Language acquisition refers to the process of achieving the

ability to speak and understand the particular language or languages to which a child has been exposed. By the time most children reach the age of 5, they are highly competent speakers of their native language. During these early years of development, children acquire the ability to perceive and produce the speech sounds of the language to which they are exposed and the phonological rules for combining them to create words. They also acquire a large and varied vocabulary and the rules for combining them into complex grammatical sentences with correct morphology to mark tense, mood, number, and so forth. Finally, they become proficient users of this linguistic system to perform a range of different speech acts appropriate to varied social contexts. These remarkable achievements in the acquisition of language occur without explicit instruction or even significant feedback from others. Language is a complex, componential system composed of an abstract phonological rule system and lexicon, syntax, morphology, pragmatic, and discourse rules. These components depend on the development of different cognitive and neural mechanisms that interact over the course of acquisition.

Encyclopedia of the Human Brain Volume 2

Copyright 2002, Elsevier Science (USA).

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