CLA (Child Language Aquisition)

These revision cards provide key points of each aspect of the developing speech section of CLA, for AQA specification ENGB3 exam.

  • Created by: Flo
  • Created on: 16-04-14 12:41

Child Language Skills

What children have to learn within language:

  • To create individual phonemes and phonemetic combinations (phonetics).
  • To use a vocab of words & understand the meaning (lexis/semantics)
  • Combine words in variety of sentence construstions, changing word formations to express different word classes (Syntax/morphology)
  • Use prosodic features such as pitch, loudness, speed and intonation to convey meaning (phonology)
  • Structure interations with others (discourse)
  • Sutbleties of speech e.g politeness, irony and implications (pragmatics)
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Main stages of language development (Pre-verbal st

The Pre-verbal stage                                                                 AGE (months)

VEGETATIVE- Sounds of discomfort or reflexive actions.                                    0-4

                         (Crying, burping, sucking)

COOING- Comfort sounds and vocal play using open-mouthed vowel sounds.   4-7

                 ('coos', laughter starts, pitch- squeals and growls, hard consonants

                  and vowels produced)

BABBLING- Repeated patterns of consonant and vowel sounds.                        6-12 

                   (Sounds linking to language, re-duplicated sounds 'ba-ba' and

                   non-reduplicated 'agu')

PROTO-WORDS- Word-like vocalisations, not matching actual words but         9-12

                              used for same meaning. E.g 'mm' for 'give me that'

                              accompanying pointing at object.

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Main stages of language development


 HOLOPHRASTIC/ONE-WORD: One-word utterances                                               12-18

 TWO-WORD:Two-word combinations                                                                         18-24

TELEGRAPHIC: Three or more words combined                                                        24-36

POST-TELEGRAPHIC: More grammatically complex combinations.                          36+

(During post-telegraphic stage key literacy, reading and writing skills start to develop)

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Noam Chomsky LAD

Noam Chomsky

  • American Linguist.
  • Believes learning takes place through innate brain mechanisms, pre-programmed with ability to acquire grammatical structures.
  • Calls this LAD (Language Acquistion Device)
  • Says that human language, although may different, share many similarities.
  • Calls this 'Universal grammar'.
  • Children all around the world are thought to develop language skills in similar stages at similar rate.
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How are sounds produced?

Sounds are produced by air from the lungs passing across the vocal cords.

The production of consonant sound is affected by:

  • Manner of articulation (how airstream is controlled)
  • Place of articulation (where it occurs) we can use lips, tounge, teeth, roof of mouth or a combination to create sounds.
  • If sound is voiced or unvoiced (vibrating or not vibrating vocal cords)
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Different types of sound produced

TYPE                                                               VOICED                       UNVOICED

PLOSIVES- When airflow is blocked for brief time.                              b, d, g                                           p, t, k

                          Also called 'stop consonants'.

FRICATIVES- When airflow is only partially blocked                    v, (e.g thy), z, (e.g leisure)     f, ᶿ(e.g think) s, ᶘ                             & air moves through mouth in steady stream.                                                                    ᶘ   (e. g ship),h


AFFRICATIVES- Putting plosives and fricatives together.         d(e.g judge)                               t(e.g church)

APPROXIMATES- Similar sounds to vowels.                                        w, r, j 

NASAL- Air moving through nose.                                                             m, n, ᶇ (e.g sing)

LATERALS- Placing tounge on ridge of teeth and air moving down side       L

                         of mouth.

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Phonological aquisition sequence

AGE (months)                                                        PHONEME

24                                                                     p, b, m, d, n, w, t

30                                                                     k, g, h,

36                                                                     f, s, j, l

42                                                                     tᶘ, dᴣ, v, z, ᶘ, r

 48+                                                                                    ᶞ,ᶿ,  

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Early phonological 'mistake'

Children master a language through making mistakes.Phonological development is also depends on a childs ability to produce sounds.

 Early phonological errors:

TERM                                EXPLANATION                                                                                                  EXAMPLE

Deletion                           Omitting final consonant in words.                                                                      do(g). cu(p)

Substitution                     Sustituting one sound for another.                                                                     'pip' for 'ship'

                                       (especially harder sounds that develop later e.g ᶘ)

Addition                          Adding an extra vowel to end of words (creating CVCV pattern)                       e.g doggie 

Assimilation                   Changing one consonant or vowel for another.

