AQA A2 English Language B


Language development in womb

DeCasper and Spence (1986)

Found that babies sucked their dummies more when mothers read the same story they read aloud during the last 6 months of pregnancy.

Mehler et al (1988)

4 day old french babies increased sucjing rate on dummy when hearing French as opposed to English and Italian.

Fitzpatrick (2002)

Found the heart rate of an unborn baby slowed when hearing mother's voice

All suggests even in the womb, babies are familiar with the sounds, rhythms and intonations of language.

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Pre-verbal stage

  • Period between being born and the baby's first word is called the pre-verbal stage
  • Crying is the first main vocal expression made in order to notify caregivers of its needs
  • This is an instinctive response, not a conscious act
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Cooing stage

  • Starts when aged 6 to 8 weeks
  • Babies start making a small range of sounds when getting used to moving their lips and tongue
  • This starts with vowels like /u/ and /a/
  • They then link these to produce extended vowel combinations like ooooo and aaaah
  • They then use velar consonants (ones made by the back part of the tongue like /g/ and /k/
  • This is experimentation and the sounds have no meaning
  • Eventually these sounds become more defined and are strung together
  • This vocal play is the start of babbling
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Babbling stage

  • 6 months old
  • Repeated consonant/vowel combinations like ma-ma-ma-- reduplicated or canonical babbling
  • Sometimes not repeated, e.g. goo-gi-gah, -- variegated babbling
  • The consonants in reduplicated and variegated babbling are h,w,j,b,m,t,d,n,k,g
  • Most argue babbling is a continuation of experimentation process rather than production of sounds with meanings

Deaf Babies

 Research has shown deaf babies who have exposure to sign language babble with their hands- suggests babbling is an innate pre-programmed activity

  • Others argue this is the beginning of speech

e.g. Petitto and Holowka (2002)

Videoed infants babbling and noted most babling came from right sight of the mouth which is controlled by the left side of the brain. The left side is responsible for speech production. Their findings could suggest babbling is a form of preliminary speech production.

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Phonemic expansion and contraction

  • During babbling stage
  • When start to babble number of phonemes produced icreases - phonemic expansion
  • Later the number reduces - phonemic contraction
  • This is when the baby starts focussing on producing sounds from its own language
  • At this stage (10 months) babies of different nationalities start to sound different

Bristol University (2008)

Those exposed to diferent languages in the first 9 months of their life are more able to pick out these language's sounds as they get older. This is because phonemic contraction as occured less than it would if the baby had been exposed to one language only.

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Intonation Patterns

  • At 6 months babies use rhythms and intonations that resemble the speech patterns of adults
  • An example is an intonation rise at the end of a babbling sequence to indicate a request
  • These are often accompanied with gestures 
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  • Certain combinations of vowels and consonants start to carry meaning 
  • An example is /mmm/ to mean they want more food
  • Often accompanied with gestures
  • Another example is when a child refers to a cat as /da/
  • It is just a sound but refers to an object
  • These are not words but they function like one
  • At 9 months children start to sound like they're seaking their own madeup language-jargon
  • At 10 months the meanings come together e.g. ma-ma does mean mum
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Phonological Development

  • Depends on the individual
  • Children learn consonants and vowels at different speeds
  • Usually can use all vowels by 2.5 years
  • Usually can use all consonants by 6-7 years old
  • Earliest consonants learnt are:

 /m/ and /n/ (nasals?

/p/, /t/ and /k/ (voiceless plosives)

  • The last onsonants learnt are

/th/ sounds

/v/, /tS/ and /d3/ as in very, church and jack

  • Children find using consonants at the beginning of words easier than at the end

For example, they wold find saying the /t/ in teddy easier than the /t/ in sit

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  • When a child simplifies a word they find difficult to say
  • 3 main kinds of simplification


When a child drops a consonant altogether, particularly at the end of a word e.g. ca rather than cat


Instead of dropping a consonant, a child might replace it with one that's easier to say e.g. 'wegs' insetad of 'legs' ot 'tupp' instead of 'cup

Cluster Reduction

Where there are consonant clusers (2 or more consonants together), the child may drop one of the consonants e.g. 'geen' for 'green'

Berko and Brown 1960

'Fis phenomenon'- A child referred to his plastic fish as a fis. When the adult asked "is this you fis?", the child replied "no, it's my fis". The adult then asked "is this your fish?" and the child replied "yes, my fis". Suggests children can understand a wider range of phenomes than they can produce.

