Polygots and Kids with LAD'S

I am not a polygot but I seem to be surrounded by an army of them. This was the less cynical alternative for a title for this post. But, jumping to it the prompt page on DuoLingo provides a few statistics and a simple infographic breaking down a long list of countries and languages of the top three languages combing both the number of countries which the language is spoken in and the list of the languages in the world by the approx. number of people who speak them. Not surprisingly, they are 1. English 2. Spanish 3. Arabic.

Admittedly, I sparked myselfwith two hard truths today 1. I am a lazy person, in which privilege led me to be born in a developed English speaking country with very little cultural stimulus to learn another language. 2. I love English, not just a bit but a ALOT.

Although, I did pass Japanese at school and elementary German (Australian humour at play here - not rewarding myself). I have not had the desire or the need to push myself. That is until my three year old starting running rings around me. After six months in sunny Barcelona she is speaking Spanish, Catalan and enough Portugese to possibly help me out on vacation.

It is well known children have elastic minds they are little awesome geniuses running around and impressing the pants off all of us. 

As, my friend Chomsky explains and goes slightly further every child has a ‘language acquisition device’ or LAD which encodes the major principles of a language and its grammatical structures into the child’s brain. There is some hard evidence to support his theories which would be fairly endless to list here, he of course has his critics but their list is much shorter. 

Chomsky applies his theory to all languages as they all contain nouns, verbs, consonants and vowels and children appear to be ‘hard-wired’ to acquire the grammar. For example, the simple stuff such as “children often say things that are ungrammatical such as ‘mama ball’, which they cannot have learnt passively”.

Or a more complicated example : Chomsky used the sentence ‘colourless green ideas sleep furiously’, which is grammatical although it doesn’t make sense, to prove his theory: he said it shows that sentences can be grammatical without having any meaning, that we can tell the difference between a grammatical and an ungrammatical sentence without ever having heard the sentence before, and that we can produce and understand brand new sentences that no one has ever said before.

So, as my daughter sails past me linguistically I have turned to a tutor with the hope he has a magic wand and the fantastic intuitive app DuoLingo that prods me along, gently.


To be continued…

Alison Wilson