Language Acquisition

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Language Acquisition

Language development is universal.

There seems to be a universal timetable, regardless of culture, cognitive ability or training, in the acquisition and sequence of language. Language acquisition is maturational and sequential.

There seems to be a universal timetable, regardless of culture, cognitive ability or training, in the acquisition and sequence of language. Language acquisition is maturational and sequential.

There are 4 major stages:

Ÿ          Pre-linguistic (sounds) – babbling stage

Ÿ          One-word stage (morphemes)

Ÿ          Two-word stage (universal)

Ÿ          Telegraph to infinity

 

Research by Mehler and others (1988) found that French babies as young as four days old were able to distinguish French from other languages.  When they were exposed to French, they sucked on dummies more strongly – a sign of increased interest – than when they listened to English or Italian.

  

First weeks of life, babies express vocally through crying.signalling hunger, for example, or distress or pleasure

 

This suggests that the cries are instinctive noises, and as such they cannot really be considered a ‘language’. Vygotsky called it ‘pre-intellectual language’:

  

 

Turn-taking by two months (Trevarthen, 1974)

Ÿ          Babbling (6-9 months): Combinations of consonants and vowels are produced, such as ‘ma’, ‘ga’, ‘da’ - these have no meaning

  

Echolalia (11-12 months) the baby echoes itself, phoneme expansion (mama).

Ÿ   Gestures: a kind of pre-language which uses a grammar. Bates et al (1979) found that 10 month olds used gestures to say ‘what is that?’ or ‘look at that’. These are part of the pragmatics of language.

Accent: match babble to the qualities of language they hear. Bates et al (1987) say that they are ‘learning the tune before the words.’

 

One-word utterances stage (morphemes) (12-18 months)

A child is usually about a year old when it speaks its first recognisable word.  Babbling continues for up to another 6 months but merges and overlaps with patterned speech (words).

Ÿ   Jargon: overlap of babbling and non-word sounds.

Ÿ   First words are often invented. A word is a systematic matching of form and meaning, so a baby’s first word is the first occurrence of the dame sound being consistently matched with a meaning.

Ÿ   Holophrases are words which convey complex messages, e.g. ‘milk’ may mean ‘I want more milk’ or ‘I spilled my milk’; competent speakers often amplify the meaning for the child.

Ÿ   Understanding is always more advanced than production.

Ÿ   Productive lexicon is typically ten words by 15 months; four months later it is 50 words and 200 words by the age of two.

 

Nelson (1973) studied 18 children from 12 months of age in monthly visits. She coded the meaning expressed by the child's first 50 words (i.e. by asking the parents about the words and their referents):

Ÿ          50% + general nominals (e.g. ‘car’, ‘doggy’)

Ÿ          14% specific nominals (e.g. ‘dada’, ‘tiddles’)

Ÿ          13%

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