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Other features in phonological development

Addition- when a vowel is added to the end of a word e.g. 'dog' for 'dogu'

Assimilation- When pn consonant is changed due to the influence of another consonant e.g. 'tub'                     becomes 'bub'

Reduplication- When a phenome is repeated like moo-moo or bik-bik

Voicing- When voiceless consonants like p,t,f,s (sounds which are produced without using the vocal chords) are replaced byt their voiced counterparts like b.d.v.z.o e.g. 'zok' for 'sock'

De-voicing- When voiced consonantsare replaced by voicless counterparts e.g. pag for bag

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Functions of children's language

Instrumental- To get something e.g. 'go toily'

Regulatory- To make requests of give orders

Interactional- To relate to others e.g. nice mummy

Personal- To convey a sense of personal identity and to express views and feelings e.g. naughty doggy

Heuristic- to find out about the immediate environment e.g. what boy doing?

Imaginative- To be creative through language that relates to       imaginative play, storytelling, rhymes and humour 

Representational- To convey information e.g. "I'm three"

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Interaction rules

  • 'Peek-a'boo' familiarises babies with turntaking and social interaction
  • Some adults might respond to children's babbling in a conversaional style
  • As development advances- politeness features, turn-taking adjacency pairs, non verbal communication, opening and closing sentences etc
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Vocabulary acquisition

18 months- 50+ words- But can understand around 250

2 years- 300 words

5 years- approx. 3000

7 years- approx. 4000

11 years- approx. 40,000 

First words usually relate to immediate surroundings or have a social function

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Categories of first words

Nelson (1973)

1) Classes of objects- dog, shoe, ball, car

2) Specific objects- mummy, daddy

3) Actions/events- give, stop, go, up, where

4) Modifying events- dirty, nice, allgone

5) Personal/ social-hi, bye-bye, yes, no

Classes of objects formed the largest group- easier for children to identify things they can touch

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Learning to use improvise if unsure

Underextension- when a child uses a word in a very restricted way e.g. saying hat meaning her hat not just any hat

Overextension- when a child uses a word to refer to several different but related things e.g. calling any four legged animal as a 'cat'

Rescorla (1980)

  • Said there are two types of overextension

Categorical- when a word is used to refer ti things in a similar category e.g. 'car' for lots of different vehicles such as bus and lorry

Analogical- when a word is used to refer to things which aren't clearly in the same category but have some physical or functional relation e.g. 'hat' for anything connected with the head

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Holophrastic stage

  • When a child says their first words (also known as one-word stage)
  • Holophrases are single words which express a complete idea e.g. 'teddy' could mean 'where is my teddy?' 'I want my teddy' 'look at teddy' etc
  • Caregivers often need contextual clues to decipher meaning
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Two word stage

  • At around 18 months children start to use two words in conjunction
  • When they do this they automatically start to create grammatical relationship

Some common combinations:

subject + verb- baby crying

verb + object- catch ball

subject + object- daddy dinner

subject + complement- dolly dirty

These combinations show similar patterns to more complex grammatical constructions

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Telegraphic stage/ 3 word stage

  • At around 2 years children start to use 3 or 4 word combinations
  • Children still focus on words which carry most meanings
  • They also still omit functional words e.g. prepositions (from, to), auxiliary verbs (has, do) and determiners (a,the)
  • However, these utterences are fromed according to some grammatical rules

Doggy is naughty- subject+verb+object

Jodie want cup- subject+verb+object

Give mummy spoon verb+object+object

Age 5

By age five children wil be able to use range of grammatical constructions:

  • Coordinating conjunctions (and,but) to link seperate utterances
  • Negatives involving the auxiliary do (don't like it etc)
  • Questions formed with 'who', 'where' and 'what'
  • Inflections like -ed for past tense, -ing for present participles and -s for plurals
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Acquiring inflections

  • Children start adding inflections by 20 months
  • Brown (1973) suggestes inflections are acquired in a certain order:

1) Present participle -ing ------ I going (although am will still be missing)