                                      (e.g early plosive sounds 'd' and 'b')                                                                     'gog' for 'dog'        

Reduplication                Repeating a whole syllabol.                                                                                dada, mama

Consonant cluster         Difficult to articulate so children reduce them to smaller units                           'pider' not 'spider'

Deletion of unstressed syllables  Ommitting opening syllabels in polysyllabic words.                           nana for banana

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Berko and Brown- Fis phonomenon

Researchers look at children's phonological errors to see how they link to their understanding of words and ideas. They also look at their ability to imitate language surrounding them.

Jean Berko Gleason and Roger Brown (1960)

  • Child reffered to plastic fish as 'fis'
  • Substitued the 'sh' sound for 's'
  • Couldn't link the adults use of 'fis' to the same object.

Child: A fis      Adult: Is this your fis?           Child: No

Child: A fis      Adult: Is this your fish?         Child: Yes, my fis.

Shows that children understand adults speech before they can immitate it.

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Developing Lexis

  • Once children produce sounds effectively they can form 'real' words that others can recognise.
  • Initially 'proto-words' only have meaning to the child and their carers but not to others.
  • In addition to vocabulary building the child needs to learn the semantics of words in order to link objects and ideas.

Rate of lexical development

AGE                                                        NUMBER OF WORDS

12 months                                                50

24 months                                                200

36 months                                                2,000

Holophrases and one word utterances develop alongside or after proto-words.

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Categorising first words- Katherine Nelson

Katerine Nelson (1973) indentified four catergories for first words:

  • naming (things or people)
  • actions/events
  • description/modifying things
  • personal/social words

Found that 60% of first words were nouns. Verbs were second largest group, modifiers came third and and personal/social words made 8% of sample.

Early vocab contains content words (from word classes such as nouns, verbs and adjectives).

Function words (determiners, prepositions and auxilary verbs) have a grammatical rather than a semantic function and are aquired later.

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Developing meanings

  • Children often overextend a words meaning (linking objects with similar qualities). E.g applying the word 'dog' to all four-legged household pets.
  • Less frequently children underextend a word by giving it narrower definitions than it already has. E.g 'duck' for fluffy cartoons but not for real ducks.

Eve Clark's study found that children base overextensions on:

  • the physical qualities of objects
  • features such as taste, sound, movement, shape, size and texture.

Children's first words connect their experiences of the world, dominated by the senses.

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Types of overextension

TYPE                                 DEFINITION                            EXAMPLE          % OF OVEREXTENSION

Categorical overextension      Name for one member of a                         Apple for all fruits                            60%

                                               category is extended to all members 

Analogical overextension      Word for one object is extended to one        Ball used for a round fruit               15%

                                              in a different category:usually due

                                              to physical or functional connection

Mismatch statements           One-word sentences that appear quite            Saying 'duck' when looking at       25%

                                             abstract; child makes statement about one      empty pond.

                                             object in relation to another.

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Jean Aitchinson- Stages of linguistic development

Linguist Jean Aitchinson connected children's lexical and semantic development.

Aitchinson's stages of lingusitic development:


  1               Labelling          Linking words to the objects which they refer, understanding that things can be labelled.

   2              Packaging        Exploring labels and to what they can apply. Over/underextension occurs in order to eventually

                                            understand the range of a words meaning.

   3              Network-          Making connections between words, understanding similarities and opposites in meaning.


An aspect of network-building is understanding of hyponyms. For example if you take 'clothes' as a hypernym the child can list the hyponyms, for example the types of clothes that they can wear 'socks, t-shirt, shorts, jumper, trousers' etc.

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Piaget's stages of children's linguistic developme

Jean Piaget- 20th Century psychologistic, his views have been very influential.

Emphasises that children are active learners- their environment and social interactions shape their language.

Piaget's Stages of children's linguistic development

STAGE                        AGE (years)                                     KEY ELEMENTS

Sensorimotor                 up to 2        Child experiences physical world through sense- classifies the things in it                                                          When lexical choices appear they are concrete not  abstract.                                                          Object permanence develops- objects still exist when out of sight.

Pre-operational                2-7          Language and motor skills develop- become more competent. Language is egocentric-                                                          either focused on child or used by child when no one is around. 

Concrete operational       7-11        Children begin to think logically about concrete events.

Formal operational          11+          Abstract reasoning skills develop.

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Developing Grammar

Aquiring greater lexical and semantic understandinf requires grammatical skills.

