“Language Acquisition”


      I use this term between quotes because it is as much a misnomer as its converse language transmission. No speaker ever passes on a ready-made linguistic system to a learner who does nothing but memorize the units and rules that make it. No learner ever replicates any speaker, whom they would have had to target exclusively. We must bear in mind that every idiolect is different in some respects (however small the differences may be), that every learner interacts with more than one speaker and is therefore exposed to different non-identical systems, and no two speakers have produced exactly the same utterances in speaking to the learner. Besides, in naturalistic settings of linguistic interaction, speakers who can articulate their linguistic systems do not normally stop to explain their linguistic systems to learners — contrary to what is done in a classroom setting. “Language acquisition” is an active re-construction process in which the learner develops a system that emulates those of other speakers of the language he/she targets. The process is similar to that of gene recombination in biology, in which even the same genes are not recombined the same way in organisms sharing the same gene pool. The linguistic feature recombination into an idiolect differs from gene recombination in animal biology essentially in being a gradual process and being one of the best illustrations of polyploidism.