2) Pluras -s -------- cups

3) Possessive 's ------- Teddy's chair

4) Articles (a, the) ------ Get the ball

5) Past tense -ed------- I kicked it

6) 3rd person singular verb ending -s -------- She loves me

7) Auxiliary be------- It is raining ( or, more likely, it's raining)

  • A and the are used most frequently, -ed least.
  • However, they are 4th and 5h in terms of acquitison- suggests imitation does not have a strong influence on how inflections are acquired
  • -ing is 1st probably because it represents the present tense and therefore relates to things happening 'now 
  • Kalimba (1996) -found little connection between frequency with which these inflectiond are used by parents and the order in which children acquire them
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Inflections are learnt in 3 stages- Cruttenden

Cruttenden (1979)

Stage 1- Inconsistent usage

A child will use an inflection correctly some of the time but this is because they have learnt the word not the grammatical rule e.g. saying 'I play outside' one day but 'I played outside' the next.

Stage 2- Consistent usage but sometimes misapplied

For example, applying regular past tense inflection -ed to irregular verbs e.g. 'I drinked it' instead of 'I drank it'. This is called a virtuous error or an overgeneralisation. They understand how past tense verbs are formed but mistakenly apply it to irregular verbs.

Stage 3- Consistent usage

When children are able to cope wth irregular forms successfully e.g. saying 'mice' instead of 'mouses'.

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Berko's wug test

Children seem to acquire grammatical rules by just being in an enviroment where language is spoken and being able to interact with others:

Berko's (1958) 'wug' test

1) Children were shown a picture of a creature called a 'wug'. They were then shown a picture of two of the creatures and told 'now there is another one, there are two of them, there are two ...'. 3-4 year old children were able to complete the sentence with 'two wugs.

2) The test showed that the children were not using the -s because they were imitating someone as 'wug' is a madeup term. They'd automatically used the grammatical rule that states -s id added to a noun to form a plural.

3) This is called internalisation- they'd hear a rule so often that it was second nature to apply it to make it plural.

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Learning to ask questions

Stage 1 (18 months)- during two word stage children start to use rising intonantion to indicate a question 

Stage 2 (between ages 2 and 3)- In telegraphic stage children use rising intonation but also wh- words in utternces e.g. where tractor?. As they continue to develop, they use a wider range of interrogartive pronouns such as why, when and how.

Stage 3 (from the age of 3 upwards)- children will use a subject verb inversion e.g. 'can I see it?' 'did she break it?' instead of 'I can see it?'. They also use auxiliary verbs for the first time e.g. what is mummy doing?

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Learning to use negatives

At around the same time as learning to use interrogatives, children start to use negatives.

Stage 1 (18 months)- childen use no or not to make things negative, normally at the beginning of the phrase rather than at the end e.g. 'no juice' and 'not baby's bed' etc

Stage 2 (2-3 years)- Children start to use no and not in front of verbs too like 'I no want it' and 'I not like teddy's bed'. They also develop the use of contracted negatives like can't and don't. These forms can often get mixed up e.g. 'I can't like it'.

Stage 3 (3 years +)- Children stop using no and not in the way they did in stage 1. They standardise their use of can't and don't, and start using other negative contractions like didn't and won't e.g. 'she didn't catch it' and 'he won't build it'. The use of isn't tends to develop slightly later.

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Imitation theory- B F Skinner (1957)

Skinner suggestsed language is acquired through imitation and reinforcement:

  • Children repeat what they hear (imitation)
  • Caregivers reward a child's efforts with praise
  • They also reinforce by repeating words and phrases back and correcting mistakes (negative reinforcement)

This theory says that children learn all the specific pronunciations of individual words by copying an adult- therefore in theory it explains an important park of their ponological development

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Problems with Imitation Theory

There are some problems with imitation theory:

  • Children can construct new sentences they've never heard before, so they aren't always directly imitating
  • They do not memorise thousands of sentences to use later, so their development cannot be based purely on imitation
  • Imitation cannot explain generalisations like "he runned away' because adults would never say these errors and thereforoe children would not be able to copy them
  • Imitation cannot explain the fis phenomenon- the fact that children recognise a much larger range of words than they can use
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Innate language acquisition- Chomsky (1965)

