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Chapter 7

PSYB32H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 7: Language Development, Phoneme, Regular Sequence

Course Code
Konstantine Zakzanis

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Developmental – Chapter 7 Notes
An important part of children's language learning is the development of communicative
competence: the ability to convey thoughts, feelings, and intentions
Communication is a two-way process; we send messages to others and receive messages from
Thus, using productive language: we produce communications &;
using receptive language: we receive communications from others
The Components of Language: Phonology, Semantics, Grammar, and Pragmatics
Scholars divide the study of language into four main areas: phonology, semantics, grammar, and
Phonology: the system of sounds that a particular language uses. Includes not only the
language's basic units of sound, or phonemes, but also rules about how we put phenomes
together to form words and rules about the proper intonation patterns for phrases and sentences
Phonemes: a language's basic units of sound
Phonemes are considered basic units of sound because they are the smallest sound units that
affect meaning
Changing a phoneme changes the meaning of a word
Ex: By changing the initial phoneme in the word bat, we can make the very different
word cat
By changing the middle phonemem we can make yet another word, bit
Important feature of phonological rules is that they are generative – they are applicable beyond
the cases in which they are based
Ex: A native English speaker knows that kib is not a word in English, but it is nonetheless a
possible sound pattern in the language's system. In contrast, bnik is not possible in english
Semantics: the study of word meanings and word combinations
Comprehension of written as well as spoken language requires not only knowledge of
specific words and their definitions but also an understanding of how we use words and how
we combine them in phrases, clauses, and sentences
Thus, as children mature intellectually, their semantic knowledge continues to grow
Grammar: describes the structure of a language and consists of two major parts: morphology
and syntax
Morphology: concentrates on the smallest units of meaning in a language, such as prefixes,
suffixes, and root words (root words = Morphemes)
Rules for altering root words to produce such things as plurals, past tenses, and
inflections are part of a language's morphological system
Syntax: the aspect of grammar that specifies how words are combined into sentences
Ex: each language has syntactic rules for expressing grammatical relations such as
negation, interrogation, possession, and the arrangement of subject and order in a
The rules of syntax allow us to vary word order so that we are not limited to one way of
saying what we mean
Ex: We can say, “After class, I went to the library and listened to some music,” but the
syntactically incorrect sentence, “I listened to some music after class and I went to the
library” is ambiguous and unclear
The fourth component of language: pragmatics: rules for the use of appropriate language in

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particular contexts
Pragmatics directly concerns effective and appropriate communication
Ex: a child learns that certain forms of language are more appropriate in some situations
Research in pragmatics studies how children learn to take turns speaking, to remain silent
while others speak, and to speak differently in such different settings as the classroom and
Theories of Language Development
The Learning (Environmental) View: Claims and Limitations
Traditional learning explanations use the principle of reinforcement to explain language
Skinner stated that parents or other caregivers selectively reinforce each of the child's
babbling sounds that is most like adult speech and by giving attention to these particular
sounds and showing approval when their baby utters them, parents encourage the child to
repeat them
Thus, according to Skinner, by approving infant's closest approximations to adult speech
sounds, parents shape their child's verbal behaviour into what increasingly resembles adult
Other Learning theorists (Bandura) propose that the child learns through imitation or
observational learning
The child picks up words, phrases, and sentences directly by imitating what he hears
Then, through reinforcement and generalization (applying what he has learned to new
situations), child learns when it is appropriate or inappropriate to use particular words
However, Learning theory is not useful as a sole explanation of language acquisition for several
(1) The number of stimulus-response connections – that is, specific linkages between a
baby's vocalization and a parent's reinforcing response – that would be needed to explain
language, even the language of a very young child, is so enormous that a child could not
acquire all of them even in a lifetime, not to mention a few short years
(2) Naturalistic studies of parent-child interaction fail to support learning theory
Ex: Mothers are just as likely to reward children for truthful but grammatically incorrect
statements as they are to reinforce the child for grammatically incorrect utterances
Parents are concerned to teach them acceptable behaviour as well as correct language
So it's difficult to see how adult reinforcement alone might account for the child's
learning of grammar
(3) We cannot predict the vast majority of language utterances from opportunities to observe
specific utterances by others
Ex: utterances that are closely tied to environmental cues, such as “Hello, “Watch out!”
or “You're welcome” are relatively rare.
For most sets of circumstances, language entails more creative responses than can be
accounted for by a learning theory
(4) Learning theory accounts have not explained the regular sequence in which language
Children in North American culture and other cultures seem to learn the same types of
grammatical rules and in the same order
Ex: they learn active constructions before they learn passive constructions

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They learn to say, “Taisha and Neville prepared the posters for the class presentation”
before they learn to say “The posters for the class presentation were prepared by Taisha
and Neville
(5) Learning theory portrays child as playing a passive role in language development,
although evidence shows that the child plays an active and creative role
For all these reasons, Learning theory alone is not considered a viable explanation for language
An alternative explanation - The Nativist view – suggests that language acquisition unfolds as a
result of the unique biological properties of the human organism
The Nativist View: Claims and Limitations
Chomsky – most influential in terms of nativist position.
Proposed that children are born with a Language-acquisition device (LAD): an innate
mental structure that guides their acquisition of language and, in particular, grammar.
Nativists argue that the human child is biologically predisposed to acquire human language.
They contend that because language ability is an inherited species-specific characteristic, all
languages of the species must display universal features;
In other words, they must share certain characteristics
They are correct in this assumption. For instance, speakers of all languages create a vast number
of spoken words by combining a relatively small set of the possible vocal sounds humans can
Finally, all languages have grammars, and nativists claim that these grammars share certain
formal properties as well (eg the subject-predicate relationship)
Children can learn language even in a restricted environment where little input is given into
their language development which supports the possibility of an innate predisposition for
More support is evidence that human beings learn language far more easily during a certain
critical period of biological development.
A Critical Period: is a time during which a child is sensitive to a particular environmental
stimulus that does not have the same effect when encountered before or after this period.
The critical period for language stretches from infancy to puberty
Before puberty, a child may achieve the fluency of a native speaker in any language, or
even in multiple languages, without special training, but after puberty, it's extremely
difficult to learn a first language
Also, if language disrupting brain damage occurs during or before puberty, the children
often recover their language capacity rapidly and completely. Brain damage after
puberty leads to poorer, and less dramatic recovery
Others argue against this critical period hypothesis
They claim that there should be a rapid decline in learning at the end of the critical period,
which would be consistent with a learning mechanism being “turned off” at a particular age
and not with a decline after the end of the critical period that would be related to increasing
So after the critical period, there should be an immediate dramatic drop in language
learning, not a slow age related decline
According to a re-analysis of data, English proficiency showed its sharpest decline in
language skills with increasing age, a pattern inconsistent with the critical language
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