Language Development Article Paper
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Language Development Article, please Read
A unique feature of our nearly hairless, bipedal, semirational social species is our capacity for making
symbols. You might say bees buzz, flowers bloom, and humans symbolize—that is, they speak. They make
words and share ideas, thoughts, and concepts through language. Other species, including non man
hominids and cetaceans (dolphins, whales, orcas) also use vocal symbols to communicate. But no other species matches the human capacity for creating and sharing language.
Indeed, we humans have survived to the extent that languages have allowed us to create cooperative social groups.
Components of Language
You should be familiar with these terms and concepts:
Phonology has to do with the rules for the sounds one makes when speaking words or phrases in a
Semantics has to do with how words convey meaning.
The rules of grammar include rules for syntax and for morphology. The rules of syntax tell us how wors should be ordered in a sentence. The rules of morphology (word form) are rules for designating tense number, gender, active or passive voice, person, and case.
Pragmatics has to do with social rules for how and when to use language to communicate effectively with others.
Theories of Language Development
In the behaviorist perspective, language is simply a system that’s learned through operant conditioning.
Speech that’s reinforced tends to be repeated. Speech that’s punished in some way tends not to be
repeated. For behavioral learning theorists, imitation plays a major role in language acquisition.
Between ages one and four, children learn sequences of sounds, produce sounds, and combine them into
intelligible words or phrases. So, you can think of phonological development as learning how to make sounds that imitate or approximate words. Phonological development proceeds in stages.
In the early phase, a baby’s speech development is limited by the number of sounds he or she can make.
In languages across the world, many significant words are within the range of a baby’s limited phonological
development. For example, the easiest sound sequences for a baby to imitate begin with a consonant and
end with a vowel. Hence, “Ma” and “bye-bye” are common early words. Compare words for “mother” across many languages, and you can see common sounds that are among the easiest for an infant to pronounce.
The appearance of phonological strategies occurs around the second year, as children go from trying to
pronounce syllables and words to attempting to pronounce each individual sound within a word. That is, they experiment with phoneme patterns.
By about age five, phonological development is mainly in place. From there on, in later phonological
development, differing syllable-stress patterns signifying different world meanings are gradually mastered.
For example, by middle childhood the distinction between “carry-on” (as in luggage) and “carry on” is
understood. Semantically complex words, which are generally harder to pronounce—such as “methodology” as an extension of “method”—may not be mastered until adolescence.
Language comprehension generally precedes language production. A child tends to understand “absolutely” before he or she can say that word. Meanwhile, the early phase of semantic development is initially
characterized by a vocabulary of about 50 words, mainly restricted to concepts consistent with the
Toddler vocabulary increases steadily, week by week, over the period from 8 months to 16 months.
Vocabulary growth spurts are uncommon. However, the rate of increase accelerates steadily, specially after
10 months. In any case, broadening experiences and an increased sense of self (expressed by words like
“me” or “mine”) are correlated to vocabulary acquisition.
An interesting phenomenon discovered by researchers is fast mapping. Children can connect a new word to a concept after only a brief encounter. For example, if, on a TV screen, a child sees a series of animal images—a dog, a cat, and a tortoise— he or she may grasp the concept “animal” if the babysitter points at each
image and repeats the word animal. At first, the concept will be fuzzy. However, as the animal concept is
linked to other concepts—like large, fast, furry, slow, and so on—”animal” becomes better understood as a
category that includes many kinds of living creatures.
Children generally begin to vocalize first words at around 12 months. Nevertheless, among normal healthy
children, a range of 8 to 18 months isn’t unusual. The variations relate to a number of factors. Girls develop
vocabulary a bit faster than boys, perhaps because their maturation rates are a bit ahead of those of boys. A child’s temperament plays a part. Shy children are also slow to utter first words. Temperamental, stubborn
children acquire vocabulary more slowly than even tempered children. Language environment also plays a
part. If parents and caregivers are fluently verbal, children are exposed to more words.
Children have distinctive vocabulary acquisition styles. Toddlers who adopt a referential style gather words
for objects and things as they actively explore their environment. Children who adopt an expressive style
tend to be highly sociable. They focus on words related to social transactions. The adoption of either style is related to culture. The expressive style is likely to be encouraged in a collectivist culture, one that
emphasizes the sense of self as intertwined with others, as in places like Thailand or Japan. The referential
style tends to be encouraged more often in individualistic cultures like our own.
Three types of words—object words, action words, and words that express state—are most common in a
young child’s vocabulary. How each of these develops tell us things about children’s acquisition of
vocabulary. As you study this material, keep in mind that object words are expressed as nouns, and action
words as verbs. State words are associated with modifiers, such as adjectives (“big,” “tall,” “short”),
pronouns (“his,” “mine,” “hers”), and prepositions (“on,” “under”). As children master state words, their
vocabularies become more flexible. For example, “I see my teddy under [the] bed” engages all three kinds of words in a precise statement.
Toddlers obviously don’t generally use words in the same manner as adults. Two kinds of errors are common. In under extension, a child might use a categorical term like “bird” (as in “I want my bird”) to refer only to a
toy replica of Big Bird. A category is used too narrowly. In overextension, a toddler might use the word “dog” to refer to any animal with four feet and fur, such as his sister’s hamster and maybe even the neighbor’s cat. On the bright side, the use of overextension also reveals a young child’s sensitivity to categorical concepts
that can include more than one type or class.
