English Language Language Acquisition Key Terms

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Ideolect:

An individual's own 'linguistic fingerprint'.

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Register:

A variety of language appropriate to a particular purpose and context. 

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Phoneme:

The smallest contrastive unit in the sound system of a language.

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Phonetics:

The study of sounds used in speech, including how they are produced. 

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Lexis:

The vocabulary of a language.

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Semantics:

The study of meaning. 

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Syntax:

The way words are arranged to make sentences.

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Morphology:

The area of language study that deals with the formation of words from smaller units called morphemes. 

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Phonology:

The study of the sound systems of language and how they communicate meaning. 

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Discourse:

A stretch of communication.

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Pragmatics:

The factors that influence the choices that speakers make in their use of language- why we chose to say one thing rather than another.

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Language Acquisition Device (LAD):

The human brain's inbuilt capacity to acquire language.

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Universal Grammar:

The explanation that all world languages share the principles of grammar despite surface differences in lexis and phonology. Sometimes called linguistic universals. 

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Phonemic Expansion:

The variety of sounds produced increases. 

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Phonemic Contraction:

The variety of sounds is reduced to the sounds of the main language used.

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Consonant:

A speech sound that is produced when the vocal tract is either blocked or so restricted that there is audible friction.

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Vowel:

A sound made without closure or audible friction.

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Dipththong:

A vowel in which there is a perceptible change in quality during a syllable. 

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Proto-word:

An invented word that has a consistent meaning.

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Holophrase:

A single word expressing a whole idea.

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Vocative:

A form (especially a noun) used to address a person.

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Content Word:

A type of word that has an independent 'dictionary' meaning, also called a lexical word.

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Function Word:

A word whose role is largely or wholly to express a grammatical relationship.

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Social Interactionists:

Those who believe that child language develops through interaction with carers. 

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Positive Reinforcement:

When a behaviour is rewarded, including verbal praise to encourage this behaviour to be repeated. 

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Negative Reinforcement:

When an undesireable behaviour is unrewarded with the intention that it will not be repeated.

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Behaviourists:

Those who believe that language is acquired through imitation and reinforcement.

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Overextension:

A feature of a child's language where the word used to label something is 'stretched' to include things that aren't normally part of that word's meaning.

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Underextension:

A feature of a child's language where the word used to label is 'reduced' to include only part of its normal meaning. 

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Hyponomy:

The hierarchical structure that exists between lexical items. 

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Hypernym:

A subordinate, i.e. a word that is more generic or general and can have more specific words under it. 

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Hyponym:

A more specific word within a category or under a hypernym. 

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Inflectional Morphology:

The alteration of words to make new grammatical forms. 

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Derivational Morphology:

The creation of new words by adding prefixes or suffixes.

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Mean Length Utterance (MLU):

A measure of children's ability to produce stretches of language; the number of morphemes is divided by the total number of utterances to find the average length. A higher MLU is taken to indicate a higher level of language proficiency. 

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Copula Verb:

A verb used to join or 'couple' a subject to a complement. 

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Deixis:

Lexical items that 'point' towards something and place words in context.

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Free Morpheme:

One that can stand alone as an independent word, e.g. apple.

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Bound Morpheme:

One that cannot stand alone as an independent word, but must be attached to another morpheme/word (affixes, such as the plural '-s', are always bound, as is the comparative adjective inflection '-er').

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Cognitive Theorists:

Those who believe that language acquisition is part of a wider development of understanding. 

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Virtuous Error:

Syntactic errors made by young children in which the non-standard utterance reveals some understanding, though incomplete, of standard syntax.

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Overgeneralisation:

A learner's extension of a word meaning or grammatical rule beyond its normal use.

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Stative Verb:

Verb that describes a state; stative verbs are not usually used in the progressive aspect, which is used for incomplete actions in progress.

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Dynamic Verb:

A type of verb that expresses activities and changes of state, allowing such forms as the progressive. 

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Egocentric Speech:

The running discourse style of speech used by children where no listener is directly addressed and the talk is focused on the child's activities. 

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Child-Directed Speech (CDS):

Any of various speech patterns used by parents or care givers when communicating with young children, particularly infants, usually involving simplified vocabulary, melodic pitch, repetitive questioning, and a slow or deliberate tempo. 

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Expansion:

The development of a child's utterance into a longer, more meaningful form.

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Recast:

The commenting on, extending and replacing of a child's utterance.

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Language Acquisition Support System (LASS):

This refers to the child's interaction with the adults around them and how this interaction supports language development.

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Object Permanence:

The awareness that objects continue to exist even when they are no longer visible.

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Scaffolding:

The process of transferring a skill from adult to child and then withdrawing support once the skill has been mastered. 

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Nativists:

Those who believe that humans have an inbuilt capacity to acquire language. 

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Cohesion:

The way in which a text appears logical and well constructed. 

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Grapheme:

A written symbol, letter or combination of letters that is used to represent a phoneme.

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Synonyms:

Words with very similar semantic value.

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Typography:

The study of the graphic features of the printed page.

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Phonics:

A system of teaching reading and spelling that stresses basic symbol-sound relationships and their use in decoding words; a system used especially in the early stages of reading. 

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Cueing:

The strategies used to help decode written texts successfully.

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Miscue:

Errors made by children when reading.

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Cursive Handwriting:

Handwriting in which the characters are joined in rounded and flowing strokes.

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Convergence:

A process of linguistic change in which people adjust their dialect, accent or speech style to those of others, often occurring to express solidarity and understanding.

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Sociolect:

A defined use of language as a result of membership in a social group.

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Orthography:

The study of the use of letters and the rules of spelling in language. 

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Emergent Writing:

Children's early scribble writting, a stage of their literacy development.

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Ascender:

The typographical feature where a portion of the letter goes above the usual height for letters in any font. 

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Descender:

Where part of a letter goes below the baseline of a font.

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Digraph:

A graphic unit in which two symbols combine, or any sequence of two letters produced as a single sound, e.g. 'sh' 

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Homophone:

A lexical item that has the same pronunciation as another.

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