Child Language Acquisition


Early Language Development

Cooing stage (4-7 months)

1) Small range of sounds - getting used to moving their lips and tongue - vowels like /u/ and /a/

2) Eventually start linking these to make extended vowel combinations - start using velar consonants, made at the back part of the tongue, like /k/ and /g/

Babbling (6-12 months)

1) Reduplicated babbling = repeated consonant/vowel combinations like mama 

2) Variegated babbling = not repeated, like goo-gi-goo-gi 

3) Recognisable intonation in the strings of phonemes they put together

Proto-words (9-12 months) 

1) Proto words = words that carry meaning are created like 'mmm' to say 'I'm hungry' 

2) At about 10 months old, a child puts sound and meaning together - mama means mum 

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Phonological and Pragmatic Development

Common features in phonological development:

- Deletion = dropping a consonant all together, e.g. 'ca' for 'cat'

- Substitution = instead of dropping a consonant, replacing it with an easier one e.g 'weg' for 'leg'

- Cluster Reduction = where there's a consonant cluster (multiple consonants together), dropping one of the consonants e.g. 'geen' for 'green'

- Addition = a vowel added to the end of a word to create a CVCV pattern e.g. 'doggy'

- Assimilation = changing one consonant or vowel for another e.g. 'gog' for 'dog'

- Reduplication = repeating a whole syllable e.g. 'dada' or 'mama' 

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Theories: Halliday - 7 Functions

Halliday believes there are 7 functions for early language of children:

1) Regulatory = to make a request or give orders 

2) Instrumental = to get something 

3) Representational = to convey information

4) Imaginative = storytelling, rhymes, humour, imagination 

5) Personal = to convey a sense of personal identity, feelings, or views

6) Heuristic = to find out about the immediate environment 

7) Interactional = to relate to others 

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Theories: Berko and Brown - Fis Phenomenon

Children can recognise and understand a wider range of phonemes than they can produce 

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Theories: Skinner - Behaviourist

- Language is acquired through imitation and operant conditioning (pos/neg reinforcement)


- Children imitate accent and dialect

- They learn politeness and pragmatics 

- They repeat language they've heard


- They do more than just imitate - can construct new sentences they've never heard before 

- They learn correct language despite being exposed to incorrect grammar 

- They don't always respond to correction 

LOOK OUT FOR -> adults modelling language and children responding, children imitating adult speech, and children repairing mistakes after being corrected 

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Theories: Piaget - Cognitive Stages

Sensorimotor stage (2-6 years)

- They learn object permanence - things can exist even when they can't be seen

- They're separate to other people and objects, but their actions can cause things to happen 

Pre-operational stage (2-6 years)

- Learn to use words and pictures to represent objects 

- Struggle to see things from the perception of others 

Concrete operational stage (7-12 years)

- They begin to understand the concept of conservation - the amount of liquid in a short, wide cup, is equal to that in a tall, skinny glass, for example - think logically about concrete events 

Formal operational stage (11-16 years)

- Think about moral, philo, ethical, social and political issues with theoretical & abstract reasoning 

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Theories: Piaget - Cognitive


- Learning difficulties don't stop children from using language beyond their understanding 


- Children talking to themselves, trying to make sense of things

- Children failing to use language because they haven't grasped the concept expressed by it

- Children engaging in imaginative play 

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Theories: Chomsky - Nativist (Nature)

- Suggest language acquisition is innate 

- Natural development when exposed to language 

- Born with a language acquisition device (LAD)


- Virtuous errors justify LAD 

- Children from around the world go through the same stages 

- Specific areas of the brain control language 


- Children that haven't had enough exposure to language never catch up 

- No practical experiments 

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Theories: Bruner - Social Interaction (Nurture)

- Believes in a language acquisition support system (LASS), where caregivers support the child's linguistic development in social situations 

- Caregivers must create conversation and encourage a response, which helps the child become more active in social situations and ask their own questions 

- Caregivers are vital 


- Parents making conversation and using tag questions 

- Children enjoying interaction

- Parents reinforcing their child's attempt to speak by responding positively 

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Theories: Vygotsky - Scaffolding

- Caregivers act as a more knowledgeable other (MKO)