Meanwhile, word coinage and the use of metaphors reveal a child’s capacity for linking words in expressive
and interestingly creative ways. When a sad child says, “My eyes are raining,” are we not seeing a kernel of
what poetry is made from?
In later semantic development, during the end of the elementary-school years, a child’s vocabulary grows
fourfold to a range of around 40,000 words. As this happens, words are used more precisely, synonyms are
recognized, and linguistic skills continue to develop in the elementary-school years and throughout
Ideas about How Semantic Development Takes Place
The fast-mapping process is supported by a particular part of working memory, a phonological store. The
speed with which a child can process newly presented information is dependent on that store. And, indeed, by the end of a child’s second year, he or she can recognize a familiar word based on the sounds they start with (“Time for din . . .” [dinner]).
Children can figure out the meanings of new words by comparing them with words they already know.
Evidence suggests that the child assigns a rough meaning to a new word and then refines it through further verbal experience. For example, having grasped the idea that “dog” is a general category, children can
recognize levels of a taxonomic hierarchy such that “animal” includes dogs and other animals, while German shepherd, fox terrier, and beagle are included in the “dog” category.
Noting these word-learning strategies, researchers have wondered just how children select the place of
words in a taxonomic hierarchy. One idea is that young children employ a mutual exclusivity bias. For
example, as preschoolers acquire object names, they do so through adopting a shape bias. A ball, a banana, a cap, or a box is recognized by its shape. Later on, the cognitive sorting found in the shape bias is extended to recognizing, for example, that a dog is a dog, not an assortment of legs, feet, a tail, and a head. People,
cats, and hamsters also have legs, feet, and a head—if not a tail. Thus, each word is compartmentalized into a nonoverlapping category. Therefore, in some way, a child is better able to taxonomically sort things and
objects into general categories, subcategories, and items in subcategories.
Another word-learning strategy comes from recognizing or deducing word meanings from their context
within a phrase or sentence. This is called syntactic bootstrapping. For example, when reading a novel, you
come across this passage: “Pierre stared down at his soup with obvious suspicion. Looking up and waving
his hand in the direction of a waiter, he called out, ‘Garçon, garçon!'” If you aren’t familiar with the French
language, you’ll probably guess that garçon [gar-sawn] means “waiter.” In fact, the word means “boy,” but
your guess is adequate for making sense of Pierre’s behavior. Similar approximations accompany a
three-year-old’s bootstrapping responses.
How does one explain a child’s rapid vocabulary development? Some researchers propose that children are
innately, genetically predisposed to apply principles such as the mutual exclusivity bias and syntactical bootstrapping. Here, we see echoes of Chomsky’s nativist ideas. Chomsky proposed language as a uniquely
human accomplishment, etched into the structure of the brain. Focusing on grammar, Chomsky reasoned
that the rules for sentence organization are too complex to be directly taught to or discovered by even a
cognitively sophisticated young child. Rather, Chomsky proposed that all children have a language
acquisition device—an innate system that permits them, once they have acquired sufficient vocabulary, to
combine words into grammatically consistent, novel utterances and to understand the meaning of sentences they hear.
Other researchers maintain that children learn language using the same cognitive strategies that are applied to nonlinguistic learning. One influential perspective on this idea is the emergentist coalition model. In effect, efforts to learn language emerge as children draw on a coalition of cues—perceptual, social, and linguistic.
Infants rely solely on perceptual cues. Toddlers depend on both perceptual and social cues (like breakfast or bedtime contexts). Older children depend increasingly on linguistic cues, such as syntax, intonation, and
Development of Metalinguistic Awareness
Metalinguistic awareness is the ability to think about language as a system. When, for example, a child
realizes that all English words are parts of the English language, he or she has grasped some degree of
metalinguistic awareness. Linguistic-system awareness shows up in rudimentary ways as early as age four.
However, more sophisticated linguistic-system awareness develops along with increasing phonological
awareness as children are coached in reading and writing activities during middle childhood.
Bilingualism: Learning Two Languages in Childhood
Many children are raised in bilingual families. Second-generation children of Polish immigrants may hear
mainly Polish from grandmother, alternating Polish and English from Dad, and mainly English from Mom
(at least when speaking to her children). Today, in America, we see many shop signs that read
“Se habla Espanol.” This is the case because close to 20 percent of Americans are Spanish-speaking
immigrants to the United States from Mexico, Cuba, and other Latin American nations.
How do children raised in bilingual families fare in linguistic development? The short answer is
“very well”—depending.When children learn a second language after having mastered their native language, their facility with the second language is fair to good. If children are encouraged to be bilingual from infancy onward, they tend to master both languages, along with a good ability to switch back and forth between,
say,Greek and English. However, bilinguals sometimes engage in code switching. That is, they insert a word
from one language into another, but without violating the grammatical rules of that language.
In any case, the argument for teaching children more than one language is compelling. Evidence reveals that bilingual children and adolescents develop richer synaptic links in the speech areas of the left temporal lobe, significantly boosting their cognitive capacity.
Link to youtube video:
Questions for assignment
1. What are the stages of language development?
2. Which stages do you feel are most important and why?
3. How does a language delay impact a child?
Please be detail with response, Thank you