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Child Language

In: English and Literature

Submitted By achiv
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"What have you learnt about language acquisition from children's early words and meanings?"

A child acquires language through a variety of sources. In this essay I will be explaining how children acquire words and meanings when learning language. A child goes through various stages of acquiring words. They being the cooing stage which means they are making open vowel sounds. This then adapted into a consonant vowel pattern in the babbling stage. The child then begins to use proto-words that they may not understand. Finally they use productive vocabulary to express needs or wants.

The early words and meanings a child acquires, are mainly influenced by their environment and personality. This is shown in Nelsons experiment where she determined that when a child starts to use early words their functions could be put into four categories of naming, action, social and modifying. When looking at a transcript of a child’s early words the influences on vocabulary could be seen. Using names such as “mummy” or “cup” shows the child is referential meaning they use concrete nouns often. Whereas a child that uses many action and social words like “play” and “hello” is more expressive and use abstract nouns. This is also evident in the Social Inertactionist Theory. Bruner suggested that children acquire language through nature and nurture, so children in different environments with different parents would develop distinctive words and meanings that relate to their own personal surroundings.

In an investigation by Thompson and Chapman suggested that children develop meanings for new words by working out what they don’t mean. When a child identifies a “big dog” and “small dog” they may not fully understand the adjective “small” but they can distinguish and recognize the fact it is not the “big dog.” Another study carried out by Aitchison showed three stages of children’s acquisition of words and meanings. The first stage is “Labeling” and this is when they begin to associate sounds with objects for example attaching “cat” to an animal. The second is “packaging” where the child explores the labels and so understands what makes the cat different from birds, or dogs. The final stage is “network” where the child understands opposites, similarities, relationships and contrasts. These show that language acquisition is an active process so surroundings must be made sense of and is not just a case of memorizing labels.

When acquiring meanings in language, context, gestures and tone all play an important role. In the holophrastic stage of a child’s development, which is around 8 months, they are using one-word holophrases such as “daddy” or “apple”. At this stage children have to learn to convey what they want with limited vocabulary. In this stage saying “daddy” could mean any of four things. The child could be using a declarative to say, “This is my daddy.” They could also be using an interrogative to ask a question. Another possibility is they could be commanding using an imperative to get an adults attention. The final option is they are expressing excitement or anger through an exclamation. These affect the meaning of the words because they are using different tones and actions to help them get what they want.

In children’s early words it is noted that they are usually overextended. This is when the word they’ve used covers things with similar properties. For example when a child is shown a picture of a banana they say, “banana” but when shown a pear also say, “banana.” They are applying “banana” to all fruits so they are replacing the superordinate of “fruit” with the hyponym of “banana.” This shows that the child simply may not know enough vocabulary to differentiate.

On other occasions their words are underextended. A common example of this is when a child sees a table in one room, then leaves the room and see’s another table but doesn’t know what to call it. They are not wrong but have made a virtuous error. They are only using a narrow definition of word meanings. The Cognitive theory by Piaget suggests that language comes with understanding and so they need to understand the concept before they can use the language. The word used only applies to that exact object according to the child because they have not applied object permanence to the table.

In conclusion it is suggested that children acquire words and meanings through imitation, which is shown in with the Social Inertactionist theory. It is also shown that children’s language acquisition is an active process and requires both nature and interaction as well as nurture.

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