Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Slater I 191
Chomsky/psychological theories: Chomsky (1957(1) [argued] (…) for highly constrained innate biases that lead all natural languages to share a small number of universal properties. By implication, language acquisition does not require a protracted period of development during which the child is exposed to the idiosyncrasies of their native language. Rather, brief snippets of “surface” input serve to trigger one of a very few possible “hidden” structures, that then evolve into a system capable of generating an infinite variety of grammatically correct sentences in the particular native language to which the child is exposed.
Psychology: while Chomsky never directly studied child language, psychological studies observed a multi-year period gradually increasing vocabulary and grammatical complexity. E.g., >Eimas et al. (1971)(2). >Language development/Eimas.
VsChomsky/ChomskyVsVs: When these language acquisition researchers noted the absence of evidence for innate linguistic skills, the explanation offered by those who espoused Chomsky’s nativist perspective was that children are beset by an impressive array of “production deficiencies” that mask their true underlying competence.
VsProduction deficiencies: >Phonetics/psychological theories.
Slater I 196
Chomsky: the argument for a special speech mode rested on two claims: (a) speech is perceived in a manner that is not shared with non-speech sounds, and (b) speech perception is fundamentally linguistic in nature, thereby arguing for an innate mechanism that is specific to humans.
VsChomsky: Both of these claims were challenged by strong empirical data in the decade after Eimas et al. (1971(2)). First, Kuhl and Miller (1975(3), 1978(4)) showed that a non-human mammal (chinchilla) has CP (categorical perception; >Phonetics/psychological theories) for VOT (voice onset time , including the very same synthetic speech sounds used in Eimas et al. Moreover, Kuhl and Miller were able to develop a
Slater I 197
method to obtain labeling data from the animals, and the manner in which chinchillas responded to VOT is virtually identical to human adults. Follow-up work by Kuhl and Padden (1982(5) tested rhesus monkeys and confirmed these findings with a species more similar to humans.
Categorical perception: Thus, the presence of CP is not a sufficient argument for the operation of a linguistically relevant speech mode, since no one claims that chinchillas or monkeys achieve anything remotely like language, and certainly no ability to produce speech. Subsequent research by Kluender, Diehl, and Killeen (1987)(6) has shown that the fundamental properties of CP are not even unique to mammals (…). Cf. >Animal Language.
Problem: CP is not nearly as definitive as the claims made by Liberman and his colleagues (1957(7), 1961(8), 1967(9). See Pisoni and Lazarus (1974)(10), Miller (1997)(11).



1. Chomsky, N. (1957). Syntactic structures. Mouton: The Hague.
2. Eimas, P. D., Siqueland, E. R.,Jusczyk, P., &Vigorito,J. (1971). Speech perception in infants. Science, 171, 303-306.
3. Kuhl, P. K., & Miller, J. D. (19 75). Speech perception by the chinchilla: Voiced-voiceless distinction in
alveolar plosive consonants. Science, .190, 69—72.
4. Kuhl, P. K., & Miller, J. D. (19 78). Speech perception by the chinchilla: Identification functions for synthetic VOT stimuli. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 63, 905—917.
5. Kuhl, P. K., & Padden, D. M. (1982). Enhanced discriminability at the phonetic boundaries for the voicing feature in macaques. Perception and Psychophysics, 32, 542—550.
6. Kluender, K. R., Diehl, R. L., & Killeen, P. R. (1987). Japanese quail can learn phonetic categories. Science, 237, 1195—1197.
7. Liberman, A. M., Harris, K. S., Hoffman, H. S., & Griffith, B.C. (1957). The discrimination of speech sounds within and across phoneme boundaries. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 54, 358—368.
8. Liberman, A. M., Harris, K. S., Kinney, J., & Lane, H. (1961). The discrimination of relative onset-time of the components of certain speech and non-speech patterns. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61,379—388.
9. Liberman, A. M., Cooper, F. S., Shankweiler, D. P., & Studdert-Kennedy, M. (1967). Perception of the speech code. Psychological Review, 74, 431—461.
10. Pisoni, D. B., & Lazarus, J. H. (1974). Categorical and non-categorical modes of speech perception along the voicing continuum. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 55, 328—333.
11. Miller, J. L. (1997). Internal structure of phonetic categories. Language and Cognitive Processes, 12,
865—869.


Richard N. Aslin, “Language Development. Revisiting Eimas et al.‘s /ba/ and /pa/ Study”, in: Alan M. Slater and Paul C. Quinn (eds.) 2012. Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Psychological Theories
Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012


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