Child Language Acquisition A* notes

It took me forever! Use them well

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Marco Ball-Albarran
Child Language ­ Learning to talk
Once argued to be a biologically determined process alongside physical and mental
Cannot be true because children deprived of human contact in extreme human isolation
do not acquire language.
If language were innate and liked only to biological factors, even after isolation, then the
appropriate triggers would help children acquire language in the same way, though this is
not the case.
It seems language acquisition is dependent on appropriate linguistic input which must be
gained before a certain age.
Behaviourist approach of language acquisition (Skinner)
Based on conditioning and reinforcement. When a child imitates language and receives
attention, this motivates the child to repeat the behaviour.
Children learn to speak by imitating the language structures they hear. Parents reinforce
and correct utterances which forms the basis for a child's knowledge of language.
Although important in learning pronunciation and acquiring vocabulary, children don't
pick up `correct' forms from imitation
With irregular verbs, for example, children' don't use the standard form because they hear
adults use it. Instead, they over-extend the language patterns they already know:
Steal Stealded (stole) Grow Growded (grew)
Although children may add new words to their repertoire by using labels (a word with a
naming function) an adult has introduced, they rarely imitate speech that is not directed
at them.
Children don't assimilate syntactical structures by imitation
Fails to explain how children produce structures they haven't heard before
Cognitive approach of language acquisition (Piaget)
The cognitive approach links language acquisition to intellectual/cognitive development,
suggesting that children can only use a certain linguistic structure when they understand
the concept involved.
E.g. Children will only understand the past tense when they have understood the concept
of past time; so children must recognise and conceptualise vital physical differences
before they can talk about shape and colour
Children's knowledge is structured differently to adults. It changes from infancy to
adulthood in a similar way for everyone. Due to maturation, there are changes in
understanding, therefore they are determined biologically- however it is via interaction
with the world around them that their intelligence develops. Because of this, Piaget
proposed that children's thinking develops in 4 stages: Sensimotor, Pre-operational,
concrete and formal stage.

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Age range Description of stage Developmental Phenomena
0-2 years Sensorimotor- Baby explores through 5 Object Permanence ­ The awareness that an
senses. Initially grasping, sucking reflexes. object exists even though not visible. Shake a
Grabbing objects and exploring it with rattle and gain attention of 3month old then
mouth. cover it with cloth = no longer interested.
These skills develop and become more Repeat with 8month old and child shows
complex distress at its disappearance.…read more

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Primitive speech Birth -2 years : During this stage, the child begins to learn to speak, mainly
stage imitating words & naming objects, or responding emotionally (crying) or
socially (laughing)
Naive 2-4 years :The child in this stage is beginning to realise that words are
psychological symbols for objects.…read more

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Basic principles of all the above theories
They all highlight a particular element of child language acquisition, but none can provide a
full explanation on their own.…read more

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In order to use language structures (like the comparative for example: This toy is
better than that toy), children must be able to intellectually conceptualise the world
around them ­ language acquisition is therefore linked to intellectual development
Through imitation children acquire new vocab and may be introduced to new
grammatical structures
Parental reinforcement highlights non-standard usage and draws attention to
`correct' versions- although children often don't accept adult correction and too
much can be detrimental.…read more

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Personal Language is used to express a personal "Me like that" as the
preference and identity of the speaker. child looks at a toy in a
Sometimes known as the `Here I am!' shop.
function by announcing oneself to the "No" because the child
world wants to stay in the park
Representational Language used to exchange information. "Mummy" as the child's
Concerned with relaying or requesting mum returns home from
information.…read more

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For politeness, Brown and Levinson's face can be applied (communicative
Positive- individual desires social approval and being included
Negative- individual asserts need to be independent and make own decisions.
For pragmatics, Catherine Garvey found that in play, children adopt roles and
identities, acting out storylines and inventing objects and settings.
This is termed pretend play and fulfils Halliday's imaginative language function
Play practices social interactions and negotiation skills, with players' roles and
responsibilities often decided as they play.…read more

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After birth (vegetative)
Usual responses summarised by David Crystal:
Biological noises ­ Universal across all languages as a
survival attention instinct
Cooing and laughing ­ short vowel like sounds.…read more

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At 4 months they develop a throaty chuckle
Stage 3 (20 weeks-30 weeks vocal play/verbal scribbling)
Steadier and longer sounds
Experimentation to push what they can do (pitch, volume, sounds)
Individual differences- some days use uvular sounds
(rolling Rs, inner mouth), but others use labial sounds (lips)
Eventually combine and produce babbling
Variety of vowel and consonant-like sounds which combine
into increasingly longer sentences.…read more


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