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Chapter 11

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PSYC 2450
Anneke Olthof

Chapter 11: Development of language and communication skills  Language: A small number of individually meaningless symbols (sounds, letters, gestures) that can be combined according to agreed on rules to produce an infinite number of messages  Communicate: process by which one organism transmits information to and influences another  Vocables: unique patterns of sound that a prelinguistic infant uses to represent objects, actions or events  The five components of language  Psycholinguists: those who study the structure and development of children language 1) Phonology: the sounds system of a language and the rules for combining these sounds to produce meaningful units of speech  Phonemes: the basic units of sound that are used in a spoken language 2) Morphology: the rules governing the formation of meaningful words from sounds 3) Semantics: the expressed meaning of words and sentences  Morphemes: smallest meaningful language units  Free morphemes: morphemes that can stand alone as a word (e.g. cat, go, yellow)  Bound morphemes: morphemes that cannot stand alone but that modify the meaning of free morphemes (e.g. the –ed attached to English verbs to indicate past tense) 4) Syntax: the structure of a language; the rules specifying how words and grammatical markers are to be combined to produce meaningful sentences 5) Pragmatics: principles that underlie the effective and appropriate use of language in social contexts  Sociolinguistic knowledge: culturally specific rules specifying how language should be structured and used in particular social contexts (E.g. learn how to say “please”)  Theories of language development  Linguistic universal: an aspect of language development that all children share   The learning (or empiricist) perspective - Children imitate what they hear (reinforced when use proper grammar and corrected when they don’t) - Skinner argued that children learn to speak appropriately because they are reinforced for grammatical speech - Bandura added that children acquire much of their linguistic knowledge by listening to and imitating the language of older companions 1  Evaluation of the learning perspective - Little success accounting for the development of syntax - Difficult to reinforce the child’s grammatical utterances - Grammar was incorrect and not imitated  The nativist perspective - Humans are biologically programmed to acquire language - Linguist Noam Chomsky argued that the structure of the simplest of languages is elaborate (too complex to be taught by parents) - Language acquisition is quite natural and almost automatic as long as children have linguistic input to process  Language acquisition device (LAD): Chomsky’s term for the innate knowledge of grammar that humans were said to possess, which might enable young children to infer the rules governing others speech and to use these rules to produce language  Universal grammar: in nativist theories of language acquisition, the basic rules of grammar that characterize all language  Language-making capacity (LMC): hypothesized set of specialized linguistic processing skills that enable children to analyze speech and to detect phonological, semantic and syntactical relationships  Support for the nativist perspective - Nativists interpret these linguistic universals as clear evidence that language must be guided by some species-specific biological blueprint  Brain specialization and language  Broca’s area: structure located in the frontal lobe of the left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex that controls language production  Wernicke’s area: structure located in the temporal lobe of the left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for interpreting speech  The sensitive-period hypothesis  Sensitive-period hypothesis (of language acquisition): the notion that human beings are most proficient at language learning before they reach puberty  Problems with the nativist approach - Challenged the findings that nativist cite as support for their theory - Don’t really explain language development by attributing it to a built-in language acquisition device - Not clear about how LAD (LMC) might operate - Approach not complete: more a description than a true explanation of language learning - Overlooked the many ways in which a child’s language environment promotes linguistic competencies - Pidgins: structurally simple communication systems that arise when people who share no common language come into constant contact 2 - Creoles: languages that develop when pidgins are transformed into grammatically complex “true” languages  The interactionist perspective  Interactionist theory: the notion that biological factors and environmental influences interact to determine the course of language development  Biological and cognitive contributors - Interactionist believe that children are biologically prepared to acquire a language, but the preparation consist not of a LAD or LMC but rather of a powerful human brain that slowly matures, allowing children to gain more and more knowledge; gives more to talk about - Grammatical speech arises out of social necessity  Environmental supports for language development - Interactionists stress that language is primarily a means of communicating that develops in the context of social interactions as children and their companions strive to get their message across one way or another  Lessons from joint activities: converser with children; create a supportive learning environment that helps the child grasp the regularities of language  Lessons from child-directed speech  Child-directed language, or motherese: the short, simple, high-pitched (and often repetitive) sentences that adults use when talking with young children  Parents gradually increase both the length and the complexity of their simplified child-directed speech as their children’s language becomes more elaborate  Lessons from negative evidence  Expansions: responding to a child’s ungrammatical utterance with a grammatically improved form of that statement  Recasts: responding to a child’s ungrammatical utterance with a nonrepetitive statement that is grammatically correct  The importance of conversation - Underestimated the role of social interactions in language learning: mere exposure to speech is simply not enough (involved in using language) - There are cultures in which children acquire language without noticeable delays even though adults rarely restructure their primitive sentences or address them in motherese  Interactionist perspective; language development is the product of a complex transaction between nature and nurture  Children are born with powerful human brain that matures slowly and predisposes them to acquire new understanding that are motivated to share with others 3  The prelinguistic period: before language  Prelinguistic phase: the period before children utter their first meaningful words  Early reactions to speech - Newborns programmed to tune in to human speech - 3 days of age; infant already recognizes his or her mother’s voice and clearly prefers it to the voice of a female stranger - Capable of discriminating consonant sounds - Infants able to discriminate a wider variety of phonemes than adults can (adults lose ability to make phonemic distinctions not important in native language) - Abilities to discriminate speech from nonspeech and to differentiate speech like sounds are: innate or acquired in the first few days and weeks of life  The importance of intonational cues - Falling intonations often used to comfort or to elicit positive affect (good at affecting the baby’s mood or behavior and 2-6 months produce vocalization in return that matches intonation of what they have heard) - 2-6 months old good at interpreting intonational cues (provides evidence that speech is a meaningful enterprise) - At 1 year and half, infants attuned to rhythm language - Age 7 months: detect phrase units and prefer to listen to speech that contains natural breaks (middle of phrases) - Age 9 months: sensitive to smaller speech units  Producing sounds: The infant’s prelinguistic vocalizations  Cooing: vowel-like sounds that young infants repeat over and over during periods of contentment (by 2 months)  Babbling: vowel-consonant combinations that infants begin to produce at about 4 to 6 months of age  For the first 6 months, all infants sound alike, suggesting that early babbling is heavily influenced by maturation of the brain and muscles controlling verbal articulation (hearing infants match the intonation of their babble to the tonal qualities of the language they gear, and they begin to sound like they are speaking that language. Babies learn the tune before the words.  10 to 12 months old reserve certain sounds for particular situations  What do prelinguistic infants know about language and communication? - By age 7 to 8 months; children silent when other speaks (learn
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