  • Chomsky argued that language acquisition was inbuilt. He said that language isn't taught, but it's a natural development that occurs when children are exposed to language
  • He suggested that every child had a Language Acquisition Device (LAD), which allows them to take in and use grammatical rules of the language that's spoken where they live
  • This approach seems to explain how cildren end up making over-generalisations and why they acquire inflections in a certain order- its as it the brain is pre-programmed to make this happen
  • Therefore children might learn language quickly because they are pre-disposed to learn it
  • More evidence to Chomsky's theory is that all children pass through the same early stages of language acquisition, before refining their range of sounds to their native language
  • There are some common features of langauge known as linguistic universals e.g. every language contains a combination of regular and irregular verbs. This suggests that all speakers acquire language in a similar way, so it supports the idea that children have a LAD
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Problems with Chomsky's theory

  • Chomsky's theory underestimates the significance of Skinner's argument that interaction, imitation and reinforcement are important in language development
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The Cognative Approach- Piaget (1896-1980)

The cognative approach focuses on the importance of mental processes. Piaget stated that a child needs to have developed certain mental abilities before he or she can acquire particular aspects of language:

  • At first a child can't mentally process the concept that something can exist outside of their immediate surroundings. This is being egocentric.
  • By the time they are 18 months, children realise things have object permanence- they can exist all the time, even if the child can't see them.This coincides with a big increase in vocab
  • the child is then mentally better equipped to understand abstract consequences like past, present and future.
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Problems with the Cognitive Approach

The approach does not explain how saome people with learning difficulties are still linguistically fluent. This suggests the cognative development and language development aren't as clearly connected as the cognative approach suggests.

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Input approach e.g. Bruner 1983

  • Bruner suggested there is a Language Acquisition Support System (LASS)- a system in which caregivers support their child's linguisitic development in social situations
  • There are clear patterns of interaction between the child and caregiver e.g. meal times, bath times etc
  • The caregiver talks to the child e.g. pointing things out, which encourages speech
  • As a result of this support, the child gradually learns to play a more active role e.g. asking Qs
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Lenneberg 1967

  • Proposed the Critical Period Hypothesis
  • This states that children who are without linguisitic interaction before ages 5-6 are linguistically under developed
  • This idea is supported by some rare cases when children have to expouire to language e.g. in extreme cases of child abuse such as 'Genie' or feral children, and therefore develop no language skills
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Socio-cultural theory- Vygotsky

Vygotsky suggests social interaction and experiencing different social and cultural contexts are very important for language development.

Vygotsky (1978) identified 2 significant factors that contribute to language development- Private speech and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD):

Private speech: when a child talks aloud to itself. Vygotsky saw this as a major step forward in a child's mental development- evidence of independent thought

The ZPD: When a child needs its caregiver help in order to interact e.g. if a doctor asks "where does it hurt" the child might be unable to answer and the caregiver might answer for the child or encourage a response. This gives the child a model to apply to similar situations in the future when it might respond without help---- scaffolding

Children require it less and less once they become more able to deal with different social and cultural situations on their own.

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Language acquisition cannot be explained by 1 theo

There is not one explanation of how children learn to speak 1) Theories of innate acquisition and cognitive developments do to take into account the role of interaction needed to develop language 2) Theories of imitation and reinforcement can't explain that some features of language apply to everyone and that all babies show similar cooing and babbling features, regardless of their native language 3) The most likely explanation is that language development involves all of these different influences to some degree

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Child directed speech (CDS)

The language features of child directed speech are ofte simplified or exaggerated and often have the purpose of encouraging a child to interact as they're easier to understand.

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Phonology and Prosody - CDS

1) Intonation is exaggerated and words ares stressed more strongly than they are in adult conversation e.g. What a GOOD girls you are (stress on good). The pitch is also often higher.

