Dr. Santhosh Areekkuzhiyil
Asst. Professor, Dept. of Educational Psychology
Govt. College of teaqcher Education, Thalassery
Most humans develop their ability to create and exchange language easily and naturally. We learn our native language in the first years of life, without any special training. All normal humans in all cultures go through roughly the same stages of language development, which suggests the unfolding of a biologically guided process. On the other hand, the great variety of human language shows that much depends on experience. Normal language development, like virtually all human behavior, involves a complex interplay between learned and inherited factors.
Language development is a process starting early in human life, when a person begins to acquire language by learning it as it is spoken and by mimicry. Children's language development moves from simple to complex. Usually, language starts off as recall of simple words without associated meaning, but as children grow, words acquire meaning, with connections between words formed. In time, sentences start as words are joined together to create logical meaning. As a person gets older, new meanings and new associations are created and vocabulary increases as more words are learned.
Infants use their bodies, vocal cries and other preverbal vocalizations to communicate their wants, needs and dispositions. Even though most children begin to vocalize and eventually verbalize at various ages and at different rates, they learn their first language without conscious instruction from parents or caretakers. It is a seemingly effortless task that grows increasingly difficult with age. Of course, before any learning can begin, the child must be biologically and socially mature enough.
Language Learning in Babies
Language learning begins before birth. A baby in the mother's womb hears noises from the outside environment and becomes sensitized to language sounds. Newborns respond to language sounds from any language, not just their own. However, by the age of one year, a baby's response to phonemes becomes more selective. They stop responding to phonemes that are absent from their own linguistic environment. (Kuhl, Williams, Lacerda, Stevens and Lindblom, 1992). Babies who are born deaf do not show phoneme sensitivity, but they show all the other stages of language development when they learn to use sign language. This shows that language development is "built in" to humans, and it also shows that language does not depend on speaking or hearing words. The essence of human language is expression of meaning in a symbolic code.
Stages of Language Development
Language development typically goes through the following sequence of stages:
1. Phoneme perception: Babies who can hear become sensitive primarily to sounds in their own language.
2. Cooing: Babies produce soft vocalizations around 3 months of age
3. Babbling: The 6 month old begins to play with language sounds (for example, "Ba-ba-ba.") Deaf babies babble with their hands.
4: First words and holophrases: Around 9 months of age, toddlers use single words (holophrases) to make requests or express feelings. For example, "Doot!" might mean "Get me juice!" The same word might be applied to many things (which is called overextension ). Any animal might be called "doggie."
5. Protosentences: Around a year and a half of age (18 months) toddlers produce two-word sentences, such as "Mommy go" or "Daddy go." Vocabulary starts to grow rapidly at this age.
6. Telegraphic speech: Sentences increase in length, but small connective words like "and" or "the" are left out. Bigger words are simplified. A two year old might say, "You go bye-bye car?" instead of "Are you going bye-bye in the car?"
Language Development Chart
Age of Child
Typical Language Development
Vocalization with intonation
Responds to his name
Responds to human voices without visual cues by turning his head and eyes
Responds appropriately to friendly and angry tones
Uses one or more words with meaning (this may be a fragment of a word)
Understands simple instructions, especially if vocal or physical cues are given
Is aware of the social value of speech
Has vocabulary of approximately 5-20 words
Vocabulary made up chiefly of nouns
Some echolalia (repeating a word or phrase over and over)
Much jargon with emotional content
Is able to follow simple commands
Can name a number of objects common to his surroundings
Is able to use at least two prepositions, usually chosen from the following: in, on, under
Combines words into a short sentence-largely noun-verb combinations (mean) length of sentences is given as 1.2 words
Approximately 2/3 of what child says should be intelligible
Vocabulary of approximately 150-300 words
Rhythm and fluency often poor
Volume and pitch of voice not yet well-controlled
Can use two pronouns correctly: I, me, you, although me and I are often confused
My and mine are beginning to emerge
Responds to such commands as "show me your eyes (nose, mouth, hair)"
Use pronouns I, you, me correctly
Is using some plurals and past tenses
Knows at least three prepositions, usually in, on, under
Knows chief parts of body and should be able to indicate these if not name
Handles three word sentences easily
Has in the neighborhood of 900-1000 words
About 90% of what child says should be intelligible
Verbs begin to predominate
Understands most simple questions dealing with his environment and activities
Relates his experiences so that they can be followed with reason
Able to reason out such questions as "what must you do when you are sleepy, hungry, cool, or thirsty?"
