A Level English Language: Language Acquisition By Children And Teenagers

Notecards for CIE A2 English Language: Syllabus Code 9093

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Stages: Prelinguistic

  • The first stage of language development is known as the prelinguistic, babbling or cooing stage 
  • This period generally lasts for 2-9 months
  • During the first two months of life, infant vocalisations are mainly expressions of discomfort (crying and fussing) 
  • Along with coughing, sucking, swallowing and burping
  • During the period from around 2-4 months infants begin making "comfort sounds" usually in response to pleasurable interaction with a caregiver
  • The earliest comfort sounds may be sighs or grunts with the later ones sounding more like coos
  • They will also begin to make vowel sounds such as oooooo and aaaaaa
  • Laughter also appears at around 4 months
  • By five months infants typically begin to babble and mix consonant sounds with their vowel sounds
  • This will produce noises such as da-da-da-da, ma-ma-ma-ma and ba-ba-ba-ba
  • During the period from 4-7 months infants also engage in "vocal play" 
  • This involves manipulating their pitch (to produce squeals and growls), volume (producing yells) and tract closures to produce friction noises, nasal murmurs, raspberries and snorts
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Stages: Holophrastic

  • The Holophrastic stage, aka "The One Word Stage" occurs when an infant is 12-14 months old
  • At this stage children use singular words to express a whole sentence
  • The words in this stage serve three major functions:
    • to link with a child's own action or desire for an action
    • to convey emotions
    • a naming function
  • Common words include:
    • mama/dada
    • yes/no
    • go
    • car
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Stages: Holophrastic #2

  • Young children often over-generalise words due to their limited vocabulary
  • E.g. "bottle" used for any drink, "dog" refers to a range of animals that the child is not yet able to pronounce and "car" refers to anything with wheels
  • It has been suggested that the number of holophrastic words a child can say depends on the parent
  • The word choices and phrases that are used by the child child come from the parents' language
  • Therefore it is crucial that a child interacts daily with their parents during language development 
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Stages: Two-Word Utterances

  • The third stage begins at around the age of 18 months 
  • These usually consist of just nouns and verbs 
  • E.g. "Where Mummy?" and "Car blue"
  • During this stage we see the appearance of:
    • Single modifiers ("That dog")
    • Two-word questions ("Mummy eat?")
    • The addition of the suffix -ing to describe something that is happening right now ("Baby sleeping")
  • At this stage children also tend to be able to recognise things that belond to them and things that belong to others 
  • They also tend to be able to express what people are doing at different times
  • The words lack morphological and syntactic markers
  • Morphology: the study and description of how words are formed in language
  • Syntax: the way in which linguistic elements (as words) are put together to form constituents (as phrases or clauses)
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Stages: Telegraphic

  • This stage is called the telegraphic stage because it is similar to what is seen in a telegram: containing just enough information for the sentence to make sense 
  • This stage contains many three and four word sentences 
  • At some point during this stage the child begins to see the links between words and objects 
  • So overgeneralisation occurs
  • During this stage a child's vocabulary jumps from around 50 words to 13,000 words 
  • At the end of this stage the child begins to incorporate plurals and try to grasp the concept of different tenses
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Stages: Telegraphic #2

  • Also during this stage if a child is asked to repeat a sentence they may skip out the deteminers, modal auxiliaries, auxiliary verbs, verbal inflections and often pronouns as well
  • Determiner: A word that comes before a noun that is used to show which thing is being referred to (e.g. a, the, some, any, my, your, etc)
  • Modal Auxiliary: a verb that combines with another verb to express necessity, incertainty, ability or permission (e.g. can, could, may, might, must, ought, shall, should, will, would, etc)
  • Auxiliary Verb: A verb that determines mood, tense or aspect of another verb in a verb phrase (e.g. have, do, will, etc)
  • Verbal Inflection: A process of word formationin which items are added to the base form of a word to express grammatical meanings 
  • E.g. the genitive 's; the plural -s; the third person singular -s; the past tense -d-ed or -t; the negative particle 'nt; -ing forms of verbs; the comparative -er; the superlative -est
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Stages: Post-Telegraphic

  • At about the age of two, children first begin to use the grammatical elements defined in the last note card
  • The process is usually a somewhat gradual one in which the more telegraphic patterns alternate with adult or adult-like forms 
  • Sometimes in adjacent utterances
  • Over a year to a year and a half, sentences get longer, grammatical elements are omitted and inserted incorrectly less often and multiple clause sentences become commoner
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Functions: Basic

