When you think about it, it's pretty amazing that you're able to read the writing on this page, and understand
that I'm informing you about language acquisition. Yet, across all parts of the world, where there's a
language, children will pick it up, and, unless something goes wrong, become articulate and eventually
literate language users. ...if not, we wouldn't have this topic...
Regardless of location or language, there are a number of stages that all children go through, at roughly the
Patterns in Speech
Berko and Brown (1960) found that even if a word sounds indistinguishable in the child's pronunciation,
the child can actually distinguish the difference. Look at the following:
Adult: this is your fis?
Child: no - my fis
Adult: oh your fish?
Child: yes my fis
This would support Piaget's theory that understanding comes before articulation...(take a look here).
That's it for phonetics... the alphabet might seem scary, but you will get the relevant parts in the exam, so
don't worry about it too much!
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Stages of Acquisition
The curious thing about Language Development is that it occurs in stages, regardless of the language or
other external influences. Though the stages are only guides, meaning that some children do show variation
on the times, broadly, all children go through the following:
Pre-linguistic stage (0-12 months)
This stage comes before the child starts speaking. The child starts experimenting with sounds. At 6 weeks,
cooing develops - a sound from the back of the throat - and between 6-9 months babbling develops, where
the child starts making a range of phonemes. If they ever say "Dadadadada" they're not actually saying
"Dad" at this stage, just repeating the sound. Babbling has intonations (rising and falling pitch) which makes
it sound almost like sentences.
Phonetic expansion occurs in this period, where a child is capable of producing every type of phoneme.
Following this, at 9-10 months, phonetic contraction occurs, where the child's utterances become restricted
to their native language.
Holophrase (12-18 months)
In the holophrase, children finally start to utter one word sentences. In this early stage, there is one theory
that children are simply 'labelling' the things they see around them, but in reality, their use of language is
often more complex: either a request for something or a desire to attract attention. We'll look at the
pragmatics of early language use later.
Two-word stage (18-24 months)
As the stage's name suggests, at this period, children begin to string words together into two word utterances
like "Daddy run". At this stage, their utterances are quite understandable and grammatical - in the earlier
example, it's highly probable that the child means "Daddy is running". Though unable to form questions yet,
children are quite able to use rising intonation to express them, such as "Daddy gone?" meaning "Where has
Telegraphic stage (24+ months)
By this stage, a child is well on the way with speech development. Children's utterances sometimes sounds
like a telegraph, missing out lesser ‗glue‘ words, and giving the stage its name. Simple utterances might be
completely correct, like: ―Lucy likes tea‖ and ―Daddy is tired‖ but ―Daddy home now‖ shows the child still
has some progression to make.
At 2-years-old, the child will learn his or her first question words, ―what,‖ ―where,‖ and, of course, the
dreaded ―why‖. By three-years, the child will be able to utter more sophisticated questions, like ―Why‘d you
never buy me a guitar?‖ and the ‗glue‘ words they previously dropped are much more frequent.
Finally, by five, children will have a firm grasp of language. They may still struggle with passive tense,
though quite understandably.
... when you're presented with a transcript, it'll probably give you the age of any children speaking. One of
the useful things to be able to do is categorise where the child is in terms of stages, and also consider
whether they're at the 'average' for their age, or if their language is more or less developed. So this stuff is
useful to learn!
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The Critical Period
The Stages of Acquisition are great for children who develop normally, but what if something goes wrong?
If they miss the age guides given, can they still learn language at a later age?
A linguist called Lenneberg came up with the idea of a critical period for language acquisition. Today, we
accept this critical period to be up to seven years old. After the critical period is over, children find it very
difficult to learn language, and if they do succeed, their success will be limited - they'll never have the full
Feral children give us the evidence for the critical period. A girl called Genie, for example, was imprisoned
without contact with anyone by her father for thirteen years. When she was found and freed, she couldn't
speak. Over the years, though she began to learn, she never mastered language. Feral children also seem to
suggest both a LAD and interaction are important in language development (see later Theorists).
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We never stop our vocabulary development. Even while studying this course, your own language will have
increased by a significant amount: lexis, syntax, graphology, etc... (all of which should be very familiar by
now!). For children's acquisition of lexis, the general trend looks like this:
12 months: Child begins to speak.
18 months: Vocab of approx 50 words.
2 years: Vocab of approx 200 words.
Then there is an explosion:
5 years: Vocab of approx 2,000 words.
7 years: Vocab of approx 4,000 words.
These figures only refer to the language that children use, however; the amount of words they understand is
higher. At 18 months, for example, despite only uttering 50 words, they can understand 250.
When it comes to the semantics of new words, children don't immediately learn the entire range of
meanings for the word.
While they still have a limited vocabulary, they will often also over-extend their language, giving words
broader meanings than they actually have. For example, a child might call "Daddy" any male member of the
family, not realising it only refers to a particular person. It makes sense that if they don't have a word for
something, they'll use something that has a logical connection in its place. When a child has a 50-word
vocabulary, a third of words are likely to be over-extended.
The reverse can occasionally happen, though, called under-extension. For example, a child might think
"shoes" refers to just one particular pair of shoes. This is less frequent, unsurprisingly.
Research has shown that children's first words tend to be learned in predictable patterns. They fall into the
categorise (useful for describing utterances in the Two-word Stage):
entities - a thing
properties - words about entities
actions - verbs
personal - social words
"clever boy" is a property and an entity.
"hit floor" is an action and an entity.
The large proportion refer to their environment: the people and objects around them, and the social aspects.
The first word classes learned are nouns (concrete, abstract nouns don't come until around 5-7 years), and
dynamic verbs. The things in a child's environment. Then adjectives come. Grammatical function words,
like prepositions, determiners and conjunctions don't come until much later (see the section on Grammar...).
Because the early utterances are limited in syntactical choice, children often combine word classes that
wouldn't normally be seen together. For example "you little" is a pronoun followed by an adjective.
Linguists have devised "semantic relations", a better "grammar" for describing children's early utterances.
Rather than nouns, verbs, adjective, pronouns, etc, we have a new set of labels:
Agent = someone or something who performs an action.
Action = something done, which may not necessarily be a verb.
Affected = someone or something that the action is being done to.
Location = where something happens.
Entity = someone or something that just is (i.e. not an agent, affected or possessor).
Possessor = someone or something that owns something.
Attribute = a word that tells us about someone or something.
Nomination = attach a label to something.
Recurrence = something happens more than once or more than one of something.
Negation = when something isn't there or doesn't happen.
From these, we can take the following and describe them:
1. take bikky = action + affected
2. mummy give = agent + action
3. clock ticking = agent + action (or entity + attribute, if "ticking" is an adjective, rather than noun).
4. big hand = attribute + entity
5. me little = entity + attribute
6. eat crips[crisps] = action + affected
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Theories of Early Language Use
As with most aspects of language, there are various theorists who have ideas about what's going on with
children's early utterances.