Should be able to give his sex, name, age
Should not be expected to answer all questions even though he understands what is expected
Knows names of familiar animals
Can use at least four prepositions or can demonstrate his understanding of their meaning when given commands
Names common objects in picture books or magazines
Knows one or more colors
Can repeat 4 digits when they are given slowly
Can usually repeat words of four syllables
Demonstrates understanding of over and under
Has most vowels and diphthongs and the consonants p, b, m, w, n well established
Often indulges in make-believe
Extensive verbalization as he carries out activities
Understands such concepts as longer, larger, when a contrast is presented
Readily follows simple commands even thought the stimulus objects are not in sight
Much repetition of words, phrases, syllables, and even sounds
Can use many descriptive words spontaneously-both adjectives and adverbs
Knows common opposites: big-little, hard-soft, heave-light, etc
Has number concepts of 4 or more
Can count to ten
Speech should be completely intelligible, in spite of articulation problems
Should have all vowels and the consonants, m,p,b,h,w,k,g,t,d,n,ng,y (yellow)
Should be able to repeat sentences as long as nine words
Should be able to follow three commands given without interruptions
Should know his age
Should have simple time concepts: morning, afternoon, night, day, later, after, while
Tomorrow, yesterday, today
Should be using fairly long sentences and should use some compound and some complex sentences
Speech on the whole should be grammatically correct
In addition to the above consonants these should be mastered: f, v, sh, zh, th,1
He should have concepts of 7
Speech should be completely intelligible and socially useful
Should be able to tell one a rather connected story about a picture, seeing relationships
Between objects and happenings
Should have mastered the consonants s-z, r, voiceless th, ch, wh, and the soft g as in George
Should handle opposite analogies easily: girl-boy, man-woman, flies-swims, blunt-sharp short-long, sweet-sour, etc
Understands such terms as: alike, different, beginning, end, etc
Should be able to tell time to quarter hour
Should be able to do simple reading and to write or print many words
Can relate rather involved accounts of events, many of which occurred at some time in the past
Complex and compound sentences should be used easily
Should be few lapses in grammatical constrictions-tense, pronouns, plurals
All speech sounds, including consonant blends should be established
Should be reading with considerable ease and now writing simple compositions
Social amenities should be present in his speech in appropriate situations
Control of rate, pitch, and volume are generally well and appropriately established
Can carry on conversation at rather adult level
Follows fairly complex directions with little repetition
Has well developed time and number concepts
Factors Influencing Language Development
Language development is influenced by many factors.
1. Biological preconditions
Linguists do not all agree on the biological factors contributing to language development, however most do agree that our ability to acquire such a complicated system is specific to the human species. Furthermore, our ability to learn language may have been developed through the evolutionary process and that the foundation for language may be passed down genetically. The ability to speak and understand language requires a certain vocal apparatus as well as a nervous system with certain capabilities.
2. Environmental Influences
"The behavioral view of language development is no longer considered a viable explanation of how children acquire language, yet a great deal of research describes ways in which a children's environmental experiences influence their language skills. Michael Tomasello (2003, 2006; Tomasello & Carpenter, 2007) stresses that young children are intensely interested in their social world and that early in their development they can understand that intentions of other people."
One component of the young child's linguistic environment is (child-direct speech) which is language spoken in a higher pitch than normal with simple words and sentences. It has the important function of capturing the infant's attention and maintaining communication. Adults use strategies other than child-direct speech like recasting, expanding, and labeling. Recasting is rephrasing something the child has said, perhaps turning it into a question or restating the child's immature utterance in the form of a fully grammatical sentence. Expandingis the restating, in a linguistically sophisticated form, what a child has said. Labeling is identifying the names of objects.
It is crucial that children are allowed to socially interact with other people who can vocalize and respond to questions. For language acquisition to develop successfully, children must be in an environment that allows them to communicate socially in that language.
There are a few different theories as to why and how children develop language. The most popular explanation is that language is acquired through imitation. However, this proves to be more of a folk tale than anything. The two most accepted theories in language development are psychological and functional. Psychological explanations focus on the mental processes involved in childhood language learning. Functional explanations look at the social processes involved in learning the first language.
There are four main components of language:
- Phonology involves the rules about the structure and sequence of speech sounds.
- Semantics consists of vocabulary and how concepts are expressed through words.
- Grammar involves two parts. The first, syntax, is the rules in which words are arranged into sentences. The second, morphology, is the use of grammatical markers (indicating tense, active or passive voice etc.).
- Pragmatics involves the rules for appropriate and effective communication. Pragmatics involves three skills:
- using language for greeting, demanding etc.
- changing language for talking differently depending on who it is you are talking to
- following rules such as turn taking, staying on topic
Each component has its own appropriate developmental periods.
From birth to around one year, the baby starts to make speech sounds. At around two months, the baby will engage in cooing, which mostly consists of vowel sounds. At around four months, cooing turns into babbling which are the repetitive consonant-vowel combinations. Babies understand more than they are able to say.
