A. Katz amnfn at
Sat Oct 30 18:42:09 UTC 2010


Overall that was a very useful suggestion concerning the standards 
established by language pathologists to assess first language learning.

However, I'm a little more skeptical that these tests are effective at 
detecting problems with "general language ability" as opposed to the 
success of a particular child with the acquisition of a specific language.

There are numerous stories about language delay experts being unable to 
independently detect the difference between general language delay and the 
fact that the child in question is not a speaker of the particular 
language being tested.

To my knowledge, there is no test of generalized language ability even for 


On Sat, 30 Oct 2010, Keith Johnson wrote:

> Hi Sheri,
> I wonder if your feeling that your daughter had crossed a language learning 
> threshold might have been at about 18 months, the usual time of the 
> "vocabulary explosion"?
> Bob McMurray has some really interesting ideas about how to explain this 
> feature of language acquisition. He simulated the vocabulary explosion by 
> making only two assumptions.  (1) words are being learned in parallel - a 
> little bit of learning for many words at the same time, and (2) some words 
> are easier to learn than others.  That's all it takes to have a vocabulary 
> explosion - no language module needed.
> McMurray posted a very helpful discussion of his work:
> If the sense that a child has crossed a linguistic threshold is related to 
> the vocabulary explosion, and if the vocabulary explosion is related to 
> McMurray's two factors, then what keeps Alex from crossing the threshold must 
> be one of two things; he is learning words sequentially rather than in 
> parallel, or he finds it much harder to learn words than children do.  If the 
> first impediment is the culprit then perhaps training methods could be 
> adjusted, but if the second is the crucial factor then it may not be possible 
> for a parrot to cross that language-learning threshold with English.
> Earlier work with Chimps has tried to address the word difficulty problem by 
> teaching ASL rather than spoken language, but one wonders if the difficulty 
> lies at a more conceptual level of word learning than mere input/output 
> system unnaturalness.  Still the LACUS paper that Aya pointed us to hints at 
> an impressive use by parrots of duality of patterning (one of Hockett's 13 
> design features of language Hockett, C (1960) "The Origin of Speech". in 
> Scientific American, 203, pp. 89–97).
> best,
> Keith Johnson
> p.s. I would like to say, regarding the range of human linguistic ability 
> (Aya's repeated point that some humans don't have language), that it would be 
> useful to remember that clinical speech and language pathologists have 
> developed numerous standardized tests of human linguistic ability, and 
> school-aged children are routinely tested to detect developmental delays. 
> Perhaps, if one wanted to measure the level of linguistic accomplishment 
> reached by a parrot or other animal it would be good to score the animal on 
> some standardized tests.

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