A2 Language Aquisition: General Theorists

Theorists of childrens spoken langauge

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Berko (1958)

  • Showed children 'Wug' cartoons.
  • When the children were shown two of the creatures, the children were asked to complete the sentence - 'now there are two...'
  • Children aged 3 and 4 correctly replied the plural 'Wugs'
  • Children between 2 and 5 often show grammatical awareness
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Bloom (1973)

  • Found that the same sentence may be used to express different meaning, within different contexts
  • e.g. 'Mummy sock' would mean (when picking up sock) 'This is mummy's sock', or 'mummy is putting the sock on me'
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Brown (1973)

  • Studied childrens langauge development between the ages of 20 months and 36 months.
  • Found that these langauges features occured in this order:

- 'ing' ending

- Plural 's'

- Possessive ''s'

- 'the', 'a'

- Past tense 'ed'

- Third person singular ending 's'

- Auxillary to 'be'

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Brown and Levinson - Politeness

Politeness is encouraged by parents at an early age. Suggested two main aspects of face in communicative interatctions:

Positive - Where the individual desires social approval and being included

Negative - Where individual asserts their need to be independent and make their own decisions

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Piaget - Cognitive Theory

  • Believed children would only acquire more complex forms of language when their intellectual development can cope. 
  • A child must understand a word before using it


  • It is no use teaching a child something before they are ready. 


e.g. anger - it is an emotion that you cant see, so when the child uses the word, they learn it is an emotion and are able to understand it.  

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Katherine Nelson (1973)

  • Identified 4 catergories for children's naming things, people, actions and events:
  • She found that 60% of first words were nouns and that verbs formed the 2nd largest group, and were made of actions or location words such as 'up' and 'down'. Modifiers were the 3rd largest.
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Cruttenden (1974)

  • Investigated wether children could understand intonation.
  • He compared adults to children to see if they could predict football results by listening to the scores. He found that adults could successfully predict the wiining team by listening to the intonation put on the first team. Children up to 7 were less accurate.
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Cruttenden (1979) (Further Theory)

Divided the acquisition of inflections into 3 stages:

- Stage 1: Initially, children memorise words and have an idea of the rules

- Stage 2: Show awareness of general priciples for inflections and may apply regular endings to words that require irregular inflections. e.g. they know that 's' is plural, but say 'foots'. This is OVERGENERALISATION

- Stage 3: Where correct inflections are used, including irregular forms.

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Mehler (1978)

  • Found that French babies as young as four days old were able to distinguish french from other languages

- When they heard french, they sucked on their dummies harder (a sign of increased interest)

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Eve Clark - Overextension + Underextension

  • It is more common for children to overextend a words meaning rather than underextend.

- e.g. 'dog' applied to all animals, 'mum' applied to all women.

  • Found that children base overextensions on physical qualities of objects e.g. taste, sound, movement, shape, size and texture
  • Found that childrens first words connect to their experiences
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Ursula Bellugi - Negation

Three stages of negation:

1. The use of no or not at the beginning or end of a sentence - 'No wear shoes'

2. The no/not is moved inside the sentence - 'I no want it'

3. Attaches the negative to auxiliary verb - 'No, I don't want to go to nursery',  'I am not'

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Ursula Bellugi - Pronouns

Three stages of using pronouns:

1. Child uses there own name - 'Tom play'

2. The child recognises the I/me pronouns and that these are used in different places in a sentence - 'I play...me do that'

3. The child uses them accordingly to whether they are in the subject or object position within a sentence - 'I play with the toy. Give it to me'

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Halliday - Seven Functions of Speech

1. Instrumental - fulfil a need: 'I want milk'

2. Regulatory - influence the behavious of other: 'pick up'

3. Interactional - develop and maintain social relationships: 'I love you'

4. Personal - convey individual opinions and ideas: 'me like Charlie and Lola'

5. Representation - convey facts and information

6. Imaginative - create an imaginary world and may be seen in a play predominate: 'me shopkeeper'

7. Heuristic - learn about the environment: 'wassat?'

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Halliday - Pragmatics

Pragmatic understanding is crucial to children's successful language development. Pragmatics is about:

  • Implicature - what we mean, rather than what we say
  • Inference - interpreting what others mean
  • Politeness - using the right words and phrases to be polite (e.g. please, thank you)
  • Conversational management and turning taking - knowing when to speak
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John Dore - Langauge Functions

Labelling - Naming a person or object

Repeating - repeating an adults word or utternace

Answering - responding to an utternace of another spaeker

Requesting action - asking for something to be done for them

Calling- getting attention by shouting

Greeting - greeting someone or something

Protesting - objecting to requests from others

Practicing - using language when no adult is present

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Lev Vygotsky - Play

Observed young children and linked it to cognitive and social development.

  • Young children use props to support their play, whereas older children use their imagintation
  • Older children role-played adult behaviour
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Katherine Garvey - Play

  • Studied pairs of children playing and found that they adopted roles and identities, acting out storylines

- This is pretend play and matches Halliday's imaginative langauge function.

  • The play together is fun, but also practices their social skills and their ability to negotiate.
  • This is sometimes called SOCIODRAMATIC PLAY

- This usually begins when the child is 4. The re-enactments use field specific lexis and are often structured in the way adults would

- This suggests they have observed and imitated adult behaviour

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Bruner - LASS, Rituals

  • Believes there is a 'LASS' - a Language Acquisition Support System.
  • He looked at ritualised activities in children's lives e.g. meal times, bed time.
  • He refers to the game peek-a-boo. This teaches: turn-taking, syntax and formulaic utterances.
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