The two areas of grammar are syntax and morphology:

Syntactical advances allow children to:

  • Order words into phrases and clauses.
  • Make different types of utterances- (simple, compound, complex) for different functions apart from declarative (interrogative and imperative require different word order)

Morphological advances allow children to:

  • Add inflections to words creating tense, marking distinctions between adjectives, showing possesion and making plurals (inflectional morphology)
  • Experiment with language by adding prefixes and suffixes to make up words and to convert words from one word class to another. (derivational morphology)

When linguists calculate Mean Length Utterance (MLU) for childrren they look at the individual morphemes rather than adding up the number of words.

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Stages of children's grammatical development

STAGE                              DESCRIPTORS                                 GRAMMATICAL CONSTRUCTIONS     AGE(MONTHS)

One-word/holophrastic     One-word utterances                                                                                                   12-18

Two-word                       Two word combined to                                     Subject+verb                                          18-24

                                       create simple syntactical structures.                Verb+object

Telegraphic                    Three or more words joined in                        Subject+verb+object                               24-36

                                       increasingly complex and accurate orders      Subject+verb+complement                  


Post-telegraphic            Increasing awareness of grammatical rules     Instead of saying 'runned'                      36+

                                      and irregularities.                                               saying 'ran' not 'runned'

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Stages of grammatical development- continued


The building blocks for syntax. First words are mainly nouns. Holophrastic means 'whole phrase' where one word is used as a short utterance.

Two-word stage

The beggining of syntactical development. Once two words are joined the child can explore different combinations and learn correct English word-order.

Types of meaning relations in two-word utterances:

Meaning relation          Explanation                                                                       Example                Context

agent+action                Did someone (the doer) perform an action?                 Daddy kick              Dad kicks ball

agent+affected             Does someone do something to an object?                 Me ball                    Child kicks ball

entity+attribute             Is a person or an object described?                             Kitty big                   Sees tiger in zoo

action+affected            Does an action affect an object?                                  Throw stick             Child throws stick.

action+location            Is an object located?                                                     Spoon table            Spoon is on a table

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Two-word stage-continued

Types of meaning realtions in two-word utterances- continued

Meaning relation       Explanation                           Example                         Context

possessor+possession         Does an object have a possesor?      Daddy coat                     Points to dad's coat

nomination                            Is a person or object labelled?            That cake                       That is a cake

recurrence                            Is an event repeated?                          More ball                        Finds second ball

negation                                Is something denied?                          No ball                            Has lost her ball

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Telegraphic stage

Telegraphic stage

  • Combining three or more words= telegraphic stage.
  • Utterances are similar to the style  and construction of a telegram or text message. (Words are left out but content words remain)
  • Verb inflections, auxilary verbs, the copular verb, prepositions, determiners are all omitted. (These appear as the child moves towards to post-telegraphic stage)

Key developments take place in the construction of questions, negatives and pronouns.


  • Questions are a feature of early speech
  •  In one and two-word utterances they are formed through rising intonation.
  • Only later can children creat yes/no interrogatives through changing word order and using auxilary verbs 'can I have a book?'
  • Other questions require 'what', 'where', 'when', and 'why'- these appear fairly early on in development 'where mummy?'
  • They appear to be aquired in a certain order: WHAT- subject or object, WHERE- location, WHY-reason, WHO- time.
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Telegraphic stage- continued


The ability to use negation needs syntactical awareness, researcher Ursula Bellugi identified three stages of negative formation in young children:

STAGE                            THE CHILD:                                                                            EXAMPLE

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

2                            moves 'no'/'not' inside the sentence.                                                'I no want it'

3                           attaches the negative to auxilary verbs and the copula verb           'No I don't want to go to nursery'

                             'be' securely.                                                                                     'I am not'

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Telegraphic stage- continued (pronouns)

Pronouns can be difficult to use accurately because they express many things. E.g a person (I/you, and the subject/ object positioning I/me), number (singular or plural, I/we), gender (s/he), possession (mine).

Ursula Bellugi found three stages:

1) The child uses their own name (e.g Tom play)

2) Child recognises the I/me pronouns and that these are used in different places within a sentence (for example, I play toy, me do that)

3) The child uses them according to whether they are in the subject or object position in a sentence 'I play with a toy', 'give it to me'.


Determiners are another function word aquired later in development. Determiners are attached to nouns. They are articles (a, the), numerals (one), possesives (my) quantifiers (some, many) or demonstratives (this).

