Communication has not been possible without the evolution of language. It has been through language that people from all walks of life have been able to hold conversations. Languages have evolved and continue to undergo development as the years progress. These developments and evolvements have received heightened interest according to Behme (867). This interest is augmented by the distinctiveness of languages in their phonetic, morphological, phonological, semantic, and syntactic structures (Evans and Levison 430). These language universals proof responsible for this distinction in languages, which reveals language universals play a significant role in the learning of languages. Hence, this discussion highlights the role of language universal in second language acquisition.
In order to have a clear understanding of language universals, it is imperative to have a distinction between: the language aspects learned from the environment, and those resulting from the physiology of the human brain; the section of an individual’s language capability explicit to language and the one belonging to cognitive capabilities; and language faculty aspects exclusively human and those mutual with other species (Behme 868). Hence, according to Evans and Levinson (429), languages show a distinctive variance in such description levels as lexicon, sound, grammar and meaning. Languages may possess dozens or less, of distinctive sounds, while such a language as sign language does not have sounds at all, yet it is distinctively a recognized language. These variations show how distinctive languages are, and this is imperative in understanding the roles played by such language universals as phonetic, morphological, phonological, semantic and syntactic.
Phonology is the study of the organization of sounds and their utilization in natural languages. This system includes the inventory of sound, their features, and the stipulated guidelines specifying how interaction between sounds is achieved. Different languages have different sound arrangements and utilization. Differences in arrangements of sounds in the first language can be evident while learning a second language. According to Gass (502), such universals as those based on perception or cognition and are most of the times replicated in the performance of learners of a second language, due to their basis on human behavior, which is assumed not to change in the learning of a second language. The learning progress and developments experienced by native speakers of a certain language may act as a guideline on the roles played by the language universals in acquiring of a second language. Therefore, while a child is growing up in a native language setting, they experience both positive and negative evidences in making accurate and inaccurate language forms. Positive evidence is acquired from hearing and is made up of a restricted set of clear utterances. Thus, it is imperative to note that a language comprises of infinite sentences, but the learner only manages to hear a subset. Negative evidence is compiled of information to language learners that their utterances are nonstandard, going by the norms of the second language.
Since phonology is the study of the organization of sounds and their utilization in natural languages, it is important to analyze how the organization of these words affects the acquisition of a second language. Young children and adults relate differently with the organization of words. Infants can distinguish contrasts of consonants and vowels in both their native or foreign languages. Phonetics is responsible for the acquiring of accents, which is distinctive in individuals. This is carried onto other languages and through accents. This is where one can place the origin of the speakers of the second language because of the way they pronounce some words. As children continue to develop, they lose the ability to make distinctions of foreign vowels. This can be easily evaluated by using the interdependence model, which acts as a transfer, deceleration, and hastening in the acquisition of a second language (Fabriano-Smith and Goldstein 160). In transfer, a second language learner may transfer some consonants, or vowels distinct with one language to another. One may find an English speaker transfers the approximant /a/ to produce a Spanish word (Fabriano-Smith and Goldstein 161).
Syntax deals with how words are merged into sentences and phrases. A person learns syntax by the implementation of certain sets of universal arrangements. These arrangements assist in the formulation of words and phrases, which enhance effective communication. In the learning of a second language, a person requires the experience of syntax learning from the first language so as to formulate and organize words in the second language. This is important, although the second language may reveal differences, from the first language, in the organization of words. In some languages, words have to follow a certain order where nouns have to follow verbs in the achievement of correct grammatical order. Alternatively, in other languages, verbs follow nouns grammatically. Syntax is achieved when a person creates and comprehends sentences, previously never heard (Lidz 201). Additionally, syntax is achieved when a person recognizes, from the sentences previously never heard before, that some are possible to be created while others as not possible. This ability implies a learner has gained significant experience to not only to memorize, but also to map onto representations regarding predictions of possible and impossible sentences (Lidz 202).
Semantic factors have an influence on the second language acquisition in the negative polarization items. Affective polarization items (APIs) in language formation are sensitive to nonveridicality. Negative polarization items, on the other hand, are a subset of the APIs and are show sensitivity to antiveridicality. Their regular forms are based on stipulated rules of grammar, while on the other hand, irregular forms exist by memorization.
– Morphosyntactic universals
Morphosyntactic universals are developed in the early stages of child development, preferably between 3-5 years. Morphosyntactic universals see the presence of unaccusative errors. These errors are not taught to the native speakers, although they are present in every language. Learners of a second language acquire these errors, altogether; although they are not taught about them. This proves the existence of the errors in the utilization of the language by the learners. Unaccusative errors, which stem from the use of unaccusative verbs, have the undergoer as the subject. This undergoes becomes the theme of the action, rather than the representative.
In the English language, these unaccusative verbs would take the agentive –er suffixation. An example would be arriver in the sentence, she arrived. If a person has fallen, the person can be described as the faller. In this case, arriver and faller are the accusative verbs used by the learner of the second language. This can result from the learner trying to translate the words from the native language form. The distinctiveness of languages generates the errors in a second language, although the sentence may make sense in the native language, when the same words are used.
In Italian, unaccusativity is predominant when using the cliticization ne. An example would be in the transitive verbs: Mateo ha letto molte lettere. This means Mateo has read many letters. In Italian, many letters can be replaced by ne. The new sentence would be Mateo ne ha letto molte. This is the equivalent of saying that Mateo of them has read many. This latter sentence does not appear to make sense in the English language, although it makes complete sense in Italian.
According to Keenan Comrie (63), the accessibility hierarchy is imperative in analyzing syntactic in language learning and development. This is done by evaluating the relative clause (RCs) properties in relation to the syntactic form in various languages. Firstly, it is essential to recognize the relative clauses in given languages. When learning a language, a person must show comprehensive understanding in recognizing objects in a sentence, which must be in the relativization’s domain. In that case, the restricting sentence must assert truth in the sentence. In a sentence; the book (that) Peter likes, the restricting sentence is John likes it, while (that) Peter likes serves as the restricting clause. On the other hand, the relativization domain is the set of books, while the book is the head NP.
In conclusion, it is imperative to understand language universals and their roles in learning languages. The experiences gained from these universals play a significant role in the learning of a second language, as can be seen from the various articles presented. Some of these universals, for example, phonetics, are responsible for the distinctive accents inherent in learners of second languages. Other universals such as phonology, affect the learning of a second language by enhancing transfer of consonants from one language to another.
Behme, Christina. “Language universals.” Philosophical Psychology, 24.6 (2011): 867-871. Print.
Evans, Nicholas and Stephen, C. Levinson. “The myth of language universals: Language diversity and its importance for cognitive science.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32.5 (2009): 448-494.
Fabriano-Smith, Leah and Brian, A. Goldstein. “Phonological acquisition in bilingual Spanish-English speaking children.” Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 53.1 (2010): 160-178. Print.
Gass, Susan. “Language universals and second-language acquisitions.” A Journal of Applied Linguistics, 39.4 (1989): 497-534. Print.
Keenan, Edward and Bernard, Comrie. “Noun Phrase Accessibility and Universal Grammar.” Linguistic Inquiry, 8.1(1977): 63-99. Print.
Lidz, Jeffrey. “Language learning and language universals.” Biolinguistics, 4.2-3 (2010): 201-217. Print.