2) Word and phrases are repeated e.g. get the ball Annie, get the ball

3) The pace is often much slower, with longer pauses than in adult speech

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Lexis (CDS)

1) Vocabulary is often simplified e.g. nana instead of banana

2) Caregivers use reduplication e.g. choo-choo, din-din or moo-moo

3) They also use diminutives- like birdie, doggie or fishy

4) A high proportion of the words will refer to objects that the child can see and touch e.g. look at the *****-cat, Annie, it's playing with the ball

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Grammar (CDS)

  • Sentence structures are often simplified, and function words (e.g. auxiliary verbs) are often omitted e.g. "Annie go for a walk?" instead of "Annie, shall we go for a walk?" 
  • Proper nouns (including frequent repetition of the child's name) are ifte used instead of pronouns e.g. "Is Annie making a sandcastle" rather than "Are you making a sandcastle?". 
  • A higher proportion of nouns will be concrete nouns e.g. cup, apple, bottle etc 
  • The present tense will be used more than the past tense
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Techniques to encourage language development by ca

  • Repeating certan structures e.g. "Annie get the tractor" "Annie find the bottle" etc
  • They ask lots of questions e.g. "Annie, where's doggie gone?"- encourages a response
  • They use a lot of imperatives e.g. "pick up dolly", "eat din-dins", "drink milk"
  • Often expand on what a child has said e.g. "what're you doing Annie? "playing" "yes, you're playing with your car"
  • They also recast what a child has said, reprsenting information in a different way: "What're you doing Annie?" "Playing with my car" "Yes. that's your car, isn't it?"
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CDS impact on language development

  • CDS isn't used by caregivers in every culture, but speakers of all countries grow up fluent
  • There's nothing conclusive to suggest CDS does or doesn't work- research has produced conflicting results
  • It could be that CDS is more about building a relationship than about language development in particular
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Interaction with caregivers

Caregivers use CDS to encourage children to respond and teach them about how dialogue works:

  • The early convos children have (at around 2) are usually initiated and maintained by adults
  • They seem to be made up of short statements by the child that the adult responds to e.g. "quack-quack" "That's right Annie the ducks go quack quack don't they?"
  • Children deveop alot 2-4 e.g. understanding turn taking and taking part in dialogues
  • They learn to give appropraiate answers to questions and respond in a way wich can initiate a futher response from the other speaker
  • They develop more awareness of social factors in convos e.g. please and thankyou 
  • They become better at getting someone's attention e.g. they use adverbs like 'well' to show they have something to say and start to use names to get people's attention
  • Starting school/nursary has a big impact on social interaction skills, as children meet more people they start to understand what language is apporpriate in different contexts e.g. more formal language in classroom rather than in the playground
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Interaction with other children (peers)

At around 2 children start to have convos with eachother

  • These early convos are limited because at this age the children only have a lexis of 300 words
  • They're known as closed convos because there's no progression in them. The speakers don't have the skills to make meaningful responses, so they can't keep the conversation going. 
  • the convos are made up of short sentences e.g. "I got sweeties" "nice sweeties""I got big bag"
  • As they get older children's use of lexis and grammar increases- more complex convos
  • They develop pragmatic skills- they learn to use language to form relationships with eachother and get what they want.
  •  This can involve repetition e.g. "Can I have pen now? Can I have pen now?" and persuasive tactics e.g. "I won't be your friend if you don'y give it to me"
  • They also imitate adult speech and develop more awareness of the type of language that's appropriate for different audiences e.g. older children often use CDS when talking to younger children
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Phonics approach- learning to read

  • Looking at letters and letter combos in terms of sounds e.g. cow is seperated into /c/ /ow/
  • It is useful for words which are spelled phonetically but less useful for words like 'through'
  • This approach has been criticised for focussing merely on sounds and letters and not on the meanings of words
  • It also could be seen as 'boring' and might slow down the more able readers who need less support and structure than other less able children
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Look and say approach- learning to read

  • Also known as 'whole word approach'
  • Involves recognising words by sight alone, rather than breaking down into seperate phonemes
  • Focuses on meanings of words and teaches chldren to recognise common words like 'went'
  • However, this causes a reliance on memorising words and therefore they might not be able to work out unfamiliar words
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Psycholinguistics approach-learning to read

  • Sees reading as a natural development that comes from being in an environment where books are read, valued and available
  • Active approach to reading- the reader us given responsibility for working out a meaning rather than just being told
  • When children come across funfamiliar words they are encouraged to work out the meaning from 'context'- clues like illustrations etc
  • The idea is to focus on meaning rather than just working out symbols 
  • it is also designed to mke them aware of the importance on context
  • This apporach has been criticised as it can leave a lot to chance
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