Jean Aitchinson (1987) suggested that there are three stages to vocabulary usage:
1. Labelling - learning the word.
2. Packaging - learning about its meanings.
3. Networking - seeing how it connects to other words.
However, as other theorists have pointed out, children never really go through a stage where they are just
'labelling' things to learn the words. There is usually a reason behind the words, perhaps a request for
something or a desire to attract attention.
Other theorists suggest that children's language has three functions:
Children use language for practical purposes - to get what they want.
Children use it for social purposes - to talk for the sake of interaction and the sake of talking.
Children use it for learning purposes - to extend their understanding of the word around them and
build up their own ideas. The classic "why?".
For example, a child might utter ―juice‖. Depending on the context, it could mean, ―I want some juice,‖
―I‘ve spilled some juice,‖ or even, ―I‘ve had enough juice.‖
Michael Halliday subdivided these broad categories further:
Instumental - "I want".
Regulatory - "Do what I tell you to do".
Interactional - "Me and you".
Personal - "Here I come" or opinions like "That's funny".
Heuristic - "Tell me why".
Imaginative - "Let's pretend".
Referential - "Let me tell you about this".
John Dore did similar research on 12-18 month children, and came out with another set of criteria, which
Labelling - utterances that don't seek a response.
Repeating - repeating an overheard word.
Answering - responding to a question.
Requesting (action) - asking for help with an action (Halliday's instrumental/regulatory).
Requesting (answer) - asking a question.
Calling - calling to someone far away (Halliday's interactional).
Greeting - welcoming a newcomer (Halliday's interactional).
Protesting - shouting at something unwanted (Halliday's personal).
Practicing - saying a word, out of context, just to practise it.
That's it for theories here! Make sure you can talk about them, and apply them if appropriate. Comment on
their strengths and weaknesses - how well they apply to a particular text!
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Strangely, lots of people find syntax (grammar) one of the most difficult frameworks to analyse. Make sure
your grammatical knowledge is up to scratch before going into this topic!
As with lexis, there are particular stages children go through, relating back to the stages of acquisition.
In the one-word stage, the child may just be 'labelling', though as the theorists above suggest, it can be more
complex. The single utterance, through intonation, could be used as declarative, imperative or interrogative:
"Juice." (I have juice) "Juice?" (can I have some juice?) or "Juice!" (give me some juice!)
Even as early as the one-word stage, children can convey negation, though it is dependent on "no" or "not"
Another important thing to note is that understanding is ahead of syntactical development. Despite being
only able to utter one word, children can respond to two-word utterances, for example.
Though they only utter two words, their sequences (word order) are generally accurate, even if they miss out
the 'glue words' in between. For example:
subject + verb = "daddy sleep"
verb + object = "draw birdie"
subject + object = "Suzy juice"
subject + complement = "daddy busy"
Of these, the only one that would perhaps cause any problem is the subject and object, with the elision of the
verb. Is it saying that the juice belongs to Suzy, or that she has the juice, or that she's drinking it? Without
the context, we can't know for certain, and it's perfectly acceptable in the exam to point out the different
Other ambiguities arise from the lack of inflectional affixes - a posh term for suffixes that form different
tenses, allow possession and pluralisation. "daddy sleep" for example, should really be, in singular present
tense, "daddy sleeps". If "Suzy juice" is possessive, there should be an apostrophe and a 's': "Suzy's juice."
Even when children repeat the people around them, they omit the 'lesser' words but retain the correct order.
Mother: Look, Ben's playing in the garden!
Child: Play garden.
It's a case, for the child, of picking out the 'key words'.
Though still limited, children are capable of a range of meanings. Above, "Suzy juice" could be an example
of possession (it is Suzy's juice), and "daddy sleep" gives action, while "Teddy bed" gives is a sense of
location (the teddy is in bed). A child can also form simple interrogatives through the use of intonation,
such as "Suzy juice?" (is it Suzy's juice?) and more complicated negations, "no juice" (I don't want juice!).
By this stage, children's simple utterances are often grammatically correct. For example:
subject + verb + object = "Lucy likes tea."
subject + verb + compliment = "Teddy is tired."
subject + verb + adjective = "Mummy sleeps upstairs."
However, like telegraphs, children will utter the key words but will still often drop:
For example, "Daddy home now," drops the auxiliary "is".
Berko (1973) did research into children's inflectional use during this stage, at ages 20-36 months. He found
that they master them in the following order:
2. plural -s
3. possessive -s
5. past tense -ed
6. third person singular verb endings -s
7. auxiliary 'be'
From the rising intonations of the two-word stage for interrogatives, the children begin to develop the more
complicated question constructions in the telegraphic stage. By two years, they learn the 'question words':
what, where, and then why.
By three years, they start to make rapid progress, using determiners more regularly, stringing together more
than one clause per utterance with use of coordinating conjunction ("and"), and even including the
inflectional affixes. For questions, they acquire the auxiliary and grammatical inversion, for example, "Joe is
here" would be inverted to, "Is Joe here?" Sometimes, in this early period, confusion can occur with
"question words" and inversion, such as, "Why Joe isn't here?"
As the children acquire auxiliaries, they learn more sophisticated negations, such as "can't" and "don't":
"I don't want it."
"Sammy can't have it."
Later still, they learn more negation auxiliaries "didn't" and "isn't".
By five years old, children will have mastered most grammatical structures, though they might still struggle
with passive tense... now you just have to learn it all, and we'll all be happy!
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Why do children acquire language? Because they realise early on - hearing speech around them - just how
important and useful a tool it is.
You may recall Grice's maxims from all the way back in ENB1 (everything comes back to haunt us
eventually!). The maxims of quantity, relation (relevance), manner (clarity) and quality (truth). They're a
good thing to consider when you look at the pragmatics of what children are saying, because it takes a while
for children to grasp pragmatics.
Young children also don't have much control of topic management. One feature of adult child-directed
speech (see the next section) is use of topic management such as, "That's right, you have to kick it don't
you," in order to keep a child focused on the task or conversation of the moment.
Other features of young children's lack of pragmatics and control include:
demands (imperatives) and no negotiation
erratic, distorted utterances
Though pragmatic development begins before a child can speak, it is slower than some of the other aspects
because some of it has to be 'taught' rather than developing naturally. By three, children begin to make some
headway however, learning how to initiate a conversation with someone else, to obtain attention and listen
to others, and the idea of 'turn taking' in a conversation.
Between three and five, they will develop the 'social factors', such as the correct ways to address people,
politeness tokens, indirect requests, mitigated responses (helped by their acquisition of modal verbs!). They
learn how to makes conversational repairs and cope with situations that don't go their way (rather than
crying and kicking feet...hmm, clearly I've forgotten this stage of late).
After five, they still need to acquire the manipulative devices like "you know" or "actually", but the basic
pragmatic devices of when to speak, how to respond and the appropriate register will be mastered.
