English Language AQA A2: Child Language Acquisition of SPEAKING

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  • Created by: mvolpe
  • Created on: 02-03-16 17:37


Jerome Bruner was another cognitive theorist, who believed that children gained language through interaction with parents or caregivers, who aid their child in language acquisition through encouraging their attempts and asking questions. This approach was known as "interactionist", given that social interaction is the basis of this theory. 
In response to Chomsky's LAD, Bruner came up with the LASS: Language Acquisition Support System. This was simply a fancy name for a parent or caregiver that actively engages in guiding the child's development.
Bruner theorised that language and thought ran side by side, rather than one leading the other.
Children learn more than just lexis and grammar from parents; they also learn pragmatic understanding, which is something that must be taught actively or passively. He believed that there was also a difference in 'quality' of communication, where good quality meant faster and more complete development, and vice versa.
Bruner's theories are underscored by 'feral' children, who have grown up isolated from human contact. These children have no language skills whatsoever, and appear to struggle to pick it up past a certain 'critical period', which is up to about 5 years old. This suggests that social interaction at a young age is essential for linguistic development.

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Piaget was a psychologist who took the cognitive approach, believing that a child can only use language on a topic when they fully understand it. For example, a child that does not yet understand the passage of time will not (according to Piaget) be able to use anything but the present tense.
Piaget believed that thought came before language, therefore language was a product of thought, so to use language one must first understand it
If you see a child struggling to make sense when talking about a process or an idea, then you can say that according to Piaget's theory of cognition, this child cannot talk about this topic because they do not understand it, or vice versa

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Noam Chomsky believed in an innate ability present in every human's head, designed specifically for language acquisition. This was in the form of a Language Acquisition Device (LAD), which allowed children to simply slot words into the inbuilt frameworks to create understandable utterances.
Chomsky introduced the idea of innateness into the linguistic debate, proposing that children didnt need to learn every single rule and sub rule of language to later become a fluent speaker, because the LAD subconsciously supplied them with the knowledge they need to fill the gaps.

Evidence for Chomsky's theory of Innateness

  • children learning to speak very very rarely make basic grammatical errors, like mixing up the subject verb object order
  • a child would notice and possibly be confused by a grammatically incorrect sentence said by an adult, implying that they have a fundamental understanding of language even thought theyre not yet able to apply it to their own speech
  • children can say things that are grammatically incorrect but still make sense, which they cannot have learnt passively just by listening to speech, so they must be trying and failing to apply their own inbuilt grammatical knowledge
  • overextension of regular conjugations (eg "i drawed" instead of "i drew") shows theyre trying to apply their own knowledge, but being tripped up by irregular conjugations
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B F Skinner was an American behavioural psychologist, who was of the 'imitationist' standpoint. He believed children acquired language through social interaction, but mainly through imitation of the parent or caregiver. Bruner and Skinner's theories do overlap in some ways, but the element of imitation is the main difference in Skinner's. 
He believed in what he called 'operant conditioning', where a subject's actions are reinforced either negatively or positively. For example, a child dropping a fragile plate from a high chair is told off: this is negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is an attempt to stop or change the behaviour of the subject.
On the other hand, if a child paints a picture and shows their caregiver, they are applauded and praised: this is positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement seeks to encourage the behaviour of a subject to continue.
Operant conditioning can be applied to language. A child hears their caregiver speaking and attempts to recreate lexis or a particular grammatical structure themselves. If they succeeded, they are rewarded with a "well done!" or something similar. If they fail, they are corrected.
If you see a child repeating a word said by an adult, then Skinner's imitationist theory will be there somewhere.

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  • dont always seek to prove theories, also try and disprove them if the evidence is there. This shows the examiner that you're capable of critical thought, and dont just follow the herd
  • try and bundle together points from each assessment objective. For example, if you make a point about theory, try to tie it in with context and throw in some terminology as well to complete it.
  • when you first look at the exam materials, try not to panic. Seeing a massive body of text in front of you can be a bit overwhelming. Read through it once, annotating anything superficial that springs to mind, anything that you feel you know, even if it's just some word types or discourse features. Then run through it a second time and try to tie each of your first annotations either to one another or to some theory or a contextual factor. From your second or even third annotations, you can build an essay plan.
  • remember, there is no way you will be able to memorise and apply all possible theories ever, nevermind write them all down in your exam time. Familiarise yourself with ones that feel the most complex to you, so you understand them, then focus on learning a few of the more simple ones. For example, Vygotsky's ZPD is a complex theory, and Skinner's imitationist is simpler. Having 4 or 5 core theories that you can apply successfully and thoroughly, linking into contextual factors will be sufficient
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stage 4: Post-telegraphic
-Use of auxiliary verbs comes in
-Determiners, articles, modals
-clauses begin to be linked together by conjunctions (first coordinating, then subordinating)
-Dummy words + politness markers
- Key feature is ability to hold a conversation

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Evidence against Chomsky's theory of Innateness

  • just because kids dont learn by imitation alone doesnt mean that it all magically springs from their brains 
  • Kids still need social interaction to form language at any level, shown by children deprvied of social contact having limited or no language skills
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Monologues are also known as 'egocentric speech', and could come up as a wild card in the exam.
Piaget theorised that every child goes through a stage of egocentrism, where they are unable to understand the fact that other people do not experience the world in the same way they do. 
Monologues are a running narrative of a child's internal thoughts, and depending on the content, they could play into either theory of which comes first: language or speech.
Pay attention to any repairs or false starts, because these are the child acknowledging their mistake and attempting to fix it (possibly supporting the nativist viewpoint).
Social interaction theories are more difficult to pick up on here, but looking at common syntax structures or colloquial phrases could suggest that a child has picked them up from another source.
Look at the role that the child is adopting in their monologue. Are they imitating a caregiver? Or are they simply pretend playing with a peer?
Halliday's taxonomy features heavily here also.

