Language Acquisition: Role of Input
Even if we take syntactic constraints to be set innately in the child before birth, the role of linguistic input in language acquisition, specifically syntax development, cannot be denied. And children do acquire implicit rules of syntax of their language with increasing experience. This was seen in experiments with non-sense syllables belonging to one of six parts of speech. When children were asked to put the non-sense syllable words in new sentences, they did not always use the right syntactic category (Brown and Berko, 1960). But, this ability improved with age. Children develop construction rules and delete erroneous forms from their language with increasing age.
The role of input in syntactic variation during language acquisition and development is dealt with in detail by Huttenlocher et al, who proposed that substantial individual differences are observed in the syntax at relatively early stages, and which remain there even at the later stages of syntactic development. Instead of commonalities, their experiments focused on differences. They analyzed child language data for its grammatical complexity, presence of multi-clause sentences, embedded structures, number of NPs in the speech, etc. and co-related these with the input from the parents as well as from the school teachers.
In their experiments, Huttenlocher et al showed that linguistic input has an unavoidable role to play in syntactic development of the child. In school going children, syntax growth showed considerable decline during vacations as the amount of syntactic complexity in the input decreased. Some of the factors that were taken into consideration were ethic and socioeconomic groups, high ability parents, education quality at schools, etc.
You might want to read this interesting blog entry on Neural Basis of Language Acquisition.
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