Chapter Seven: Language

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University of Massachusetts Amherst
Psychology & Brain Sciences
Lori Astheimer Best

Developmental Psychology Chapter Seven: Language The Elements of Language: Phonology is the fundamental sound units and the rules for combining them in a given language. Semantics refers to the meanings of words or combinations of words. Mapping combinations of sounds to their referents is a central element of language acquisition. When children begin to combine words the principle of grammar, the rules pertaining to the structure of language.  Grammar contains two components; syntax and morphology. Syntax refers to the rules that dictate how words can be combined. (“Eat kitty” and “Kitty eat”). Morphology refers to the rules for combining the smallest meaningful units of language to form words. Pragmatics are the rules for using language effectively an appropriately according to the social context.  Saying “Gimme that” to another child or “Can I please have that toy?” to a first grade teacher. The Brain and Language Acquisition: Brain structures and language,  the Broca’s area is located in the left hemisphere near the frontal region near the motor cortex. o Patients who damage this part of the brain experience expressive aphasia or the inability to speak fluently although their comprehension remains intact.  The second region, the Wernicke’s area is in the temporal region of the left hemisphere, close to the areas of the brain responsible for auditory processes. o Damage to this area of the brain leads to receptive aphasia in which speech seems fluent, but contains nonsense or incomprehensible words, the ability to understand the speech of others is also impaired. Critical periods and language acquisition, Eric Lenneberg proposed that children must acquire all language basics by adolescence, when physiological changes in the brain make language learning more difficult. This is known as the critical period for language. Children who are exposed to language at an earlier age will have more success with it. Those who are not exposed to speech until later in life (such as adolescence) will most definitely face more of a struggle. Also, children that take on a second language at a younger age will learn it faster and sound more of a native speaker than those who attempt a second language after adolescence. Linguistic Perspectives: According to Noam Chomsky, children possess an innate system of language known as universal grammar, which predisposes them to discover the general linguistic properties of any language. Once children are exposed to a specific language, parameter setting takes place; the grammatical rules that distinguish English from other languages, are set. Learning is modular, separate and distinct from other kinds of processing. Learning and cognitive perspectives: The contemporary approach connectionist models of language acquisition, emphasizes the role of general learning and describes language development in terms of networks of associations that are organized in interconnected layers. Social interactive perspectives: Children need support and feedback as they make their first attempts at communication as well as models who do not pronounce utterances that exceed children’s processing abilities. Questions serve to facilitate the occurrence of turn taking, the alternating vocalization by parent and child. Some questions are also used as turnabouts, elements of conversation that explicitly request a response from the child. Parents often follow a child’s verbalization with a recast, repeating what the child has said but correcting any errors. Expansions, more elaborative verbal forms, may be added too. Early responses to human speech: Sensitivity to prosody, the patterns of information, stress and rhythm that communicates meaning.  An example is raising your voice at the end of a question or dropping it off at the end of a declaration. Infant-directed speech (parentese) is the simple, repetitive, high-pitched speech of caregivers to young children; includes many questions. Finding words, Statistical learning is the infant’s capacity to extract information about the probability that one sound will follow another. Infants can recognize certain sounds and are more in tuned to listen to statements that involve their own name. First words: Cooing and babbling; prelinguistic speech,  At six to eight weeks the baby begins to coo which are vowel like utterances that characterize the infant’s first attempts to vocalize. Coos are heard when the infant is comfortable or when the parent communicates with the child.  At about three to six months babies begin to babble which is the production of consonant-vowel combinations such as da or ba.  When the child reaches seven months canonical babbling occurs, such as the infant will repeat well-formed syllables such as baba or dada. Gestures, Gestures and language development typically develop along the same time, although gestures form first. After speech is more developed, gestures are used primarily with verbalizations, never solely by itself. The one-word stage, Children’s early words tend to refer to people or objects important in their lives, such as relatives, pets and familiar objects.  The most common global first words: mommy / daddy / bye / hi / uh-oh / woof-woof
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