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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: The Acquisition of Japanese Numeral Classifiers Add Dissertation
Author: Kasumi Yamamoto Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Cornell University, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 2000
Linguistic Subfield(s): Psycholinguistics;
Subject Language(s): Japanese
Director(s): John Whitman
Frank Keil
Yasuhiro Shirai
Joan Sereno

Abstract: This study examined the acquisition of Japanese numeral classifiers by Japanese preschool children, ages 3 to 6, with a primary emphasis on development of comprehension. Numeral classifiers, which are particularly common in East and Southeast Asian languages, are morphemes that are typically bound to quantity expressions. The selection of numeral classifiers is determined by the inherent semantic properties of the noun whose quantity is being specified, suggesting that developing patterns of comprehension should be linked to underlying patterns of semantic and conceptual development. Previous research claims that children acquire certain distributional patterns very early but that the acquisition of the semantic system is a very slow process. Moreover, it has been claimed that acquisition proceeds from more general classifiers with less features to more specific classifiers with multiple features.

However, based on current research in cognitive development and language acquisition, I see no reason for assuming that either the conceptual complexity of the classifier categories or the grammatical complexities of their usage should cause children to be unable to link up grammar and conceptual structure until well into middle childhood. The conclusions in previous research are almost entirely drawn from children's production, and appear to be based on the assumption that failures with lower level categories entail failures with higher level ones. I argue instead that, different experimental techniques and stimulus contrast sets reveal a much greater sensitivity to semantic relations in young children than was previously considered possible.

In this study, I tested children's comprehension under two different conditions: in Condition 1 (strong contrast), classifiers from different domains were compared and in Condition 2 (weak contrast), classifiers from the same domains were compared. Children showed a much greater sensitivity to the conceptual underpinnings of the numeral classifier system in comprehension. The results also indicated that acquisition proceeds through a differentiation of broader categories (animal classifiers vs. shape classifiers vs. functional classifiers) to much finer distinctions among classifiers in the same domains.