Similarly to physical activity e.g. standing, all normal children develop language skills at roughly the same time, and follow approximately the same language acquisition schedule regardless of their culture. However, the rate at which each individual child reaches the various stages will vary from child to child. Children are seen as having an innate ability to distinguish between different aspects of language at various stages during the early years of life. Therefore the child notices regularities in what is heard and then applies those regularities to what he/she says.
There are several stages in child language acquisition that the child must go through in order to begin to use language with some grammatical structure. The language acquisition schedule begins with caretaker speech, particularly in western society under ‘normal’ conditions. Caretaker speech is the simplified speech style adopted by a person who spends a lot of time interacting with the child. The behaviour of adults within the home, especially the primary caretaker influences the infant’s language development. Adults do not address the child during conversation, with typical adult-to-adult conversation, instead emphasis is placed on sounds, and the simple language forms, for example, “Oh goody, now daddy push choo choo?”Order now
There are typical features of caretaker speech such as frequent questions, with exaggerated intonation, simple sentence structures, and repetition. The simplified forms provided by the adult, give clues to the child regarding the basic structural organisation needed, this is typical where the child has already begun to form sounds, and put words together. The adult also uses baby-talk alternatives to the English language e.g. simplified words ‘tummy’ or completely alternative forms with repeated sounds e.g. ‘choo-choo’. Language used by the caretaker whilst interacting with the child will usually be concerned with something within the Childs environment, and that the child is familiar with e.g. toys, pets, mummy, and daddy etc.
Before the child can even speak within a conversation with the caretaker, he/she is assigned an interactive role, where the child may actively play the role, by taking instructions and following them, or using facial expression to show approval/ disapproval of an aspect of conversation. Caretaker speech therefore forms the foundation of the acquisition schedule, with the child having learnt basic sounds and perhaps having picked up on some structural elements. The caretaker stage is the stage that the acquisition schedule will be built on.
The very early stages of child language acquisition involve pre-linguistic sounds which are called ‘cooing’ and ‘babbling’ Three stages of sound production are recognised between the age of 3 months â€“ 10 months. Cooing is the first form of recognizable sounds, consonants such as ‘K’ and ‘G’ and vowels e.g. ‘I’ and ‘U’ can normally be heard by the age of 3 months old. The Childs vocal sounds will vary from those of adults. The second stage of sound production is known as babbling, and is reached at approximately 6 months. This may consist of syllable type sounds e.g. ‘mu’, and by the age of 9 months there are noticeable intonation patterns in the consonant and vowel combinations. Typical features of the later stage of babbling are sound play and imitation. Parents and others who interact with the child react to the babbling and treat it as contribution to social interaction, however incoherent it may be.
The holophrastic stage follows pre-language, and is reached at the age of 12-18 months. Holophrastic is a single form functioning as a phrase or sentence. The infant begins to produce a number of recognisable single utterances. The main characteristic of the holophrastic stage is the use of single terms foe everyday objects e.g. ‘cat’, ‘cup’ ‘what’s that’ etc. Although many of the forms are used to name a single object the infant may be using them to refer to something else and extending their use, but may not be able to string the two separate forms together to form the one phrase.
The two-word stage occurs at approx. 18-20 months, and involves a variety of combinations to make more complex phrases, e.g. ‘baby chair’, ‘mummy eat’ will appear. They may be interpreted in many different ways by the responding adult e.g. the phrase ‘baby chair’, may be taken as an expression of possession ‘this is baby’s chair’, as a request ‘put baby in chair’, or as a statement ‘baby is in the chair’. The adult therefore reacts as if there is communication taking place; the child produces speech, and then receives feedback, which confirms to the child that the utterance has been successful. By the age of 2, the child will have a vocabulary of over 50 words, and is treated as an entertaining conversational partner by the primary caretaker, e.g. asking the child to say things in order to display his/her vast understanding of language.
Now that the child has a fairly large vocabulary the stage of telegraphic speech begins. This is the stage where the important things are said. Between 2 and 3 years old, the child begins to produce a number of multiple word utterances. The variation of word forms that begin to be used by the child are the interesting and prominent feature of telegraphic speech. Telegraphic speech is characterised by strings of lexical morphemes the smallest unit of meaning in a language in phrases e.g. ‘cat drink milk’. At this stage phrases such as ‘Andrew want ball’ display that the child has acquired some sentence building capacity. By the age of 2 and a Â½, the child’s vocabulary is expanding and he/she is now beginning to initiate conversation more frequently. At the age of three, the vocabulary has grown to hundreds of words, and the pronunciation is becoming more like that of an adult. Speech initiated by the child is now coherent.
The child now reaches the stage of morphology, and is going beyond the boundaries of telegraphic speech. Inflectional morphemes are now being used by the child to indicate the grammatical function of the nouns and verbs being used. A morpheme is the smallest piece of speech that has meaning. The child begins to use ‘ing’ to form expressions such as ‘mummy reading book’, ‘s’ to make plurals ‘cats’, and the possessive inflection ‘s’ is used to form ‘girl’s dog’. When adding’s’ to form plurals however the child may develop a tendency to over generalise and add ‘s’ and ‘es’ to words such as ‘foot’, and ‘house’. During the stage of morphology the child is trying to work out and understand how to use the linguistic system as well as use it as a form of communication.
Syntax is an important part of the acquisition process showing that the child understands what they are hearing but their use of syntactic structure is being employed to allow them to express what they are hearing around them in their own individual way. There are three identifiable stages in the formation of questions and the use of negatives, stage 1 takes place between 18 and 26 months and the ‘wh’ form is added to the beginning with a slight rise in intonation e.g. ‘where kitty?’. Stage 2 between 22 and 30 months more complex expressions can be formed and more ‘wh’ forms are used e.g. ‘You want eat?’ .Stage 3 between 24 and 40 months, the inversions of subject and verbs has appeared ‘How that opened?’
There are several semantic features of the acquisition process, the most common being overextension, during the holophrastic stage the child overextends the meaning of a word on the basis of similar shapes, size, movement etc e.g. ‘bow-wow’ for cats, horses, and cows or ‘tick-tock’ for a watch, bathroom scales etc. Lexical relations are also a feature of child semantics. The child will almost always use the middle level term in a set of similar words e.g. ‘animal: dog: poodle’, the child will use dog, as a word for animals.
By the age of 5, the child will have a vocabulary of over 2000words and will
have completed the majority of the basic language acquisition process.