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Child Directed Speech
CDS, a.k.a. Motherese a.k.a. Caretaker Language is the language that parents or guardians use to children.
Although I was brought into this topic by Chomsky and Pinker, and thus, much prefer Motherese, I'll use
CDS to stay politically correct...
If you ever listen to someone talking to a child, you'll notice some quite distinctive phonological
features...and in fact, have probably laughed about them... Phonologically, CDS characteristics include:
separating phrases distinctly with longer pauses,
speaking more s-l-o-w-l-y,
exaggerating the differences between interrogatives, imperatives and declaratives, and
using a higher and wider pitch.
In terms of lexis, adults tend to:
use concrete nouns ("chair" "table") and dynamic verbs ("give" "put"), and limited to words the adult
knows the child will understand,
adopt the children's own lexis: "ickle babies," and
use the child's name frequently (to keep their concentration), while avoiding confusing pronouns.
repeats sentence frames: "That's a dog. That's a cat."
uses simple sentences that are generally grammatical,
has few complex sentences, and little passive voice usage,
sometimes omits past tense and other inflections,
usually consists of imperatives or interrogatives (to keep the child focused), and
uses expansions - repeating a child's utterance, but 'filling it out'.
Child directed speech might also use more gestures and exaggerated body language, and have frequent
pauses for the child to respond. As the children's utterances increase, so too, do the adults'. Adults will also
adopt their conversation to topics the child will be interested in.
Although Chomsky (see later Theorists) didn't believe CDS has much to do with child language acquisition,
there have been a number of researchers that suggest CDS does play a part.
Clarke-Stewart (1973) found that children whose mothers talked to them had larger vocabularies than other
Kuhl (1992) did a study of exaggerated sounds to six month olds in English, Swedish and Russian. He
found that babies turned towards adults who spoke in a sing-song voice, but ignored those who spoke
normally, and that mothers in all countries used exaggerated sounds.
But do children learn by imitation as Behavourists suggest (see later)? Not at all.
Children tend to make up words using rules that apply to other words, "it's the baddest." "you don't say
badder, you say worser." These are known as virtuous errors and an adult would never say them, so
children can't simply copy.
Positive and negative reinforcement (correcting a child's utterances) doesn't work either. Nelson (1973)
found that if a mother constantly corrected a child on word choice and pronunciation, the child actually
developed more slowly.
But enough of this debate in this section, just scroll down to the next section for more!
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Theories of Acquisition
There are a number of key theories and theorists that you should be aquatinted with, and able to talk about if
the question opens up to them, much like those in ENB2. The theories involve explaining how language
acquisition actually occurs. Is it an innate part of us, something we are born with? Is it that children learn by
copying? A mixture of these two? There is only so much evidence, and the theories can only offer
What you believe on the matter, personally, doesn't really matter as long as you're able to talk about the
different theorists (so no guessing where my bias lies!).
In 1957 (immediately, dated research!), B.F. Skinner put forward the Behavourists argument of acquisition.
This view is that children acquire language through something called "operative condition", that language is
learned in much the same as any other form of learning.
Children, he claimed, start as "blank slates" and through positive reinforcement whenever they speak a
correct utterance, and negative feedback whenever they speak an ungrammatical utterance, they learn what
was "right" and "wrong" in terms of speaking. Much like a dog can be taught tricks, using treats as
rewards...and indeed, Skinner tested his theory on pigeons and rats.
There is some evidence in support. Stacets and Stacets (1963) found that parents are excited to hear a child
utter a 'correct' sentence, and then reward a child with attention/feeding. This seems to suggest that the
positive feedback part of Skinner's approach holds some truth.
However, there are many problems with a Behavourist view. Nelson (1973) found that children's vocabulary
development actually slowed if children were subjected to systematic correction. Other researchers suggest
that parents are more concerned with truthful that grammatical utterance. When Chomsky came along later,
he pointed out that children of all languages and backgrounds tended to acquire language at roughly the
same times, regardless of parent feedback. This ruined Skinner's theory, and left room for a new one to be
Noam Chomsky radically changed the world's thinking about many aspects of language acquisition and
syntactical development. He challenged Skinner's view about language development, suggesting that
children learn instead through an innate part of their brains, a device he called the LAD (Language
Acquisition Device). When exposed to spoken language in the environment around them, children's LADs
are turned on.
Through a process of hearing language around them, the brain develops a number of rules, first about how
words are built up from their phonemes, and the rules of morphemes, then to putting words together such as
the subject verb object string found in English. Though you don't need to know the details, it is quite a
There's lots of evidence to support language acquisition being innate. First and foremost is that children of
all languages and backgrounds acquire language at roughly the same time. We've already seen the stages of
acquisition, and this too, suggests that it is something in the brain that develops. It doesn't matter whether a
child has Motherese thrown at them or not - as long as they're in an environment that uses language, they
will pick it up.
One test that supports Chomsky's LAD is the wug test by Berko (1958). In this, the linguist showed
children an image of an imaginary creature:
He told them that the creature was called a 'wug'. Showing them two, he said, "Now there is another one. So
there are two _____." The children would respond with "wugs".
Though they've never come across a wug before, they know a rule that to pluralise a noun, you have to add
"-s". This is never taught to them, but somehow they learn it - it suggests that a LAD is present.
Another strong piece of evidence for the LAD arises from virtuous errors, also know as Linguistic Creativity.
If a child says, "I runned" or "I felled", they are using language in a way that they would never hear their
parents express it. Instead, they seem to be using an inbuilt rule that past tense is formed by adding "-ed".
Until this rule is blocked for a particular rule with an irregular verb ending ("ran" and "fell"), Chomsky
suggested, the child would use the automatic rule.
But is it purely innate, as Chomsky originally suggested? A clue might be in that he later amended his
theory...to incorporate more those external influences...
The most well known linguist behind this approach was Jerome Brunner. Social Interactionists believe in
the importance of interaction, as the title suggests. Although they agree that there may be a LAD in all
children's brains, they think it is through interaction with those around them that they learn how language is
used (the pragmatics, turn taking, non-verbal communication, etc).
Brunner suggested that children have a system called LASS (Language Acquisition Support System), born
from Chomsky's LAD, in which interaction "scaffolds" children's language development.
Where Chomsky was dismissive of the role of parent-child interaction, Brunner, and other social
interactionalists like Snow, stress its importance. They claim that the rituals of conversation occur between
children and parents even before the children acquire language, such as in the example:
Father: Have you done a wee wee?
Daughter: (smiles and maintains eye contact)
Father: Shall we have a look in your nappy?
Daughter: (vocalises and smiles)
Father: Let‘s get the baby wipes then, shall we?
Daughter: (vocalises and looks after Dad as he goes to get wipes)
They also consider the characteristics of CDS, such as Kuhl's research that suggested children turn to mother
who speak with a higher intonation. The parent instinctively speaks in the higher tone, while the child
instinctively responds to the higher tone.