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Post-telegraphic stage

When the remaining function words are aquired and used appropriately. The child can:

  • Combine clause structures by using coordinating conjunctions (and, but) and subordinating conjunctions (because, although) to make complex and compound utterances.
  • Manipulate verb forms more accurately, for instance using the passive voice ('the car was followed by the lorry')
  • Constuct longer noun phrases ('the two big red buses').
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Morphological Development

A useful starting point when children move from the telegraphic to post-telegraphic stage is to know that there are two types of morpheme: Free and bound.

Roger Brown found that morphemes are aquired in a particular order:

Present tense progressive                   -ing                                        Third person irregular                      has

Prepositions                                         in, on                                     Uncontactible auxilary verb             they were running

Plural                                                    -s                                           Contractible copular                        She's

Past tense irregular                              run/ran                                   Contractible auxilary                        she's runnning

Possesive                                            's

Uncontractible copula                          is, was

Articles                                                 the, a

Past tense regular                               -ed

Third person regular                            runs

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'Virtuous errors' and overgeneralisations

'Virtuous errors' is usually applied to the mistakes children make as they develop grammatically. It suggests that children make errors on a linguistic basis and therefore are logical. Children around 3 or 4 often use 'I runned' instead of 'I ran'. This is very clever as they have worked out that most verbs end with the -ed inflection.

Other common overgeneralisations are to add the plural -s inflection to nouns (house, houses) but there are some irregular plurals such as (mouse/mice), (foot/feet).

Overgeneralisations support Chomsky's theories on aquisition that children produce language that they have never heard an adult say. E.g 'goed' instead of 'went'.

Jean Berko Gleason 1950's- Wug test

  • Study into the -s plural
  • Gave children a picture of an imaginary creature called a Wug.
  • Asked them what more than one Wug would be called.
  • Three quarters of the children said 'Wugs'.
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Developing Pragmatics

Pragmatic understanding, especially conversational skills, is crucial to children's sucessful language development.

Pragmatics are:

  • Implicature (what we mean rather than what we say)
  • Inference (interpretting what others mean)
  • Politeness (Using the right words and phrases to be polite)
  • Conversational management and turn-taking (knowing when to speak)
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Halliday's functions of speech

Michael Halliday's 'taxonomy'.

Here are his functions of speech:

FUNCTION                                   WHERE LANGUAGE IS USED TO:

Instrumental                              Fulfil a need (e.g 'want milk')

Regulatory                                 Influence the behaviour of others (e.g 'pick up')

Interactional                              Develop and maintain social relationships (e.g 'love you')

Personal                                    Convey individual opinions, ideas and personal identity (e.g 'me                                                       like Charlie and Lola')

Imaginative                               Create an imaginary world and may be seen in play predominantly                                                         (e.g 'me shopkeeper')

Heuristic                                    Learn about the environment (e.g 'wassat?')

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Dore's language functions

John Dore offers another way of desrcribing language functions that focuses more on speech acts as indivuidual utterances, rather than Halliday's broader approach to pragmatic functions.

John Dore's Pragmatic Functions

FUNCTION                                                       DESCRIPTION

Labelling                                                  Naming a person, object or thing

Repeating                                                 Repeating an adult word or utterance

Answering                                                Responding to an utterance from another speaker

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

Practising                                                 Using language when no adult is present

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How important is context?

Context refers to the situation of an interaction, you should ask these questions when examining data:

  • Who participates? (one or more speakers, gender)
  • What relationships exist between speakers? (family members, friends, carer and child, teacher and student)
  • What is the setting? (domestic, nursery, local environment etc)
  • In what development stage is the child (age)
  • What other factors might affect the data? (cultual influences such as books, televison, social experiences)
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Play and language aquisition

Lev Vygotsky, an early child development researcher observed children's play and linked it to both cognitive and social development.

  • Young children often use props to support their play. When older they use imagination instead.
  • Children roleplay adult behaviours as a way of exploring their environment.
  • Catherine Garvey's study found that children adopt roles and identities.
  • Children play together as it is enjoyable but it also practices social interactions and negotitation skills.
  • Sociodramatic play usually occurs around 4 years old- possibly linking to cognitive understanding  of the different roles people have and how this affects language.
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The role of parents

Parents are the main communicators with children. The terms used to descirbe the non-standard form of language used by parents when talking to children has changed over time: baby talk, became 'motherese', then changed to 'parentese'.

The current preffered form used by linguists is CDS (Child Directed Speech) as if focuses on the child rather than the adult.

