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"Comprehension without Instruction: The Complexities and Myths of Language Acquisition"

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
01h: 14m:01s | 953 views

The 2014 Spring Presidential Lecture Series
“Comprehension without Instruction:
The Complexities and Myths of Language Acquisition” A lecture by
Dr. Jilani Warsi
Associate Professor, Academic Literacy
Queensborough Community College, The City University of New York


Linguists say that language is the most human thing about being human. Yet, how a child knows the complex properties of a first language without seeming to learn it formally remains a mystery. This phenomenon is known as Plato’s Problem, a term coined by Noam Chomsky, father of modern linguistics, and refers to the child’s successful acquisition of language without receiving explicit instruction. In fact, Chomsky argues that it is a mistake to use the word “learning” in reference to the child’s successful acquisition of her first language.

In this lecture, I will first discus the logical problem of language acquisition and refer to poverty of the stimulus, the limited role of the environment in determining ultimate attainment. I will then turn to a brief discussion of Universal Grammar, debunking the myth that languages are learned mainly through imitation. I will provide evidence proving that children are born already knowing the syntactic structures of their native language, and that they rely on Universal Grammar to schematize experience. Finally, I will examine Universal Grammar’s implications for teaching a second or foreign language.

Dr. Jilani Warsi received an MA in Applied Linguistics from California State University in Northridge (CSUN). He wrote his dissertation on the acquisition of second language phonology and received his Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from Boston University (BU). Dr. Warsi has taught at both BU and CSUN, as well as at Salem State, Fisher, and Newbury Colleges, and the Institute for English Language Programs (IEL) at Harvard University. He teaches remedial reading and writing in the Department of Academic Literacy at Queensborough Community College as an Associate Professor.

Dr. Warsi has published several language programs through the Pimsleur Division of Simon & Schuster. He has also co-authored Read to Succeed: A Thematic Approach to Academic Reading and Read to Achieve: Gateway to Academic Reading with his colleague, Professor David Rothman, through Pearson Education. He is currently writing a digital reading program entitled Introductory Interactive Academic Readings for the 21st Century, also with Professor Rothman.

His areas of interest are applied linguistics, second language acquisition, interlanguage, phonology and morphology, psycholinguistics, and sociolinguistics. He is a visiting professor in the Framingham State College’s International Education Programs and has taught courses in first language acquisition, second language acquisition, research and evaluation, language development and communication, language structure: syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, language structure: phonology and morphology. Dr. Warsi taught English as a second or foreign language in Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Poland, Brazil, Honduras, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Panama, Nicaragua, Northern Mariana Islands - Saipan, Taiwan, South Korea, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Venezuela.
Presenter: Dr. Jilani Warsi