Not all cultures have CDS, however. In some (non-western) societies, babies are expected to 'blend in' with
the adults, and are talked to and treated like adults. Despite this, they still pick up language at roughly the
same time as children who are subjected to CDS: the main criticism of the interactionist approach. However,
a child will not learn from television or radio, but needs to be exposed to language, which seems to stress
that interaction does play a role in language development. Social interactionists don't contradict Chomsky's
theory, but merely add an extra dimension to language acquisition.
Cognitive development is the approach that considers children's language acquisition as closely connected to
their psychological and intellectual (to give it a posh name 'cognitive') development. The theory states,
reasonably enough, that a child can only develop complex utterances, when their intellectual development
reaches a point where they can consider such complex ideas.
The forerunner of cognitive development was Jean Piaget. He split language development into four stages:
1. Sensorimotor period (years 0–2)
2. Preoperational period (years 2–7)
3. Concrete operational period (years 7–11)
4. Formal operational period (years 11 and up)
At each stage, the child's cognitive awareness grows, and their language reflects this, Piaget claimed. In the
first stage, the sensorimotor period, for example, he says that children learn to classify experiences in the
real world, and therefore, their language is full of concrete nouns, but there are a lack of abstract nouns.
As they gain awareness of new concepts, like time, size, heat and cold, their language expands to express
Piaget said that is was futile to teach a child a complex form before it is ready, for it will not be able to grasp
the idea. Although there may or may not be something 'innate' in us for learning language, Piaget would
argue that forming a complex sentence requires more than the 'rules' of grammar; a child also needs an
understanding of the logical relationships involved.
As well as communicating for social purposes, Piaget also said that children had something called
egocentric speech - where they speak to themselves with no one else present. He said that this speech was
to help them make sense of the world around them.
Thought and Language
A book by the Russian linguist Leo Vygotsky entitled Thought and Language developed on Piaget's idea of
egocentric speech. Cognitive and innate linguists would agree that speech is very different from the
language of thoughts, and in fact, Pinker labelled thought language as 'mentalese'. They don't agree with
George Orwell's prediction that one day, governments will use language to control thought: that without a
word to describe it, an idea cannot be expressed or thought.
However, Vygotsky saw egocentric speech as the first stage of thinking. He believed that as a child grows
older, and come to understand that it wasn't socially acceptable to speak out loud to oneself (though some of
us clearly still haven't quite mastered that...*whistles innocently*), they take this external egocentric speech
inwards, and it becomes the basis of our thought process. Although it changes and develops as time passes,
becoming much more compressed than normal speech, it is very closely linked to language. His idea is
based on the Saphir-Whorf research in the 1930's.
Of course, this research is dated...and Pinker makes a very good argument as to why we have 'mentalese'.
Even before children can speak, they can respond to their surroundings, suggesting that there is some kind of
language is the mind before speech is learned.
That's all you have to learn, really. Not too bad, huh? And quite fascinating.
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Learning to Read
So far, we've looked at things that naturally occur... Now we're moving into the parts of acquisition that are
taught: reading and writing. In some cultures, there are no traditions of reading and writing at all, such as in
South America, and if we think across to Language Change, for a long time only the upper levels of society
learned to read and write.
Imagine if you were faced by this:
Looks pretty much unrecognisable at first glance and only through a process of logical guesses can we
attempt to make out any meaning. The numbers, for instance, we recognise and the letter 'A'... so:
One ... .... ... half ten a man ... a woman .... ... ... ... ... .
The + like one between 'a man' and 'a woman' is likely to be 'and' and this is transferable to the s-and = sand.
One ... ... ... half ten a man and a woman ... ... ... sand.
'half ten' probably refers to a time, so there will need to be a 'at' in there, before it. But the AB bit suggests
'about'. At about half ten'? In the morning or the evening? Well, it starts with 'N', which suggests 'night':
One night at about half ten a man and a woman ... ... ... sand.
Now, we notice there's a symbol from 'about' later on, representing the 'out':
One night at about half ten a man and a woman ... out ... ... sand.
Now filling in the remaining gaps might become clear...
One night at about half ten, a man and a woman were out on the sand.
The method we just used was a type of decoding and it's the closest we, as readers, can come to
understanding the process. Children have to decode a string of seemingly meaningless symbols, and then,
when it comes to writing later, reproduce them in a conventional way. The process starts at birth, and is all
about interaction. If a child isn't given the right interaction, and exposed to the written art, they will struggle
when it comes to schooling. Language acquisition may occur without CDS, but reading can't occur without a
So, what can parents do to help?
Well, first of all, children need to be exposed to written language. Adults should point out words in the
child's environment, point out words in books, and let the child see that reading is both a pleasurable and
necessary activity everyday.
Children also need to develop a love of books. Adults can help stimulate this by reading to the child
everyday, and reading aloud in front of the child in general. Books that have predictable words and repeating
phrases and refrains are good for interaction, for after a few readings, children will be able to join in and
'read' themselves. Letting children have books on tapes and taking them to the library also help, as does
encouraging a child to dictate a story to a parent, who then reads it back.
They need to develop an 'ear' for language, so encouraging rhymes and songs is a good idea. Playing music
while children nap also has positive benefits, and Mozart is supposed to be particularly good.
Particularly important for writing, children need to develop good hand-eye coordination. Parents should
encourage them to draw, play sorting games, jigsaws and catching games. They should help with crawling
and encourage the child to ride tricycles and scooters.
Parents should also show children how to follow lines of a book with their fingers, and these 'tracking' skills
can also be helped by patterning games with blocks and beads.
An expanding vocabulary is also important for reading. Parents should introduce new words to children
wherever possible, and explains things to the children.
Finally, children need sufficient cognitive abilities - reasoning, problem solving and ability to recall. Parents
can help here by discussing what a book might be from its cover, ask questions throughout to check
understanding, and talking about the success of the prediction at the end. Also, they might encourage
children to find different ways to solve tasks, play games like board games and card games with them, and
get children to 'review' their day.
Phew! There certainly is a lot to being a parent! The most important is read, read, read to children and show
them a love of books.
Stages of Reading
There are two theories about how reading should be taught: the phonetic theory and the whole word theory.
Phonetics teaches children the regular letter-sound relationships, and encourages them to 'sound out' when
they come across a word they don't recognise. The argument for this method is that children have the
rational for sounding out words. The argument against phonetics is that blending can't be done, and books
that aim at practising a particular sound often sound silly due to being so limited: 'Pat and Dad ran.'
Whole word schemes are based on teaching children to recognise words as a whole. Through this, larger and
more meaningful sentences can be produced in books, through the frequently occurring words and some
larger words. The only problem is that the word choice is often randomly selected and aren't always linked
to a child's own experiences.
Children go through a number of stages as they start to read. They will start to:
Recognise letters - usually at the beginning of the name: Elizabeth.
Associate letters with sounds.
Realise that letters make words.
Realise that sounds combine to make words.