- They provide support for the child to go beyond their current level of ability 

- The Zone of Proximal Development is the difference between what the child can do without help, to what they can do with help 

- With help, a child can go beyond their current level of ability (of what they can do on their own), helping them develop further 

- If a child needed an answer to a question, and the caregiver helped, then the child would remember the answer and apply it in future situations 

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Theories: Pinker - Language Instinct

- Language is an instinct 

- Language must convey a message, and negotiate the social relationship between the speaker and audience 

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Theories: Tomasello - Not Instinct

- Language isn't an instinct

- The ability to learn language is social, and relies on the same kinds of cognitive processes as other forms of learning, e.g. walking, drawing, etc.  

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Theories: Berko - Wug Test

- Children were shown a picture of a creature, and were told it was a 'wug'

- They were asked what two of them would be called, and 3-4 year olds said there would be two wugs 

- This shows that the children didn't use the -s because they were imitating someone, as they'd never heard of a wug before 

- They automatically used the rule that says -s is added to a noun to make it plural 

- This is called internalisation - they'd heard the rule so often, that it was second nature to apply it to make a plural 

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Social Interaction - Child Directed Speech

Caregivers often simplify and exaggerate their CDS to encourage the child to interact 

Phonology and Prosody:

1) Intonation is exaggerated - "What a GOOD girl you are" - pitch is usually higher 

2) Words are repeated 

3) Pace is slower, with longer pauses                   Grammar:

Lexis:                                                                     1) Sentence structure simplified, aux verbs 

1) Vocabulary is simple                                             omitted - "Annie go for walk?"

2) Reduplication - choo-choo                               2) Proper nouns instead of pronouns 

3) Diminutives - doggie                                         3) Present tense normally used 

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Lexis, Grammar, and Semantics

- Underextension = when a child uses a word in a very restricted way - saying 'hat', but referring to one specific hat

- Overextension = when a child uses a word to refer to several different, but related things - e.g. 'cat' to refer to any animal with four legs 

Rescorla says there are 2 types of overextension:

1) Categorical = when a word is used to refer to a thing in a similar category e.g. car to mean bus

2) Analogical = when a word is used to refer to something clearly not in the same category, but have a physical or functional relation to each other e.g. 'hat' for smth connected with the head 


- Labelling = when they call something by its correct name

- Packaging = when a child begins to understand a range of meaning a word may have

- Network Building = when a child makes connections between words, e.g. antonyms/synonyms

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Stages of Lexical Development

Holophrastic stage (12-18 months)

- 1 word utterances

Two word (18-24 months) 

- 2 word combinations - joining words and phrases 

- Understanding meaning of words 

Telegraphic (2-3 years)

- 3+ words

- Vocab and grammatical ability, and pragmatic awareness developing 

Post-telegraphic (3+)

- More grammatically complex combinations, properly constructed

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Learning to Read

Three approaches to the teaching of reading:

1) The Phonics Approach

- Looking at letters/syllables in terms of sound - sounding it out 

2) The "Look and Say" Approach

- Recognising whole words by sight alone, focussing on meaning rather than breaking it down 

3) The Psycholinguistics Approach 

- Natural development, that comes in an environment where books are read

- Encouraged to work out the words by themselves by looking at the rest of a sentence 

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Learning to Write

Kroll's Stages of Writing Development: 

1) Preparatory Stage (18 months)

- Children develop the motor skills needed for writing

- Begin to learn basics of the spelling system 

2) Consolidation Stage (6-8 years)

- Write how they speak - lots of colloquialisms and short declaratives 

- Express ideas in the form of sentences, though with little punctuation 

3) Differentiation Stage (8 - mid teens)

- Aware of differences between spoken and written language, & understand different genres 

4) Integration Stage (13+)

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Stages of Negation - Bellugi

1) No at the start of the sentence e.g. "No wear shoes" 

2) No in the middle of the sentence e.g. "I no want it"

3) Achieves the correct form e.g. "I don't want to..."

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Stages of Pronouns - Bellugi

1) Use of names e.g. "Tom play"

2) Recognises "I" and "me" (first person object and subject pronouns) e.g. "me play toy"

3) Learns the correct form "I play with the toy"

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