Intervenant 1 : Alejandrina Cristia (LSCP, CNRS/ENS)
Titre : How little is enough ? Input to early language across cultures
The last 50 years have witnessed a surge of studies on early language acquisition, with much experimental research studying the perception of verbal input in industrialized societies. This evidence suggests that early forms of language-specific phonological, lexical, and syntactic processing can appear even in the first two years of life. Moreover, some have argued that these early experiences both provide the foundations of abstract language structures evident later on, and set the « rhythm » of later speech perception, such that children in rich linguistic environments learn language (at least phonology and the lexicon) faster than their less fortunate peers. In the case of lexical processing, for instance, a 5x difference in number of words spoken to the child would lead to a doubling of vocabulary size by age 2, which is akin to an astounding 6-month delay. This has led to public campaigns, saliently the « Thirty million word gap » in the USA, aimed at encouraging parents to speak more to their young child. Such conclusions are based mostly on the study of individual variation that is partially correlated with socioeconomic status in populations that can be described as WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic), an acronym designed to convey the fact that such populations are not representative of humankind on synchronic or diachronic terms. In this talk, I will provide data demonstrating that differences :
a) within USA samples varying in maternal education generalize to some but not other WEIRD countries (e.g., UK)
b) between WEIRD samples from different countries (i.e., Argentina versus USA) can be as large as those in (a)
c) between WEIRD and non-WEIRD samples (e.g., the hunter-farmer Tsimane population in the Bolivian Amazon) are considerably larger (in the order of 10x) than those in (a)
It follows from (a-c) that one should observe systematic differences among WEIRD countries, and even greater ones between WEIRD and traditional societies in terms of, at least, phonological and lexical development. It also follows logically from the idea that rate of learning is fixed by input quantity that populations in traditional societies with no formal education should speak languages with smaller vocabularies than WEIRD societies. I discuss the challenges in assessing these two predictions, and the scientific and societal implications that would follow from ratifying or ruling out these predictions.
Intervenant 2 : Leo Wetzels and Geraldo Faria
Titre : Bakairi and the Feature ‘Voice’
It has been claimed by many that the feature [-voice] plays no role in the early (or lexical) phonology of any language. Statements of this nature can be found in Cho (1990a,b), Lombardi (1991, 1996), Iverson & Salmons (1996), among many others. The feature [-voice] is said to be ‘unmarked’, or, almost equivalently, is regarded as a ‘default’ feature in the phonological grammar of every language. As such, the role of [-voice] should be confined to the phonetic component, or, at the very most, it should be active only in the postlexical component (cf. Lombardi 1996). One does not, therefore, expect to find a language where the feature [-voice] must be specified at the level of lexical representation, or participates in lexical rules of any kind, including rules of assimilation and dissimilation.
In this presentation we will illustrate the complex and intriguing lexical phonology of the feature [voiceless] in Bakairi, an indigenous language of Brazil.
Donders Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen
UC Louvain (Belgium)