Learn that a word says the same thing, no matter the book or type of print.
Learn that words go together to form sentences.
Learn the conventions of punctuation and layout.
When children reach this point, they are well on the way to becoming independent readers.
The exam might ask you to look at pages from a children's reading book. There are various characteristics
that you might comment on.
Graphologically, you might consider the text size and word density. As children get older the amount of
words per page increases, the font size decreases and the amount of 'white space' decreases. Images also
decrease in size and frequency as the stories get 'older'.
For lexis, consider the individual words. Monosyllables or polysyllabic? Are they mostly using a particular
phoneme to practice it as we saw in the phonetic scheme of teaching children to read? What semantic fields
are there? A general trend with semantic fields is that early books are naturally centered around a child's
environment, while older books move away from this and are more imaginative.
Syntax might involve patterning in sentence structure. What types? As the texts get older, they will move
from minor to simple, to compound and complex.
The texts, especially those for younger readers who will probably read aloud, might also use phonological
features like alliteration and assonance.
Back to the Top
Learning to Write
For writing, children need to be a few steps more advanced. They need to have the good hand-eye
coordination we saw in the earlier section as well as the ability to control a pencil, to reproduce the symbols
and to hold a thought long enough to write it down.
Children go through a number of stages, and if you're faced by a handwritten piece you should try to identify
at which stage the child is.
Phase One - Preparation (until age 5-6)
In this stage, children learn the basic skills of handwriting and spelling. Skills are developed in the following
drawing and sign writing
making letter-like forms
writing capital letters
writing the child's name and letter strings
forming sentences, and finally
writing short texts.
Phase Two - Consolidation (ages 6-7 years)
In this stage, as the name suggests, writing catches up with speech. The child will write as they speak, in a
colloquial context-bound style. Their writing will also be longer than the first phase.
Phase Three - Differentiation (ages 9-10 years)
Again as the title indicates, in the differentiation stage, children learn to distinguish between speech and
writing - that writing may be changed depending on a specific purpose and audience (something you should
be well aware of if you plan to do well on ENB5!)
Phase Four - Integration (11 years)
Children begin to develop their own personal styles.
"Spelling conventions" is a posh way of saying the rules of spelling. Spelling is a big part of learning to
write. J.R. Gentry (1982) suggested there are five stages in learning how to spell, and these depend upon
the individual, teaching techniques, etc...
1. Precommunicative stage: The child realises that symbols can be used to create a message and have
meanings. They may, however, invent symbols.
2. Semi-phonetic stage: The child begins to realise that letters "have" sounds. In writing, they may
abbreviate words and use pictures for words they don't know.
3. Phonetic stage: The child spells through sound-symbol correspondence. They may not be aware that
some strings of letters aren't acceptable in English.
4. Transitional stage: The child uses the basic conventions of the English language system. They start to
become aware of the patterns in language spelling, that extends further than using phonetic spellings.
5. "Correct" stage: Finally, children understands the basic spelling patterns and knows something about
word structures, using visual strategies to spell. They have a large automatic spelling vocabulary and
can distinguish between homonyms and homophones. They also have control over 'loaded language'
(language that attempts to evoke the emotions) and latinate lexis.
At a young age, children may placehold, which means to use some of the letters, usually the consonants, to
represent the word, such as "bcs" for "because". It's often done because the child is unsure of the spelling.
What can go wrong with spelling? It depends on the individual.
Though poor spellers with a weak visual memory might have a fairly clear idea of which symbol represents
which sound, they don't remember what words look like and get confused when writing them down.
Poor spellers with weak auditory memories have problems understanding which symbols represent which
sounds, and can't hear individual sounds in words. They make random guesses at spellings and are often
poor spellers as well.
Some errors might include:
getting the initial letter wrong - this suggests the child isn't ready to write, and is a serious problem if
the child is older than seven,
using phonetic alternatives - a common error. There are two types of phonetic alternatives:
1. a form of spelling is chosen that follows a pattern from another word, but is wrong in the
context of the word, such as "nessessary" as in "lesson",
2. a form of spelling is chosen that isn't possible in English, like "perfikt". This is a more serious
problems with prefixes and suffixes before children understand how words are put together, such as
in "dissappear" and "mispelt", and "makeing". Ance/ence are frequently confused as they sound the
misspelling unstressed vowels, a far more common mistake than stressed vowels,
dropping consonants where they aren't stressed, such as "ofen" and "chrismas",
misspelling words that include double or single letters.
Of course, errors might not always be formed through misspelling. If a child produces something on a
computer, it may just be a typo!
Gaphology as a framework is discouraged in most areas of English Language, as it's seen as the "easiest"
framework to analyse. For this section, however, it's essential.
There are a few aspects of handwriting that you might want to comment on.
Ascenders are parts of letters that go up from the line, like in "b" and "d", while descenders are parts of
letters that go below the line, as in "p" and "q".
Directionality is an understanding that, in English, we write from left to right and linearity is learning that
we write in horizontal lines.
Lower case letters are small letters, while upper case letters are capitals. Do the children use capitals at the
beginnings of sentences or randomly in the middle of a sentence? Are they using punctuation correctly?
Other things to look out for is the size of the handwriting, and its density on the page. Generally, the older
the child is, the smaller the handwriting, and the more writing there.
National Literary Scheme
For some reason, we're supposed to know something about the four stages of the national literary scheme.
2. Knowledge of Context
4. Word Recognition
With that, we reach the end of Learning to Write and the end of Language Acquisition. Let me know if
there's something I've missed!
1. Stages of
Children can not acquire language all at once, but they have their language
acquisition by stages, and each stage more closely apptoxemias the language that adults
use. Observations of children in different language areas of the world reveal that the
stages are very similar, possibly universal. Linguists working on child language
acquisition have made many observations, experiments and studies of the process of
children's acquiring language. They generally divide the stages of language acquisition
into the babbling stage, the holophrastic stogie, the two-word stage- the telegraphic
stage and the full language-acquisition stage.
1. 1 Babbling Stage
When a child is around six months old, he begins to babble. During the babbling
stage- the child produces a large variety of sounds, which seems to include the sounds
of human language, though many of them do not occur in language. It is interesting that
babbling is common to all infants, including deaf children. Normal children horn of deaf
parents, who do not speak, also babble. Therefore, we may say babbling is not the
imitation of outside sounds, since deaf-parents can not input such babbling sounds into
their children. As for the role of babbling in child acquisition of spoken language，
some linguists take the view that babbling is a necessary prerequisite for normal
language acquisition, others consider it to be less crucial. So far it is still a controversial
During the babbling period, which usually lasts to the twelfth month, children learn
10 maintain the speech sounds and give up others. By the end of the babbling period
most children will have acquired some of the intonation-patterns of the language spoken
by the adults around them.