Baby talk relys in reduplication, for example ('din-din', 'bic-bic'), deletion and substitution (ickle) and (doggie) with an adult speaker adopting child-like characteristics.  

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Features of Child Directed Speech (CDS)

Parents like to use some (or all) of the following:

  • Repetition and/or repeated sentence frames
  • a higher pitch
  • the child's name rather than pronouns
  • the present tense
  • one-word utterances and/or short elliptical sentences
  • fewer verbs/modifiers
  • concrete nouns
  • expansion and/or recasts
  • yes/no questions
  • exaggerated pauses giving turn-taking cues.
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Jerome Bruner- LASS

Language Aquisition Support System (LASS)

  • Ritualised activities which occur daily in children's lives- mealtimes, bedtimes, reading books.
  • How carers make the rules and meanings of these  explicit and predictable so children can learn.
  • E.g the game 'Peek-A-Boo' is accompanied by phrases such as 'bye bye', 'where am I?', 'here I am' and prosodic indicators such as pitch and intonation.
  • This teaches children important linguistic aspects such as turn-taking, formulaic utterances and syntax.

Piaget would use this game to test object permanence, where children understand that an object still exisits when it is no longer in sight. 

Scaffolding- Refers to how adults help children advance cognitively. Adults withdraw support as children's skills develop. 'Scaffolding' metaphor relates to the support offered around children's language development- once the child can support themselves independently, scaffolding is no longer required.

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Competing Language Aquisition Theories

Language Aquisition Theories:

THEORY                         DEFINITION                                                     KEY THEORISTS

NATIVIST                                 Humans have an imbuilt capacity to acquire language       Noam Chomsky, Eric Lenneburg

BEHAVIOURIST                      Language is aquired through imitation & reinforcement      B.F Skinner

SOCIAL INTERACTIONIST    Language is aquired through interaction with adults           Jerome Brunner, Lev Vygotsky

COGNITIVE                             Language aquistion is part of a wider development of         Lev Vygostky, Jean Piaget

                                                 understanding that develops

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Noam Chomsky- Nativist Theory

Arguments for and against the nativist theory:



  • Experience the same stages of development at the same pace
  • Resist correction
  • Create forms of langauge which adults don't use (overgeneralisations)
  • Make their own rules for language- understand that all languages have grammatical rules
  • Produce correct language when surrounded by faulty adult speech.
  • Relevant studies- Wug test  suggest children apply grammatical rules.



  • Stop overgeneralising and learn to use language correctly, as with irregular verbs.
  • Need input to give them more skills than grammar, for example pragmatic understanding.
  • Children who have been deprived of social contact can't achieve communicative competence.
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B.F Skinner- Behaviourist Theory



  •  Imitate accent and dialect
  • Learn politeness and pragmatic aspects of language
  •  Repeat language they have heard around them and incorporate it into theirs- lexcial knowledge must be gained from being told the right labels.


  • Do more than just immitate language and can form sentences that they have never heard before.
  • Hear ungrammatical spoken language around them but can still learn correct language.
  • Do not seem to respond to correction.
  • Aren't negatively reinforced for language use.
  • Aren't always corrected by parents for incorrect grammar.
  • Corrections might actually slow down development.
  • Imitate but don't nessicarily understand the meanings. 
  • 'fis' phenomenon suggests children hear and understand correct pronounciation but can't produce it themselves at that stage.
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Social interactionist theory

Arguments for and against social interactionist theory:


  • Routine/rituals seem to teach children about spoken discourse structure such as turn-taking.
  • Pragmatic development suggests that children do learn politeness and verbally acceptable behaviour.
  • Role-play and pretend play suggest that more interaction with carers can affect vocabulary.

Relevant studies: Halliday's research into the functions of language supports the importance of social interaction.


  • Children from cultures that do not promote interaction with children (e.g Samoa) can still become articulate and fluent language users without adult input. 
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Cognitive theories

Arguments for and against cognitive theory:



  • Can't grasp aspect of language until they are ready; stages of development support this.
  • Produce utterances which increas incomplexityas they work towards mastering a rule.

Relevant studies: Brown's morphemes, Bellugi's stages of pronoun and question formation.



  • With cognitive difficulties can still manage to use language beyond their understanding.
  • Acquire language without having an understanding of it, especially in the early stages of development.
  • 'fis' phenomenon suggests children's cognitive understanding can be present but their physical development still impacts their ability to use language.
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