Stages of Child Language Acquisition


Pre-verbal Stages

Children go through several stages of language development before they even say a word. These are important, as even before they speak, children begin to understand important features of language.

Vegetative/Biological Noises (0-3 months)- the child makes different noises to distinguish between hunger, tiredness etc. By 3 months they can normally gurgle in response to sounds.

Babbling (4-6 months)- The child can now babble three of four consonant sounds, sometimes strung together to make longer sounds. Some element of turn taking begins as the child learns to babble in response to talk from a carer, learning conversational rules. The carer's reinforcement of this encourages the child.

Reduplicated babbling (7-9 months)- The child begins to intentionally mimic the sounds they hear from adults. They begin to develop pitch control and contract their consonant-vowel clusters- "mama" instead of "mamamama"- phonemic contraction. At this stage, the idea of object permanence develops.

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Beginning to Talk

Proto-words (10-12 months)- these are not actually words- babbling is shortened to one or two syllables to create proto-words. These are intentionally varied c-v cluster combinations and may relate to a real meaning, unlike babbling. Reinforcement from parents is very important- if the child is praised for saying "mama", even if this is simply babbling or vocal play with no relation to their mother, the child is more likely to say it again.

Holophrastic stage (12-18 months)- these might not be single words, but more single units of meaning said as one word- "allgone" for example. These often have more meaning than words do and the carer must place them in context to determine meaning. These holophrases are often accompanied by other linguistic clues such as pitch and intonation, and paralanguage such as pointing. Most first words are nouns.

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Two-word Stage

This stage marks the start of syntactical development as children explore different combinations and learn correct word order. Roger Brown studied this stage and found that children from all cultures make the same links between grammatical concepts-

Agent + action- "Daddy kick" (Dad kicks ball)

Agent + affected- "Me ball" (Child kicks ball)

Entity + attribute- "Kitty big" (Sees tigers in the zoo)

Action + affected- "Throw ball" (Child throws ball)

Action + location- "Sit chair" (Child sits on chair)

Entity + location- "Spoon table" (Spoon is on the table)

Possessor and possession- "Daddy coat"- (Points to Dad's coat)

Nomination- "That cake" (That is cake)

Recurrence- "More cat" (Sees the second family cat)

Negation- "No dolly" (Has lost her doll)

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Telegraphic Stage

When a child can combine three or so words they are in the telgraphic stage and can start to make their meanings clearer. Several language features develop.

Questions- Before, the child could only ask a question by rising intonation ("Juice?") However, the child now acquires the use of changing word order and auxiliary verbs. When the child learns question words (what, where, why, when) they can often use them correctly at the start of a sentence ("Where mummy?") But once they learn auxiliary/copula verbs and inversion of subject children can create full interrogatives- "What is that?" "Can I have?"

Negatives- the ability to use negation also requires syntactic awareness. Bellugi indentified three stages of negation: - Using no or not at the beginning of the sentence ("No wear shoes")

                               - Moving this to the middle of the sentence ("I no want to")

                                -Attaching the nagative to auxiliary verbs ("I am not", "I don't want to")

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Telegraphic Stage (continued)

Pronouns- Bellugi also found three stages of pronoun development- the child using their own name ("Tom play"), the child using I/me pronouns ("Me play toy" "I do that") and finally, the child correctly using pronouns depending on subject or object position ("I play with the toy" "Give it to me")

Determiners- These are another function word acquired later in the telegraphic stage. They come before a noun and can serve a variety of functions as articles, numerals, possessives, quantifiers or demonstratives.

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Post-telegraphic stage

When children acquires the remaining function words (grammatical terms) they are in the post-telegraphic stage. The child can combine clauses by using conjuctions, construct longer noun phrases with several adjectives, and manipulate verb forms, for example in using the passive voice.

In this stage, the child also develops morphology by learning to change words themselves as well as word order for example by changing number, person and tense (she is running, I ran, they were running)

Children in this stage are still likely to make virtuous errors, due to the fact that English has many irregularities- for example "I runned" rather than "I ran". This shows that the child has a good understanding of how to form past participles as most end with the -ed inflection, but that they have yet to learn the many irregular forms.

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