1. 2. Holophrastic Stage
Sometimes around one year, average children begin to use the same string of sounds
repcauvdly to "mean "the same thing. At the- time they have learned that sounds are
related to meanings and they are producing their first "words". Most children seem to go
through the one-word stage- during which children produce what are traditionally
thought of as one-word sentences, which are usually termed holophrastic sentences. This
stage may last from the age of about twelve to eighteen months. At this stage children
use just one word- which is generally monosyllabic with a consonant -vowel (CV) form,
to express concepts or predications. If you make a careful observation of some Chinese
children at such an age, you will hear them often say [ba] （爸）, [ma] （妈） , [man]
( 猫) (饱), [qi]（起）, [do] (打) [teng ](疼) and many other monosyllabic words. The
words used during the holophrastic stage usually convey the following ideas:
(a) children's own action or desire for action.
(b) others' action,
(c) addressing somebody (usually parents), naming or calling things.
1. 3. Two-word Stage
On the basis of one-word sentences children gradually begin to produce two-word
utterances at the time when they are close to the age of two. Some children may
produce two-word utterances some months earlier. At first they just reduplicate what
they have acquired at the holophrastic stage, or just string two of their earlier
holophrastic utterances, with each word having its own meaning to make actual two-
word sentences which are not random combinations of words, but show definite
syntactic and semantic relations and the intonation contour of the two words extending
over the whole utterance rather than being separated by a pause between the two words.
For example, English children at such an age are often beard saying： mammy there,
daddy here, doggie gone, hat table, me go, it ball, toy table- water hot, cat jump and so
on. And the Chinese children at the same age would often say，[ma lai] （妈来）, [bo
zou], （爸走）, [he" shui](喝水), [chi fan](吃蛋), [kan ying ]（看（电）影）. [chi
gt.o](吃果), [mao chudng]（帽床）, [hei mao](黑猫), [bdi mao](白猫).[da moo]（大
猫 ）. [moo jido]（猫叫）. [got, yfio](狗咬), [du e](肚饿). [dan xiang]（蛋香） and
During the two-word utterance stage children do not use syntactic or morphological
markers, that is. no inflections for number, person or tense and so on, but the syntactic
and semantic relations in the two-word sentences are clear. The two-word sentences
children of almost all languages produce have very similar or almost ihe same patterns;
noun + noun : mammy book, hat tahle. [mao chuang](帽床 ), noun-f-verb : ceil jump,
doggie gone, [gou yao] (狗咬 ), noun + adj: water hot, candy sweet ,[dan xiang]（蛋
香 ） . noun+ adv; daddy here, mummy there [ba near]（爸哪儿）, adj. +noun: good
doggie, new hat, [bai mao] (白猫), verb + noun :love Jane- [he shui]（喝水） [sa niao]
撒尿 pron +verb: me go, me want ,[ta da](他打), Each pattern of the two-word
sentences shows clear grammatical relations between the two words.
The two-word stage is very crucial for language acquisition, for the structures of two-
word sentences reflect the basic sentence structures and the basic syntactic rules of a
language, including choice of appropriate words.
1. 4. Telegraphic Stage
The two-word sentence stage is followed by the telegraphic stage. There docs not
seem to be any three (or four)- word stage in the process of children's acquisition of
language. When a child is about two years and a half, he starts stringing more than two
words together to make longer utterances. These utterances may he composed of two,
three, four, five or even more words.
The term "telegraphic'' derives from the observation that the child speech throughout
this period lacks inflections marking tense, aspect, number, mood, the, and function
words, such as prepositions (in, at, on), determiners (this, that, the, a. an), auxiliaries
(will, shall- da- does) and conjunctions (and- but. or). for such speech is rather like the
language used in telegrams, in which function words are usually missing and only
content words carrying the main message are used. As the child proceeds during the
telegraphic period from the two-word stage to later stages characterized by the
production of longer utterances, his speech, in terms of word order, etc, will
approximate more and more to that of adults' speech. If the language he is acquiring has
inflections and function words, ru-will also gradually come to vise these words
appropriately that by the time when he is about four or five years old, his speech, though
still defective compared with that of adults, is no longer describable as telegraphic.
The utterances that are longer than two words appear to be sentence-like. There are
many such examples:
Mammy love me.
John play piano
No heat me.
Daddy no go.
All the sentence-like utterances produced at the telegraphic jttape are not simply
randomly strung-together words, but have hierarchical constituent structures similar TO
ihe syntactic structure"' found in the sentences produced by adults. At the end of this
stage children have gradually grasped the principles or rules of sentence formation.
1.5. Full Language-acquisition Stage
As children acquire more and more of their language and their language becomes
more and more close to adults' speech, they not only begin to use syntactic or
grammatical function words but also acquire the inflectional morphemes of the language
(if the language is inflectional). But now they have only learned how to use the
inflectional morphemes That are regular. At this stage, they often say: Daddy good.
Mammy bayed atoll for me, They arc nice peoples, and so on. This is because they have
not acquired the knowledge of irregular inflections. So some of the sentence;- they
produce are still defective. But in the process of using language they come to realize ihe
irregular inflections. At the age of about five the sentences they produce sound like
those spoken by the adults around them.
Though we divide the process of children's acquisition of language into different
stages, all the. stages are closely connected, with every two related stages overlapping
each other and each proceeding on the basis of the former.
For the following four stages, answer these questions:
1. What happens to the child's language during this stage?
2. When does it occur?
3. What distinguishes this stage from the previous stage?
4. What distinguishes it from the subsequent stage?
• Cooing and babbling
1. What happens during this most incredible of the stages?
During the "cooing and balling stage" the child does not speak but begins making what some claim to be
experminetal noises that are crucial to the development of language. During this stage the larynx begins this
descend, enabling infants to create the broader spectrum of sounds experienced at this age
2. When does it occur?
Infants typically begin babbling around five months of age and continues through the eleventh month,
around which time it's replaced by the one-word stage.
3. What distinguishes it from the previous stage?
Technically babbling is the first stage of language, but it can be distinguished from the first four months of
age which are typically characterized by screaming and crying. On the more physiological level, the larynx
descends, giving infants the broader vocal track and also removing the ability to drink and breathe at the
4.What distinguishes it from the next stage?
The primary difference is simplt that I don't like those one-word stage guys. The big difference really could
be left to the lack of any truly recognizable and consistent words. Infants become much less well behaved
during the one-word stage as they continue to poop themselves and shout "no" at people all the time. Rude.
• The one-word stage
1. What happens to the child's language during this stage?
During the one-word stage, children use such single terms as "milk," "cookie," "cat," "cup," and "spoon," for
everyday objects. While children may be able to use single-unit terms, they are not ready to produce more
complex phrases. For example. children may know how to say "eat" and "cookie," but they don't know how
to form complex phrases, incorporating those words together.
2. When does it occur?
Cooing and babbling dissipates around a child's first year of life and marks the one-word stage; between
twelve and eighteen months, children begin to generate several recognizable single-unit utterances.
