Child language acquisition

  • Created by: Tooth04
  • Created on: 17-12-21 09:39

Interesting facts

-At around 18 months, a child learn 10 months a day. 

-Deaf children exposed to sign language at the same rate that hearing children learn spoken language. 

-If a person develops language after puberty they will never be able to fully acquire langauge. 

-A child understands more words than they can speak. 

-If you expose a baby to two different langauges at the same time they will learn both. 

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Key words

communicative competence: the ability to form accurate and understandable utterances, using the grammar system, and to understand social context for using them.​

proto words: ‘made up’ words that a child will use to represent a word they might not yet be able to pronounce, for example ‘ray rays’ for raisins.​

pre-verbal stage: a period of time that involves experimenting with noises and sounds but without producing recognizable words – usually lasting for the majority of the baby’s first year.​

cooing: distinct from crying but not yet forming recognizable vowels and consonants.​

babbling: vocal play that involves forming vowel and consonant sounds, which can be reduplicated (repeated sounds) or variated (different sounds put together).​​

non-verbal communication: all the ways in which communication occurs that do not involve words (e.g. a parent shaking their head at a child will communicate the same meaning as ‘no’)​

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Beginnings of language development

Pre-birth = Babies become used to the rhythm and intonation of language spoken around them.​

1st weeks = Crying, first vocal expression. Different types of crying.​

6-8 weeks = Cooing. Child discovering vocal chords.​

6-9 months = Babbling. Key stage. Sounds they are making begin to resemble adult language. Sound combinations.​ 

Reduplicated babbling is simpler, appears first and involves a child repeatedly creating the same sounds e.g. bababababa, variegated babbling emerges slightly later and involves variation in the consonant and vowel sounds being produced. E.g. daba, manamoo

When a child is about 1 year old it will speak its first recognisable word. ​

From this point onwards we can separate the stages of language acquisition into PHONOLOGY, LEXIS, SEMANTICS, GRAMMAR and PRAGMATICS.

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First word stage / Holophrastic stage

The First Word Stage:

- A child is usually about a year when it speaks its first recognisable word. 

The Holophrastic Stage:

-Between 12-18 months, one word utternaces. 

-Ocassionaly two words are linked in a single unit e.g. allgone

-Nameing function mostly. 

-Over-extension - applying a label to more agents than it should have e.g. seas for all bodies of water.

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Two Word Stage

Two Word Stage:

-At 18 months old a child with usually begin to use two word sentences. 

-Two words are usually grammatically. 

- Confusion can arise from tenses or plurals being left out. 

Virtuous error - when grammatical rules are applied correctly to irregular words e.g 'I wented'. 

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The Telegraphic Stage

The Telegraphic Stage:

-From the age of 2 a child begin to produce 3/4 word utternaces. 

  • -Key elements missing;
  • articles
  • auxillary verbs 
  • preporsitions 
  • conjunctions 


Verbs - children invert verbs into nouns, discontinued when not represented in the environment. 

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Halliday's functions of memory

-Instrumental - language used to fufil a need on the part of the speaker.

-Regulatory - language used to influnence the behaviours of others. 

-Interactional - langauge used to develop social relationships. 

-Personal - language used to escape the personaln and identify of the speaker. 

-Representational - language used to exchange information. 

-Heuristic - language used to explore and learn the environment. 

-Imaginative - language used to explore the imagination. 

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John Dores language functions

-Labelling - naming or identifying an object. 

-Repeating - echoing something spoken by an adult. 

-Answering - giving direct response to an utterance spoken by an adult. 

-Request action - demanding an object. 

-Calling - attracting attention by shouting. 

-Greeting - (self-explanatory) 

-Protesting - objecting to requests 

-Practising - using and repeatedly when no adult is present. 

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Noam Chomsky (Nature)

-LAD device - stated that children have an inate language acquisition device that helps them develop thier language. The device is said to help them quickly learn language in thier early years. 

-Further translated into the universal grammar theory, the idea that the brain has a limited set of rules for organising language. In turn, there is an assumption that all languages have common structural basis. The set of rules is known as universal grammar. 

-Chomsky sites virtuous errors e.g. 'i sawed' as an example of the child using the LAD to get to grips with language change. Children often place correct grammatical structures in thier speech.

-Theory widely discredited due to lack of research.

-offers a hypothetical explanation and we do not know where the LAD is located in the brain. 

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B.F Skinner (Nurture)

-The idea that children develop their language through imitation, where correct utterances are positively reinforced. The need for a caregiver is stressed in this theory, as they child imitates from them and they can positively reinforced. 

Imitation can be shown by recasting, where incorrect utterances are corrected by the adulting repeating the correct form. 

Called children's brains a 'blank slate' and that language was another form of learned behaviour. 

Opposition - children can naturally apply grammar relativley successfully at a young age. 

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Lennenberg (1967)

- Proposed that language depends on maturation and that there is a critical period between about 18 months and puberty during which time a first language must be acquired. 

- Although much language learning takes place during pre-school years, it continues into adulthood. Therefore, young children’s proficiency in language does not seem to involve a biologically critical period.

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Bellugi's three stages of negation

-Stage 1 ( 2 years old) - utterances with no begnnig or end. Only way of producing negatives. 

-Stage 2 ( 2 years and 3 months old) - no is retained but it now appears in mid-utterances in the correct syntactical position. More variety in negatives e.g. can't and don't. 

-Stage 3 (2 years and 9 months) - not emerges consistently. More variety and consistency with auxillary verbs. Didn't, couldn't and won't. Negatives are formed correctly everywhere. 

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Vgotsky / Tomesello

Lev Vgotsky (1896 - 1934)

-looked at scaffolding, focusing on the MKO 'doing' for a child. 

-supports the child with knowledge and understanding that helps the child move up the zone of proximal development. A zone just beyond what the child currently knows so the child can develop.


Micheal Tomesello - a usage based model of language acquisition. 

-suggested that by 9-12 months children make use of pattern forming. Children build generalisation about how words form syntactical constructions which became building blocks of using grammatical patterns. 

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Child directed speech

-high pitch, -frequent or longer pauses, -slower and clearer speech, -repetition,                                -grammatically simplier sentences. 

-Kalui tribe in Papa New Guniea don't use child directed speech and the children don't experience stunted or late growth. 

-Foulkes (2005) - found CDS directed to girls contains more standard features than CDS directed towards boys. Shows how social values are encoded with speech. 

-Huttenlocker (2007) - the higher the socio-economic status of a mother the more child directed speech is used, in turn resulting in faster language development. 

-Leaper (1998) - found that mothers talked more than fathers and were more supportive, more negative, less directive, less informing than fathers speech. 

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Case study - Genie.

-The social worker discovered that the woman and her husband had kept their 13 year old daughter Genie locked away in almost total isolation during her childhood. 

He never communicated with her in words; instead he growled at her and barked at her instead. 

-She also eventually learned to recognise many words and speak in basic sentences. Eventually she was able to string together two word combinations like ‘big teeth’ then three word ‘small two cup’.

She didn’t however, learn to ask questions and didn’t develop a language system that allowed her to understand English grammar. As she missed her 'critical period' of language development her language fully formed and never got past basic sentences. 

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