The Comparative Method of Language Acquisition Research

Clifton Pye

The Comparative Method of Language Acquisition Research

Clifton Pye

304 pages | 12 halftones, 1 line drawing, 90 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2017
Paper $50.00 ISBN: 9780226539614 Will Publish October 2017
Cloth $150.00 ISBN: 9780226481289 Will Publish October 2017
E-book $50.00 ISBN: 9780226481319 Will Publish October 2017
The Mayan family of languages is ancient and unique. With their distinctive relational nouns, positionals, and complex grammatical voices, they are quite alien to English and have never been shown to be genetically related to other New World tongues. These qualities, Clifton Pye shows, afford a particular opportunity for linguistic insight. Both an overview of lessons Pye has gleaned from more than thirty years of studying how children learn Mayan languages as well as a strong case for a novel method of researching crosslinguistic language acquisition more broadly, this book demonstrates the value of a close, granular analysis of a small language lineage to untangling the complexities of first language acquisition.

Pye here applies the comparative method to three Mayan languages—K’iche’, Mam, and Ch’ol—showing how differences in the use of verbs are connected to differences in the subject markers and pronouns used by children and adults. His holistic approach allows him to observe how small differences between the languages lead to significant differences in the structure of the children’s lexicon and grammar, and to learn why that is so. More than this, he expects that such careful scrutiny of related languages’ variable solutions to specific problems will yield new insights into how children acquire complex grammars. Studying such an array of related languages, he argues, is a necessary condition for understanding how any particular language is used; studying languages in isolation, comparing them only to one’s native tongue, is merely collecting linguistic curiosities.
Review Quotes
Penelope Brown, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
“This is an important book, exemplifying a novel approach that Pye has been developing and refining for twenty years. Pye’s thesis is that if one wants to understand how children learn their first language, it is not sufficient to study the acquisition of just one language in isolation—the study needs to be comparative, and to show how children adapt their learning strategies in relation to the structure of the language being learned. And further, he argues that the best way of doing this is to study several related languages, so that it is possible to establish precise cross-language equivalences of the morphemes, words, and syntactic structures being compared. All scholars of child first language acquisition should find this book of interest, partly for the methodological challenges it poses, and partly also for Pye’s findings for three Mayan languages, which are of major theoretical significance. This is an original contribution that presents a strong challenge to the predominant paradigm for studying how children learn language.”
David Ingram, Arizona State University
“I cannot emphasize enough the uniqueness of this book. There is no one doing language acquisition analysis of this kind in any comparable context. No one has tackled language acquisition and reached a depth of understanding in an entire language family as Pye has. Mayan languages provide him typological characteristics distinctive from the classical languages of historical linguistics and properties not so easily captured by much of modern linguistic theory. Pye is very clear and diligent in his analyses, and his comparative method has the promise to provide a model for future research in a much wider range of language families. Nothing comparable to this book is likely to come along any time soon, if at all.”
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