On one hand, it seems that languages are very different in their level of difficulty in when starting to learn them from scratch: anywhere from Riau Indonesian to Finnish. On the other hand, the general linguistic consensus seems to be that children need the same time to learn the language and they speak them by four. I have been thinking how to reconcile those two and then I thought maybe that’s because children and adults learn languages differently.
I am not experienced in linguistics to be making these guesses but I was just thinking about it… Might it be that children need about the same time to learn different languages because they learn each form of the word separately? I was talking about Lithuanian with another native speaker and there is a clear transformation of d+iu to d+ž+iu in the word girdžiu but it seems that they do not really think of it is as transformation. That’s just a random example, but the point stands: it is true that children do know the rules of grammar and can use it but may it not be that they simply learn nearly all of the forms of the words by rote even if they don’t need to.
On the other hand, when adults learn languages, they can learn all the forms at once if they are regular. They just need to learn the conjugations and get the infinitives of different verbs to be able to conjugate them. I am not denying that children can do that conjugation if they really need to, I am just saying that perhaps most of the time they don’t need to because they have learned all of the forms by rote due to high exposure to all of them.
So, for example, when children learn two Portuguese verbs, say falar and parar, they learn the forms falar, falo, falas, fala, falamos, falam… and then they also learn parar, paro, paras, para, paramos, param and all of them by rote anyway while for adults it is enough to learn only one of those and then they apply it to the other. Children also learn words as separate elements so I got it (i.e. I understood the point) versus I got it (i.e. I got a pony for birthday) would be as two words with two meanings for children while for adults they would be one word with two meanings: thus it’s 4 elements to learn versus 3.
Languages have similar numbers of word forms since they talk about similar things in all languages and that would explain why children need about the same time to learn all the languages of the world even taking into account their seemingly different difficulty.
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