3. What distinguishes this stage from the previous stage?
Cooing/babbling sounds like a really drunk person on the verge of passing out on the couch while 1-word
speech has an occasional word that is recognizable by our English language. Going from babbling to 1-word
speech is the first big step in making your parents proud while babbling is just adorable gibberish. With 1-
word speech now the child is on the fast track of living up to their parents expectations. Next thing they
know their parents are making them pick a university to go to after high school.
In all seriousness there should be a definite difference between the formation of one recognizable word that
can be tagged with some object or person—most likely ‗mama‘ or ‗dada‘—compared to indistinguishable
unconnected combinations of sounds that is babbling.
Around four/five months old the tongue starts to wiggle around a lot more and the child starts to realize they
are making sounds with their windpipe and tongue creating hard consonant sounds and light vowel sounds.
Then the child starts to recognize patterns and can express emphasis and emotion, which then leads to the 1-
words stage around 12 months old with utterances of single word terms used for everyday objects like ‗milk‘,
‗cat‘, ‗dog‘, ‗milk‘, ‗cup‘, and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Just kidding, that is further down the line.
While many 1-words utterances can be to used to name one object, there should also be circumstances that
show the kid is expanding their vernacular and are on the brink of word connection. Babbling is
experimentation of sounds while 1-word stage is experimentation with words.
4. What distinguishes it from the subsequent stage?
The most apparent distinguishing factor between the one word stage and the two word stage is that the one
word stage consists of children utter a single unit, while the two word stage has them combining two words.
Another distinguishing factor is that the one word stage is more often about the children just naming objects
while the two word stage has them bringing words together which will form an idea (depending on the social
context) that causes adults to respond back.
• The two-word stage
1. What happens to the child's language at this stage?
During the two word stage children begin to communicate by speaking in two word statements. This is a
sign that the child's vocabulary has expanded to at least fifty words, though they can usually understand
more words than they can use. The two word stage is the first stage in which children begin to demonstrate
an ability to link separate words together to form novel ideas. In this stage not only does the child start
communicating with more language, but also reads the behavior of the adult for feed back. The two word
stage is also a stepping stone for telegraphic speech where the child begins to build sentences.
2. When does it occur?
The two word stage usually begins when the child is 18-20 months old.
3. What distinguishes this stage from the previous stage?
This stage is different than the one word stage because words aren't standing alone anymore; they are two
word sentences. The child in the one word stage can refer to bed and baby separately but isn't ready to put
the two words together
4. What distinguishes this stage from the subsequent stage?
The main difference between the two word stage and the telegraphic speech phase is the lack of any
grammatical inflection. While telegraphic speech is characterized by the appearance of simple prepositions
and articles, two word speech is mostly made up of nouns and verbs.
• Telegraphic speech
2. When does it occur?
From 2 - 2.5 years of age, children begin developing beyond the two-word stage. However, the stage never
really ends from there; the child just begins learning more vocabulary. At 2.5 years, the child's vocabulary
begins expanding. And by 3 years of age, the child has a much larger vocabulary and is able to pronounce
words closer to that of adults.
4. What distinguishes it from the subsequent stage?
Telegraphic speech distinguishes itself from the subsequent stage because word order and grammatical
inflections are refined, but there is still a lack of inflectional morphemes (such as "-ing") and syntax.
For the following three kinds of development, answer these questions:
1. What changes do we notice in this stage?
2. What "mistakes" occur?
3. How can we understand these as reasonable, rather than mistakes?
• Morphological development
The child is starting to use various grammar rules, such as adding -ing to verbs and also making words plural such as
boys or cats. They also begin using the possessive -'s and "to be" verbs like are and was. Past tense forms of words
begin appearing, using -ed. After the age of four the child begins to distinguish between regular and irregular word
The child may use the plural form incorrectly, talking about foots or mans or even footses or boyses. The child also
makes mistakes with irregular forms of past tense words saying things like goed instead of went and comed instead
of came. Overall, the child may say a lot of odd phrases like "I wented" or "some mens."
During this stage, the child is focused on his interaction and communication with others, not on saying things correctly. He is
simply trying to say what he means. When a child makes a mistake and says "look at the fishes" for example, it isn't a mistake
because it is proof that the child actually knows what plurals are and how to form them, even if he doesn't know the irregularites
• Syntactical development
The changes that are noticeable in the syntactical phase involve children progressing through three
recognizable stages (labeled 1-3) that incorporate forming questions and negatives. During the development
of syntax, the child goes through three very distinct stages when learning how to form questions and
negatives. The first stage is between 18-26 months, the second stage is 22-30 months, and the third stage is
24-40 months. During the first stage the child simply adds a Wh- form to ask a question or uses a raised
intonation towards the end. The child cannot form the complex sentences that would allow for the question
to be completed (a ‗mistake‘, if you will). In the second stage the same principle applies, but the expressions
are becoming more complete. In the third stage, the child is learning the movement of the auxiliary English
questions while still having difficulty with the morphology of the verbs (i.e., Did I caught...).
Along with forming questions, children can also have difficulty forming negatives. Stage one involves
children simply putting ‗no‘ or ‗not‘ in front of nouns. In the second stage, contractions are added to the
child‘s vocabulary (e.g., can‘t and don‘t). In the third stage, children start to include more difficult
contractions such as ‗didn‘t‘ and ‗won‘t‘, although not always paired with the correct verb tense.
Though the words may be out of order or in the wrong verb or noun form (tenses are wrong, identifying
plurals with the wrong word, etc.), the information is still all there for the listener to be able to make sense of
what the child is saying. One can still understand what "Did I caught it?" means, even though the verb is in
the wrong form.
• Semantic development
WHAT HAPPENS: Children begin to attach meaning to the words within their growing lexicon.
5.1.1 Child Language Acquisition
The study of child language acquisition is known as the development of psycholinguistic. It seeks to
understand how children, although born completely without language, by the time they are about 5 years old,
they will typically acquired
an extensive vocabulary, complex phonology, and grammatically systems, and equally complex rules for
how to use
their language appropriately in social settings. It also seeks to explain how these accomplishments could
every known society, whether literate or not, in every language and in almost children, regardless of the way
5.1.2 Perceiving Speech
Studies show that infants can actually hear before they are born. They demonstrate a preference for their
mothers‘ voices shortly after birth and can discriminate between utterances spoken in the mother‘s native
opposed to a foreign language by about 4 days of age. This implies a certain amount of ‗in utero‘ learning.
discriminate between male and female voices between stimuli with different intonation patterns. Infants
early preference for language that is broken into clausal chunks, rather than segmented randomly. They also
to understand the phonotactic regularities of their language.
More impressive, however is the infant‘s ability to make fine distinctions among speech sound, for example,
between the English voiceless /p/ and the voiced /b/ as early as the first weeks of life. This is to us may not
seem anything special , until we consider the fact that the difference between the two sounds is a matter of
less than tenth of a second. This ability to distinguish speech sounds must be inherent in the human as it is
possible for infants to pick it up so speedily from the speech they hear during the first few days of life. But a
more concrete piece of evidence come from studies that show that infant can discriminate phonemes that are
not in the language used by the parents, whereas the adult in community cannot. This ability begins to
disappear by the end of first year, when infants have begun to learn the sounds of the language around them.