  • Instrumental Function: to obtain goods and services (e.g. "I want")
  • Regulatory Function: to control behaviour of others (e.g. "Do this")
  • Interactional Function: to relate to others, to interact (e.g. "Me and you")
  • Personal Function: to express self  (e.g. "Watch me")
  • Heuristic Function: to explore and gain knowledge of the environment (e.g. "What's that?")
  • Imaginative Function: to use language imaginatively, telling stories, jokes, creating an imaginary environment, etc (e.g. "Let's pretend")
  • Informative Function: to convey facts and information (e.g. "I've got something to tell you")
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Functions: Instrumental

  • The instrumental function of language is the first function of language to appear in young children
  • It appears between during te "two-word utterances" stage of language development
  • In the early stages it is used to satisfy basic material needs and to manipulate the environment to accomplish what the child wants
  • Later on it becomes more sophisticated and may take the form of polite requests 
  • And even later on it becomes more complex when taking the form of persuasion and argument
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Functions: Regulatory

  • The regulatory function involves using language to control the behaviour of others or getting them to do what we want them to do 
  • Children soon realise after acquiring the instrumental function of language that language is a useful tool and can aid significantly in getting what they want
  • Also at this point (or sometimes later on with some children) they also realise that people older than them or people with more power use their language to control them
  • This may include giving orders or instructions 
  • Or at more subtle levels manipulating and controlling others 
  • Positive regulatory language is the "life skill" that parents, people in management and administrators must know
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Functions: Interactional

  • The interactional function of language is used to define social relationships and is language all of us use in group situations
  • Examples of interactional language include:
    • "Small talk" 
    • Negotiations 
    • Encouragement
    • Expression of friendship
  • Since those who are effective in building social skills are likely to succeed, children need to develop awareness of the ability to use language to establish relationships
  • Therefore the use of interactional language should be encouraged from a young age while discouraging its use for negative purposes
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Functions: Personal

  • The personal function of language is used to express individuality and personality 
  • Expressing strong feelings and opinions are part of personal language
  • Personal language is often neglected and deemed innappropriate in classrooms of young children becuase it is very intimate and sometimes encourages unwanted behaviours from them
  • However, in classrooms of older, more mature students personal language can somtimes help to the student to relate their own life and opinions with the topic that they are studying 
  • It can also aid in helping older children (especially those going through puberty) to establish their own identities, build self-esteem and confidence 
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Functions: Imaginative

  • The imaginative function of language is more widely used by young children because it involves creating a world of your own through dramatic play, drama, poetry or stories
  • Unless it is very heavily encouraged, the use of imaginative language will disappear in later years
  • However it's importance cannot be underestimated, it is an essential tool for young children because it allows them to express themselves in a fun, interactive way
  • On the other hand, I am of the opinion that it is a good thing that the use of imaginative language reduces in later years because in some cases many teenagers will escape into their own fantasy world when reality becomes too stressful or demanding of them 
  • A little use of this function is perfectly fine, especially when it comes to educational matters and school assignments but it is not okay to try and avoid the problems of everyday life by running away into an imaginary world
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Functions: Heuristic

  • The heuristic function of language is used to explore, investigate, to acquire knowledge, to do research and to acquire understanding
  • So, basically, heuristic language is curious language 
  • It is used by children and adults alike who wish to broaden their knowledge of the world 
  • The most important function of this kind of language is to inquire 
  • Curiosity is what makes new discoveries possible and what makes sure that our culture and international awareness continuously grow and develop
  • Children will tend to use blunt questions when using this function and will continuously ask "Why?" 
  • Adults will not only question things because they are curious but also to challenge whoever they are talking to due to a difference of opinion or completely disagreeing with them
  • Therefore heuristic language will grow as people get older and as they develop their own perspective on matters
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Functions: Informative/Representational

  • The informative/representational function of language is used to communicate information, to report facts or conclusions from facts 
  • Informative language is the language of teachers
  • This function affirms or denies propositions 
  • It is also used to describe the world or reason about it
  • So, basically it does what it says on the tin - it informs/represents
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Theories: Skinner

  • B. F. Skinner believed that language is acquired through principles of conditioning, including association, imitation and reinforcement 
  • According to his view, children learn words by associating sounds with objects, actions and events
  • They also learn words and syntax by imitating others
  • Adults enable children to learn words and syntax by reinforcing correct speech
  • Skinner argued that children learn language based on behaviourist reinforcement principles by associating words with meanings
  • Correct utterances are positively reinforced when the child realises the communicative value of words and phrases
  • E.g. when a child says "milk" the mother will smile and give her some as a result
  • The child will find this outcome rewarding, enhancing the child's language development
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Theories: Chomsky

