Chapter 7 Language and
• Language is a communication system in which words and their written symbols combine
in various, regulated ways to produce an infinite number of messages.
• An important part of children’s language learning is the development of communicative
competence – the ability to convey thoughts, feelings, and intentions in an organized
culturally patterned way that sustains and regulates human interactions.
• Communication is a two-way process. We send messages and we receive messages.
By using productive language, we produce communication. And by using receptive
language, we receive communication from others.
THE COMPONENTS OF LANGUAGE: PHONOLOGY, SEMANTICS, GRAMMAR,
• Phonology is the system of sounds that a particular language uses
o It includes phonemes (the smallest sound units that affect meaning), as well as
rules about the proper intonation patterns for phrases and sentences.
o Ex. the word “bat” is very different from “bit” where the middle phoneme has been
changed from an /a/ to a /i/
• Semantics is the study of word meanings and word combinations, as in phrases,
clauses, and sentences.
• Grammar is the structure of language made up of morphology and syntax.
o Morphemes are a language’s smallest units of meaning, such as a prefix, a
suffix, or a root word. Morphology is the study of morphemes.
o Syntax is a subdivision of grammar that prescribes how words are to be
combined into phrases, clauses, and sentences. For example, there are rules to
express negation, interrogation, possession, etc.
• Pragmatics is a set of rules that specifies appropriate language for particular social
contexts. It directly concerns effective and appropriate communication.
THEORIES OF LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
The Learning View • The learning theorist B.F. Skinner used the principle of reinforcement to explain language development.
He posited that parents/caregivers selectively reinforce each of the child’s babbling sounds that are
most similar to adult speech. By giving attention to these particular sounds and showing approval, the
baby is encourages to repeat these sounds.
• Another theorist, Bandura, proposed that children learn through the imitation of words, phrases, and
sentences that he hears in adult speech. Then, by reinforcement and generalization, he learns which
situations it is appropriate to say these words and phrases.
Arguments Against this View
• The learning view alone is not enough to explain language acquisition for many reasons. First, the
amount of stimulus-response connections (the links between a baby’s vocalizations and a parent’s
reinforcement) that would be needed to explain language is so enormous that a child could not acquire
all of them even in a lifetime.
• Naturalistic observations of parent-child interactions have found that mothers are just as likely to reward
a child’s truthful but grammatically incorrect utterances as they are to reinforce the children for
grammatically correct ones.
• A person can produce millions of sentences, some of which they have never heard of before. So it is not
enough to say that this person acquired the sentences through imitation.
• Phrases like “Hello,” “Watch out!” or “You’re welcome” are used in many different situations, so learning
which situation is appropriate or not just by imitation is not possible.
The Nativist View
• Linguist Noam Chomsky proposed that children are born with an innate mental structure that guides
their acquisition of language. This structure was termed the language-acquisition device (LAD).
• Nativists argue that humans are biologically predisposed to learn language, and language is a species-
specific characteristic, so all languages of the species must display a universal feature. Investigators
have concluded that there are some common principles. For instance, all human languages are produced by the limited amount of vocalizations humans can make.
• Nativists point out that in many different cultures normal children acquire language relatively quickly,
even in situations where they are incompletely exposed to language, so they must be biologically built
to acquire it.
• Another source of support is the evidence that humans learn a language far more easily during a critical
period (from infancy to puberty).
Arguments Against this View
• Some say that if the critical period hypothesis was correct, there should be a rapid decline in language
learning abilities after the critical period has passed (consistent with the LAD being “turned off” after
puberty). However, instead of a rapid drop, language learning ability consistently declines with
• Some people have cited the ability of animals to learn language as an argument against the nativists,
but the results remain inconclusive and we are unsure of whether animals can learn language or not. It
depends highly on how you define language.
• The nativist perspective makes it very difficult to account for the many languages humans speak
throughout the world.
The Interactionist View
• The interactionist view recognizes that language is learned in the context of spoken language but
assuming as well that humans are in some way biologically prepared for learning to speak.
Interactionism is concerned with the interplay between biological and environmental factors in the
acquisition of language.
• The child’s own active role in language development complements the role played by socializing agents
FACILITATING CHILDREN’S LANGUAGE
DEVELOPMENT_________________________________ • The language-acquisition support system (LASS), according to Jerome Bruner, is a
collection of strategies and tactics that environmental influences (initially, a child’s
parent) provide the child.
Playing Non-Verbal Games
• Games such as patty-cake or peek-a-boo help children learn conversational structures
like turn taking.
Using Simplified Speech
• Infant-directed speech, or child-directed speech, is a simplified style of speech that
parents use with young children, in which sentences are short, simple, and often
repetitive. The speaker enunciates especially clearly, slowly, and in a higher pitched
voice and often end with a rising intonation. This style of speech is also called
• Research has shown that infants prefer infant-directed speech as oppose to adult-
directed speech, even if it is not in their native language.
• The exaggerated pitch contours of infant-directed speech may help the child differentiate
between vowel sounds.
• Sometimes using simplified speech isn’t always beneficial. Children who are passed the
one-word stage are more likely to respond to “Throw me the ball” than “Throw ball.”
Other Influence Techniques
• Expansion is a technique adults use in speaking to young children in which they imitate
and expand or add to a child’s statement.
o Ex. if an infant says “Give mama”, a mother might respond “Give it to mama”
• Recasting is a technique adults use in speaking to young children in which they render a
child’s incomplete sentence in a more complex grammatical form.
o Ex. if an infant says “Kitty eat” the adult might recast the utterance into a question
like “What is the kitty eating?”
THE ANTECEDENTS OF LANGUAGE
• We must consider the many sounds babies make as well as the looks, movements, and
gestures b which th