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Michael Halliday split different utterances down into 7 categories, each with a different purpose that are used to different ends.

  • Instrumental: Used for satisfying material needs
  • Regulatory: Used as an attempt to control another person
  • Interactional: Used to create relationships (small talk)
  • Personal: used to express feelings or attitude
  • Heuristic: Used to find out about the environment and learn
  • Imaginative: Used purely for enjoyment (rhymes, songs, and nonsense)
  • Representational: Used to convey messages and pass on information

These functions of language are useful to gain AO2 points and to determine more about a child's intentions, scoring you AO3 points

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Zone of Proximal Development

Vygotsky theorised that cognitive development comes from problem solving experiences that are shared with peers.
Basically, one learns to do hard tasks by working collaboratively with people more advanced than them. 
He also said that the difference between the 'actual development level' (what you are capable of alone now) and the 'level of potential development' (what you could be capable of doing on your own with practice) is called the Zone of Proximal Development. To move objects into your ZPD, you must have someone simplify or explain the concept for you, which is called 'scaffolding'. Then with practice and guidance from someone more skilled, you are able to master the task and your actual development level is increased.
This is applicable in the context of CLA because teachers and caregivers move slightly more complex linguistic concepts into the child's ZPD by scaffolding. For example, a child struggles to pronounce a word, and the parent or peer repeats it or simplifies it down so the child can articulate it

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Child Directed Speech is a creation of Bruner's. It's a method of speech used by caregivers aid the development of kids learning to speak, and is recognisable to anyone thats heard a parent speak to a young child.
It features
-slow speech, with more time left between phrases
-exaggerated 'singsong' tone, used to emphasise key words and difference between sentence function
-uses higher and wider pitch range
-use of concrete nouns far outnumber abstract nouns, and dynamic verbs outnumber stative
-adoption of child's own words, eg "doggie" for "dog"
-abscence of pronouns, favouring frequent use of child's name
-much simpler constructions, with frequent imperatives and high degree of repetition
-high frequency of proper nouns instead of pronouns, and speaker often refers to themselves in 3rd person
-deixis used to point child's attention
-omission of past tenses and inflections (eg possesive)
-frequent expansions on child's utterance, and recasts (where adult corrects child's utterance)
-lots of gestures and 'warm' body language
-few utterances per turn
CDS holds the child's attention much better than standard speech, and aims to break down information to be more easily understood by the child.
Most studies indicate that CDS doesnt directly help the child learn language, but just helps communication between caregiver and child

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-Proto-words: Word-like sounds made by babies during their progression from non-linguistic to linguistic developmental stage
-Cooing: open vowel sounds made by babies (often around 2 months after birth)
-Babbling: repeated simple consonant-vowel combinations, eg gagag booboo

Stage 1: Preproduction stage
-0-13 months: baby begins to recognise mother's voice, cries take on meaning, cooing then babbling emerge as vocal organs develop
-12-13 months: Holophrastic stage begins. Single word utterances are used to represent an entire sentence worth of meaning (eg "ball" meaning "give me the ball"). Paralinguistic feaures and pragmatics begin to feature in communication

Stage 2: Two-word phase
-simple combinations of words eg subject+verb, possessive article+object, object+quality, etc
-negative constructions to form questions ("i am 2" to "am i 2?")
-no inflected endings on verbs 

Stage 3: Telegraphic phase
-Children favour lexis + meaning over grammar, sp speech resembles a telegram
-Normally 3 or more words combined
-Word order is correct, but 'unnecessary' particulates of speech are left out, like articles and some prepositions

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  • deletion: removing a phoneme from a word 
  • substitution: replacing a phoneme or syllable with a different less complex one
  • reduplication: repeated consonant vowel clusters, such as "choochoo"
  • addition: adding a vowel sound to the words, such as "doggie"
  • assimilation: incorrectly replacing one or more phonemes with one that already exists in a word, eg dog becomes gog
  • metathesis: swapping two or more phonemes around in a word, eg vinegar becomes vigenar
  • overextention: applying a rule too broadly, eg when a child is shown a dog then proceeds to clal all four legged animals dogs. Also applies at a word level, especially with conjugations eg past tense of "draw" is said is "drawed" rather than the correct irregular "drew" because the child is applying an existing orthographical rule
  • underextension: applying a rule too narrowly, eg when a child is shown a dalmatian then is taught it's a dog, but upon seeing a pomeranian is confused because it's not bigger and spotty. More difficult to identify at word level, because most underextensions are shown by a child being unable to answer a question or identify something.
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