Apparently, infants came prepared to hear all possible distinctions. This is logical, as these infants cannot
know what language community they will be born into. When they learn their native language this special
phonetic sensitivity disappears.
5.1.3 Producing Speech
Parents around the world tend to understandably anticipate with bated breath their baby‘s first recognizable
words, so much that they assume burps are conversational turns and assign intentions to vocalizations long
before the intentions are actually there. We can generally divide children‘s language development into a
number of approximate stages as in the diagram below.
Language stage Beginning age
Cooing 6 Weeks
Babbling 6 Months
Intonation patterns 8 Months
One-word utterances 1 Year
Two-word utterances 18 Month
Word inflections 2 Years
Questions, negatives 2 ¼ Years
Rare/Complex instruction 5 Years
Mature speech 10 Years
During the first four weeks of life, a child‘s first recognizable vocal activity is crying. Babies cry when
hungry and when they are in pain. However, it is perhaps misleading to consider crying as a language stage
as it seems to be instinctive communication and more akin to an animal call system. So, although crying
may help to strengthen the lungs and vocal folds (both needed for speech production), it should not perhaps
be regarded as part of speech development. Next, the child goes through a cooing phase, producing
superficially vowel-like sounds. Some call it ‗gurgling‘ or ‗mewing‘. Cooing seems universal and like
crying, may help the child over his/her speech mechanism. Gradually, consonant-like sounds become
interspersed in the cooing. By around 6 months, the child has reached the babbling stage. The consonant are
often made with the sequences sounding like ‗mama‘,‘dada‘, or ‗papa‘. When hearing this sounds, parents
the world over ecstatically but wrongly assumed that their child is addressing them .Although we cannot
always tell what a baby may be trying to express ,research believe that these early attempts at
communication include both protodeclaratives (language about something) and protoimperatives (request
that something be done or given). Simultaneously with babbling, and from around 8 months, the child
begins to imitate intonation patterns. This makes his/her vocal output so much like speech that mothers are
often heard to comments, ―I‘m sure she is talking. I just can‘t catch what she‘s saying.‖ The next stage is
known as the one-word or holophrastic stage by which time (18-20 months), children typically have
acquired approximately 50 words. Despite the different communities in the world, the first words spoken by
children are similar both in their phonetic form and in the kinds of meaning that underlie them. Among the
common features of this stage are:
Phonologically, these first word rarely contain consonant cluster; are more likely to be an open
Syntactically , first word are inevitably concrete word
Functionally, first word tend to refer to objects within the child‗s environment that she/he can
actively interact with .First words are also used to convey a variety of intentions such as negations,
recurrence, nonexistence and notice.
In addition, studies of this stages how that children understand more than 5 times as many words as they
actually produce. Some time during their second year, children begin to put together the approximately 50
words they have acquired into basic two-word utterance across speech communities suggest that they are
expressing the same kinds of thought and intentions in the same kinds of thought and intentions in the same
kinds of utterances. At first, the utterances mirror the meanings expressed at the one-word stage:
Negations: ―No bed‖
Recurrence: ―More milk‖
Nonexistence: ―All gone cookie‖
Notice: ―Hi, Daddy!‖
These are then followed by another dozen or so kind of meanings such as :
Naming an actor and an action: ―Mommy eat‖
Modifying a noun: ―Bad Kitty‖
Indicating possession: ―Daddy shoe‖
Specifying a location: ―Kitty table‖
Describing an action and location: ―Go school‖
Naming an action and a object: ―Eat apple‖
Naming an actor and object: ―Mummy…. Lunch.‖
As at the one-word stage, two-word utterance are limited in meaning, i.e they are not generally about past or
future events and produce without function words or inflections.
Stages of Language development- Małgorzata Szulc-Kurpaska
Biological foundations of language
Eric Lenneberg 1967
The Biological Foundations of Language
The behaviour emerges before it is necessary.
(The law of anticipatory maturation)
Its appearance is not the result of a conscious decision.
Its emergence is not triggered by external events (though the surrounding environment must be sufficiently
‘rich’ for it to develop adequately).
There is likely to be a ‘critical period’ for the acquisition of behaviour.
Direct teaching and practice have relatively little effect.
Child: Want other one spoon daddy.
Father: You mean, you want the other spoon.
Child: Yes, I want other one spoon, please daddy.
Father: Can you say ‘the other spoon’?
Father: Say ‘other’.
Father: ‘other spoon’.
Child: other...spoon. Now give me other one spoon?
There is a regular sequence of ‘milestones’ as the behaviour develops, and these can usually be correlated
with age and other aspects of development.
Stages of language development
The incremental nature of first language development
The length of the utterances increases step by step
The grammatical complexity gradually increases
Motherese, Fatherese, Parentese
To communicate with the child
To direct child’s behaviour
Features of caretaker speech:
using gestures and facial expressions
diminutives, 'baby talk', onomatopoeic words
topic referring to the 'here and now'
general questions and imperatives
Stages of language development
2 and ¼ years
a child’s babbling gradually moves in the direction of the sounds he hears around him
the child has overgeneralised the word ‘ba’; that is the child has learned the name ‘ba’ for ‘bath’ and has
wrongly assumed that it can apply to anything which contains liquid
Russian psychologist Lev Vygotski (1893-1934) suggested that when children over-generalise they do so in a
quite confusing way – they appear to focus attention on one aspect of an object at a time
according to David McNeill, the child is uttering holophrases – single words that stand for whole sentences
Lois Bloom put forward another hypothesis – the meaning of a one-word utterance varies according to the
age of the child
Adam, Eve and Sarah
Two words 20 months 26 months
Three words 22 months 36 months
Four words 28 months 42 months
Telegraphic speech (18-28 months)
One explanation (Martin Braine)
a small number of words such as allgone, this, more, no which occurred frequently, never alone and in a
fixed position- pivots, because the utterance appears to pivot round them;
many more words which occurred less frequently but in any position and sometimes alone (often nouns),
e.g. open class words, since an ‘open’ class is a set of words which can be added to indefinitely;
Action and object
Agent and object
Entity and location
Attributive and entity
Demonstrative and entity
This (is a) truck
In the acquisition of grammatical morphemes:
-ing progressive and –s plural are early acquired
past irregular is acquired earlier than past regular
copula ‘be’ is acquired earlier than auxiliary ‘be’
uncontractible ‘be’ is acquired earlier than contractible ‘be’
3rd person present tense is late acquired
Why is the plural –s early early acquired and the third person singular present tense -s late acquired?
Because plural ‘s is more frequent than third person singular present tense.
Overgeneralisation – the use of a grammatical form in all contexts even if it does not apply, e.g. childrens,