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LANGUAGE & PSYCHOSOCIAL DEVELOPMENT IN INFANCY
LANGUAGE- IT'S A NATURAL THING
Remember primary circular reactions? That was Piagetās idea that children in the earliest stage of cognitive development repeat certain actions over and over (hence the term Īcircularā as in Īround and round we goā) and that these actions involve their own bodies. One example of this is sucking their own fists or toes. My daughter, Julia, is so excited about sucking on her own toes at the moment (at age four months) that the pleasure she takes in it is almost obscene. We are fairly reassured by Piagetās research that she will get over it before becoming involved in a scandal in a cheap hotel room with some elected official. Piaget assures us that this fascination with oneās own body is a short substage in the first few months of development.
What does this all have to do with language development?
Well, cooing (the production of vowel sounds) and, particularly,
babbling (the production of consonant-vowel blends) occur in the first
few months. By age eight months, normal infants, regardless of their language
or country, have begun frequent babbling, making sounds such as ba-ba-ba-ba
, da, or Julia's favorite - hi. They seem to do this for no other reason
than pleasure in hearing the noise they make.
All of the above seems to indicate that language occurs naturally, and that is true - and it isn't. Like most topics in developmental psychology, it seems that both nature and nurture plays a role.
EVIDENCE FOR NATURE'S ROLE IN LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
ONE: All children, regardless of their language, learn
it in the same stages which occur in the same order and around the same
ages. These are:
TWO: Children seemed to be "preprogrammed" to interpret language in a way that makes the most sense.
Cognitive bias- when children are learning language for the first time and they hear a word, such as "fish", they assume that it means the whole fish, not its fins, not that particular fish, not the color of the fish, not the action of the fish swimming, and so on. All of those are possibilities, but children tend to have a bias toward interpreting a word a certain way.
Children learn nouns first, and more basic nouns, such as fish, before they learn general ones, like animal.
One statistic in your textbook which I found fascinating was the fact that a ten-word sentence can be arranged in over 3,000,000 different ways, and, yet, somehow, we learn to arrange those ten words in the ONE sequence which is grammatically correct and make sense. Okay, maybe you and I are amazed by different things, but I still think that it is amazing.
THREE: Most people, even children, seemed "preprogrammed"
to speak to young children in a way that makes the most sense.
Most people, when interacting with infants and young
children, intuitively understand this. Every morning, Julia and I have
a conversation with Daddy's fish that sits on the desk. [No, the fish does
not talk back.]
"Fish. Look at the fish. See? Fish."
People speaking with infants and young children tend to use a higher-pitched tone of voice, short sentences, basic nouns and verbs and repeat themselves frequently. This type of speech is referred to as motherese. Now people are calling it "caretaker speech" or "infant-drected speech" because motherese is sexist!
Okay, Okay, I admit it. In fact, fathers, unrelated adults and even children only slightly older will modify their speech in this way.
FOUR: Language develops extremely rapidly in early childhood, faster than can be explained by behaviorist theories of learning.
As Chomsky once said, even if all that ever happened in a day from the time a child woke up until he/she went to sleep was reinforcemet for sounds approximating words in the culture's language, there STILL wouldn't be enough hours for the behaviorists' theory of language development to work. Language doesn't develop so much as it explodes. As shown in the chart below, the average child zooms from almost no words to a speaking vocabulary of over 1,000 words within one year - usually the year from two to three.
FIVE: There seems to be a critical period for language development.
This is one of the few areas for which there does seem
to be evidence of a critical period, where if you don't learn language
early in life, you don't learn it, or, at least not as well. Of course,
you would have to be in a very extreme circumstance to not be exposed to
language at all in our society. Typically, these are the cases of abuse
and neglect, where a child has been locked away from almost all human contact.
Does that mean that environment doesn't matter? NO!!
AND LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT milestones and warning signs (mildly interesting).
Click here for information on the importance of environment in language development.Not an optional site. This is the next lesson.!
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