object noun kok precedes the verb ("rice cook").
  • There is no word corresponding to me. Person and number of the beneficient as well as of the cook are coded in the verb (-ahã).
  • There is no word corresponding to for. This is also included in the verb form (-bid).

Nevertheless, children have no difficulties in learning this language or any other of the approximately 7000 languages spoken around the world. How is this possible?

In trying to answer this question, ACQDIV analyses data from ten languages taken from five maximally diverse language clusters. Taking less well-known languages into consideration is crucial for our enterprise: research on language acquisition is heavily biased towards comparatively big European languages, which are all very similar to each other, so data from these languages do not help much in answering the question how children deal with diversity.

News

  • Dagmar Jung gives an invited lecture on 'Integrating first language acquisition into language documentation in the field' at the University of Toronto, on April 17th.

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  • In the context of the creation of a professorship ad personam for psycholinguistics, Prof. Dr. Sabine Stoll will give a lecture entitled "Erstspracherwerb in maximal verschiedenen Sprachen". The lecture will take place on Friday, April 12, 2019 at 10:00 in the main building (KOL F 118). Everybody is cordially invited.

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  • Dagmar Jung taught a seminar on 'Documenting child language acquisition in lesser-known languages' at the pre-conference Workshop of ELKL 7 in Kolkata, Jadavpur University, on February 21, 2019. She was also a discussant on the panel 'Importance and significance of the International Year of Indigenous Languages' as part of the conference on Endangered and Lesser Known Languages, February 23rd 2019.

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  • Dagmar Jung presented a sketch grammar of Dene child language at the Workshop on the acquisition of lesser-documented languages in Cologne, 25-26 January 2019.

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  • Sabine Stoll gave a talk at the Neuroscience Center at the Unversity of Geneva on 
    'Language Acquisition in maximally diverse languages', October 29, 2018.

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