From 1–2 years, babies can recognize the correct pronunciation of familiar words. Babies will also use phonological strategies to simplify word pronunciation. Some strategies include repeating the first consonant-vowel in a multisyllable word ('TV'--> 'didi') or deleting unstressed syllables in a multisyllable word ('banana'-->'nana'). By 3–5 years, phonological awareness continues to improve as well as pronunciation.
By 6–10 years, children can master syllable stress patterns which helps distinguish slight differences between similar words.
From birth to one year, comprehension (the language we understand) develops before production (the language we use). There is about a 5 month lag in between the two. Babies have an innate preference to listen to their mother's voice. Babies can recognize familiar words and use preverbal gestures.
From 1–2 years, vocabulary grows to several hundred words. There is a vocabulary spurt between 18–24 months, which includes fast mapping. Fast mapping is the babies' ability to learn a lot of new things quickly. The majority of the babies' new vocabulary consists of object words (nouns) and action words (verbs). By 3–5 years, children usually have difficulty using words correctly. Children experience many problems such as underextensions, taking a general word and applying it specifically (for example, 'blankie')and overextensions, taking a specific word and applying it too generally (example, 'car' for 'van'). However, children coin words to fill in for words not yet learned (for example, someone is a cooker rather than a chef because a child will not know what a chef is). Children can also understand metaphors.
From 6–10 years, children can understand meanings of words based on their definitions. They also are able to appreciate the multiple meanings of words and use words precisely through metaphors and puns. Fast mapping continues.
From 1–2 years, children start using telegraphic speech, which are two word combinations, for example 'wet diaper'. Brown (1973) observed that 75% of children's two-word utterances could be summarised in the existence of 11 semantic relations:
Eleven important early semantic relations and examples based on Brown 1973:
- Attributive: 'big house'
- Agent-Action: 'Daddy hit'
- Action-Object: 'hit ball'
- Agent-Object: 'Daddy ball'
- Nominative: 'that ball'
- Demonstrative: 'there ball'
- Recurrence: 'more ball'
- non-existence: 'all-gone ball'
- Possessive: 'Daddy chair'
- Entity + Locative: 'book table'
- Action + Locative: 'go store'
At around 3 years, children engage in simple sentences, which are 3 word sentences. Simple sentences follow adult rules and get refined gradually. Grammatical morphemes get added as these simple sentences start to emerge. By 3–5 years, children continue to add grammatical morphemes and gradually produce complex grammatical structures. By 6–10 years, children refine the complex grammatical structures such as passive voice.
From birth to one year, babies can engage in joint attention (sharing the attention of something with someone else). Babies also can engage in turn taking activities. By 1–2 years, they can engage in conversational turn taking and topic maintenance. At ages 3–5, children can master illocutionary intent, knowing what you meant to say even though you might not have said it and turnabout, which is turning the conversation over to another person.
By age 6-10, shading occurs, which is changing the conversation topic gradually. Children are able to communicate effectively in demanding settings, such as on the telephone.
Theoretical frameworks of language development
There are four major theories of language development.
1. Behaviorist Theory
The behaviorist theory, proposed by B. F. Skinner (father of behaviorism) says that language is learned through operant conditioning (reinforcement and imitation). This perspective sides with the nurture side of the nature-nurture debate. This perspective is not widely accepted today because there are many criticisms. These criticisms include that the perspective is too specific, encourages incorrect phrases and is not entirely possible. In order for this to be possible, parents would have to engage in intensive tutoring in order for language to be taught properly.
2. Nativist Theory
The nativist theory, proposed by Noam Chomsky, says that language is a unique human accomplishment. Chomsky says that all children have what is called an LAD, an innate language acquisition device that allows children to produce consistent sentences once vocabulary is learned. He also says that grammar is universal. This theory, while there is much evidence supporting it (language areas in the brain, sensitive period for language development, children's ability to invent new language systems) is not believed by all researchers.
3. Empiricist Theory
The empiricist theory argues that there is enough information in the linguistic input that children receive, and therefore there is no need to assume an innate language acquisition device (see above). This approach is characterized by the construction of computational models that learn aspects of language and/or that simulate the type of linguistic output produced by children. The most influential models within this approach are statistical learning theories such as connectionist models and chunking theories such as CHREST.
4. Interactionist Perspective
The interactionist perspective, consists of two components. This perspective is a combination of both the nativist and behaviorist theories. The first part, the information-processing theories, tests through the connectionist model, using statistics. From these theories, we see that the brain is excellent at detecting patterns.
The second part of the interactionist perspective, is the social-interactionist theories. These theories suggest that there is a native desire to understand others as well as being understood by others.