  • Noam Chomsky argues that human brains have a language acquisition device (LAD)
  • This is an innate mechanism or process that allows children to develop language skills
  • According to his view, all children are born with a universal grammar
  • Universal grammar consists of a verb category and a noun category to facilitate the entirety of language development in children 
  • This makes them receptive to the common features of all languages
  • Because of this hard-wired background in grammar, children easily pick up a language when they are exposed to its particular grammar
  • Chomsky argued against Skinner's theory saying that children would never acquire the tools needed for processing an infinate amount of sentences if the language acquisition mechanism was dependent on language input alone
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Theories: Chomsky - Evidence

  • Evidence for an innate human capacity to acquire language skills comes from the following observations:
    • The stages of language development occur at about the same ages in most children, even though different children experience very different environments
    • Children's language development follows a simialr pattern across cultures
    • Children generally acquire language skills quickly and effortlessly 
    • Deaf children, who have not been exposed to language may make up thier own language. These new languages resemble each other in sentence structure, even when they are created in different cultures
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Theories: Piaget

  • According to Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, language skills and cognitive development are strongly linked
  • Piaget proposed that all children develop the necessary language skills in four stages
    • The first stage is the Sensorimotor stage
    • This stage lasts until the child is around two years old
    • Piaget suggested that in this stage children are focussed on the physical, therefore just as they play around with what they can do with their bodies, in the same way they play around with what they can do with their mouths
    • In the process of exploring what sounds they can make they learn to imitate some of the sounds that they hear their parents making, and in what context those sounds should be made
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Theories: Piaget #2

  • The second stage is the Preoperational stage
  • This stage lasts from the ge of 2 until the child reaches 6 or 7
  • Piaget believed that the most important feature of this stage is how egocentric the child becomes
  • I.e. the child seems to talk constantly although most of what he is saying doesn't need to be said out loud 
  • So the child may blabber on about what they are doing even though others can easily see what they are doing
  • The child shows no awareness of the possibility that others may have their own opinions on things
  • There seems to be little difference between when the child is talking to others and when they are just thinking aloud
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Theories: Piaget #3

  • The third stage is the Concrete Operational stage 
  • This stage begins at around the age of 7 and lasts until the child reaches 11 or 12
  • During this stage the child is capable of using logic and solving problems in the form of stories  as long as they deal with facts and not abstract ideas 
  • When a child uses the language in this stage they are just referring to concrete facts and not mental concepts 
  • Piaget also belived that some people remain in this stage although children in this stage have not yet reached full cognitive maturity
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Theories: Piaget #4

  • The fourth and final stage is the Formal Operational stage
  • This stage begins at 11 or 12 at the earliest
  • At this stage the child can begin to use abstract reason and mentally distinguish between themselves and the idea they are considering
  • Children who have reached this stage can use language to express and debate abstract theoretical concepts 
  • E.g. those found in Mathematics, Philosophy or Logic
  • Piaget believed that these four stages of linguistic development are universal and that no child could ever skip over one of the stages
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Theories: Child-Directed Speech

  • Some common ideas about child-directed speech include the facts that:
    • When talking to children adults mainly label objects and describe ongoing events for them
    • Spoken speech contains many speech errors and incomplete utterances - especially when you have to manage difficult situations with a child
    • Parent's systematically correct their children's errors
    • This "mothering of speech" is instinctive and does not differ much across cultures
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Theories: Child-Directed Speech #2

  • Child directed speech/language (CDL or CDS) is sometimes also known as "baby talk" or "motherese" and is a special style used when speaking to young children
  • It has several content characteristics:
    • calling the child by name, often using a "pet" name or term of endearment
    • shorter, grammatically simpler sentences
    • more repetition
    • more use of questions or question tags (e.g. That's nice, isn't it?)
    • use of "baby talk" words
    • expanding on and/or finishing a child's utterance
  • CDL also has a characteristic "sound"
    • higher pitch
    • slower speed
    • more pauses, particularly between phrases
    • clearer, more distinct pronunciation
    • exaggerated intonation (some words in the sentence are heavily emphasised and a very prominent rising tone is used when asking questions)
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Theories: Child-Directed Speech #3

  • This theory focusses mainly on the maternal input of language
  • The main argument is that parents do not talk to children in the same way that they talk to adults 
  • They are also able to adapt their speech so that the child has the maximum opportunity to learn and interact
  • The meanings conveyed by mothers are mostly concrete and there is a more restrictive range of sentences
  • Often parents include extra information that would be considered unnecessary when talking normally
  • This theory is often criticised because it is hard to show correlations between its features and their emergence in the child's speech
  • Also the maternal input structures are very closely tailored to the needs of the child 
  • And the child may receive linguistic stimulation from other sources; not just the mother and father 
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