child langauge acquisition


Communicative competence

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

General stages of speech:

  • Pre-verbal stage (cooing to babbling)

    • Reduplicated babbling - repeatedly creates same sounds

    • Variegated babbling - variation in consonant and vowel sound produced

  • Holophrastic

  • Two-word utterances

  • Telegraphic

    • At this stage children are likely to include content words but exclude grammatical words.

  • Post-telegraphic

Phonological development


Diminutives - reduction in scale of an item through the way the word is created (eg. doggie for dog)

Addition - adding a suffix to the end of a word to change the way the word is pronounced or interpreted.

Substitution - swapping one sound for another that is easier to pronounce.

Assimilation - one consonant or vowel is swapped for another.

Consonant cluster reductions - reducing phonologically complex units into simpler ones eg. ‘pider’ for spider.

Berko and Brown

Fis study.

Child rejected adults pronunciation of ‘fish’ as ‘fis’, recognising that is is incorrect, however child continues to articulate the word as ‘fis’.


Behaviourist theory.

Operant conditioning and positive reinforcement (‘well done’) or negative reinforcement (lack of praise or correction)

This links to Aristotle's idea that all humans are brown with a brain as a ‘tabula rasa’ (blank slate) which is developed upon.

The social learning theory can also be applied - children could learn through modelling the language of people around them. However, this would suggest that children would soon be able to string together grammatically complete sentences however they do not do this and instead gradually learn to speak, slowly improving their grammar as they learn.

Noam Chomsky


Introducedlanguage acquisition device (LAD) - a naturally programmed ability to work out systems of grammar and syntax.

Universal grammar describes the theory that LAD is global - children around the world learn language in similar ways and at similar rates.

The concept of virtuous errors are usually used as a justification for LAD as children make mistakes in their language through attempting to apply rules of grammar that they recognise eg. ‘I swimmed’ instead of ‘I swam’.

A criticism of this theory is that it does not take into account the importance of caregiver interaction etc.

Genie was found at 13 years old locked up alone in a room. She had lacked interaction with caregivers and therefore exposure to language from a young age and therefore when she was found, she failed to fully recover in terms of language - she could not develop her language beyond a basic level. This is evidence of a critical period.

Jean Piaget

Cognitive development.

Language reflects cognitive ability. Children explore the world around them and through this exploration and learning develop their linguistic ability.

Sensorimotor stage - child interacts with environment using senses and movement. Child remains egocentric. Understanding of object permanence appears. (0-2yrs)

Pre-operational stage - child learns to speak. Develops imaginative focus. Play, represent the world symbolically. Remains egocentric. Question frequently and develop an


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