Elements of Language
3 dimensions of language:
Form: structure of the output and the input
Content: the meaning behind the verbal stream
Function: how language is used to communicate
Until recently, all 3 facets of language have been studied independently of one another, and are now started
to be looked at together in studies
Typically in our society, someone speaks while the other person listens, and once there is a pause we know it
as a cue to reply
Components of Form
Phonology: the sound structures of language, and the rules of the organization of the sound structures. Certain
combinations of sounds are allowed and others are not. This also refers to the smallest unit or sound that can be
distinguished and this is called a phoneme. In the English language there are about 44 different phonemes that we can
distinguish. Infants are born with the capacity to distinguish many more phonemes than are actually present within their
language. We seem to be hardwired to distinguish sound structure. A 6monthold Japanese speaker can distinguish
between more specific phonemes than adult Japanese speakers. The ability to distinguish certain phonemes
disappears around age 8 months – 12 months. The synapses for the phonemes that are not valid in the primary
language are pruned.
Morphology: the combination of units of speech, parts of words and how we put parts of words together. A
morpheme is the smallest component of a word that has psychological meaning. I.e. baseball – has 2 morphemes in it:
base and ball (is a compound word and made of 2 separate words/morphemes). Cat is a single morpheme and then
adding the morpheme “s” making cat plural indicates to us there is more than 1 cat. If the word is the present tense (i.e.
dance) and then turn it into the past tense (i.e. danced) “ed” becomes a morpheme that helps us to put the term into
the past. The addition of “ing” to a word to make it ongoing is a morpheme (i.e. dancing). Possible is one morpheme
and then turning the word into “impossible” now has 2 morphemes. Children who are more aware of the morphology in
the language seem to be better at doing certain tasks. Chinese children who have a better understanding of the
morphemes seem to be able to read better. In the French language children who have a better of the morphology seem
able to capture the morphology better in their writing. If children gather more and more words in their vocabulary they
start to see more redundancies in new words and can make new links.
Syntax: the rules to combine words within sentences. We need rules because not all languages do the same
combinations of words within sentences. In the English language qualifiers go in front of the noun (i.e. the red truck).
Compared to French, the qualifiers are applied after the noun (i.e. camion rouge).
Components of Content – how do children learn the meaning of words? Semantics: the meaning behind the word and the meaning of the language. Most of the work done in this stage is
based on the number of words a child can either produce or recognize. If presenting a child with a word and then a
selection of pictures, can they understand the meaning of the word and select the correct picture to correspond?
Components of Function
Pragmatics: the situational use of language and the social cues surrounding language. There are certain rules
surrounding how and what you would say when interacting with different individuals. For example, when speaking with
your professor you would not usually say “hey there” when addressing them in an email, but would usually be more
formal. Pragmatics can be considered adaptive (i.e. using “please” and “thank you” usually gets your further when
speaking with someone). Pragmatics is the least studied area of language. Children with autism and Asperger’s tend to
struggle more with pragmatics.
6 month olds are universal language learners, and by 2 months this function is lost because children start to
specialize in one language, which becomes their primary language
Babies raised in a 2language household with equal input from both languages, the child will most likely
retain both languages. If one language dominates the other the other language, children will most likely have
to relearn the nondominant language.
When we talk to babies, babies start to take that and find redundancies in things that are said in them (i.e.
the combination of the consonants “s” and “t” – it is less frequent at the end of a word and babies can start to
piece together the redundancy of “st” at the beginning of a word).
We speak in infant directed speech (“parentese”)– when interacting with an infant, changing the way we
speak. In turn by changing the way we speak it can change the way babies perceive speech.
Infant directed speech can be characterized by speaking in elongating vowels, shortening consonants, and
speaking high pitched.
Speaking to infants in “parentese” attracts their attention
Milestones in Speech
Cooing: up to 6 months and the babies are making vowel sounds.
Babbling: from 612 months the babies are making vowels sounds with the addition of consonant sounds.
Intonation: occurs at 8 months old and start to vary the sounds they make
Even profoundly deaf babies with coo and babble, but decreases with time because they don’t have any
Certain sounds are easier to produce in babbling, including “dadadada” “babababa” and “mamamama”. This
is a case in point where we make things easier for the babies and we name ourselves after the sounds that
The first word usually occurs around the first birthday – this is a demonstration that words are symbols that
stand for something
Babbling continues with the presence of the first word
By 1518 months of age, the average number of words that a child can produce is 50 words
Around 18 months of age, ther