Language Acquisition

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Introduction …………………………………………......……..…      3

Main body

1. Language acquisition ………………………….….….......…     4

2. The stages of language acquisition ……………....…......…..      5

2.1. The prelinguistic stage ……….….........…...........…     7

2.2. Babbling ………………………........…...........……      7

2.3. One-word utterances ……………..…....…...........…     9

2.4. Two-word utterances ……………..............…..…....      10

2.5. Telegraphic speech …………………........…...……     13

2.6. Language learning during the pre-school period …..     16

3. The critical period …………………………………….......…      17

4. The summary of behaviours to expect of
children with normally developing speech and language ……     19

5. The language acquisition cannot be sped up ………….…….      20

6. Tips to help develop
speech communication in a child …………….……………..     22

Conclusion ………………………………………….……………..      24

Bibliography ………………………………………...…………….      25


     Children’s acquisition of language has long been considered one of the uniquely defining characteristics of human behaviour.
     Still today, it is the commonly held belief that children acquire their mother tongue through imitation of the parents, caregivers or the people in their environment. Linguists too had the same conviction until 1957, when a then relatively unknown man, A. Noam Chomsky, propounded his theory that the capacity to acquire language is in fact innate. This revolutionized the study of language acquisition, and after a brief period of controversy upon the publication of his book, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, in 1964, his theories are now generally accepted as largely true. As a consequence, he was responsible for the emergence of a new field during the 1960s, Developmental Psycholinguistics, which deals with children’s first language acquisition. He was not the first to question our hitherto mute acceptance of a debatable concept – long before, Plato wondered how children could possibly acquire so complex a skill as language with so little experience of life. Experiments have clearly identified an ability to discern syntactical nuances in very young infants, although they are still at the pre-linguistic stage. Children of three, however, are able to manipulate very complicated syntactical sentences, although they are unable to tie their own shoelaces, for example. Indeed, language is not a skill such as many others, like learning to drive or perform mathematical operations – it cannot be taught as such in these early stages. Rather, it is the acquisition of language which fascinates linguists today, and how it is possible. Noam Chomsky turned the world’s eyes to this enigmatic question at a time when it was assumed to have a deceptively simple explanation.
     Further in this term-paper I am going to describe the stages in child language acquistion starting from the very birth of an infant till the onset of puberty.


There are many facts that are intriguing about the language.

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"Language Acquisition." 25 May 2018
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The fact that all humans have it, and all non-humans do not. The fact that children are able to learn it very quickly. The fact that there exist so many languages and children of all countries are able to acquire them at the same speed. This list can go on and on, and I am sure that the reader can think of many other fascinating features of language.
As stated by cognitive researches “Language is paramount among the capacities that characterize humans, setting us off from even the most perfectly formed and functioning of the other beasts on earth so. As a matter of species pride – if nothing else – we would hold up language as a marker of our humanity and thus a focus of our scientific interests. By understanding language, we understand something important about ourselves.” (5,29)
     The way in which children acquire language is at the centre of a debate. Learning theorists such as Skinner (1957) maintained that language is acquired through reinforcement. Chomsky (1959) argued that language was far too complex to be learned so competently in such a short space of time, by cognitively immature toddlers, merely by reinforcement. He argued that the neonate arrives equipped with a LAD (Language Acquisition Device). This contains a set of rules common to all languages and allows children to learn any language which they are exposed to. Slobin (1985) suggested a similar innate device the LMC (Language-Making Capacity). The interactionist perspective suggests that a combination of biological and cognitive factors plus the linguistic environment are all necessary for the acquisition of language. (11, 17-28)
     There are many distinctions between the processes of learning and acquisition. For instance, the terms are generally used to separate first language acquisition from second language learning, and implied within this distinction is the gap between children of 0-5 years learning their mother tongue, and those beyond puberty who may begin at this stage to learn a second language, or more. The process is a conscious one in learning whereas it is subconscious in acquisition and in language acquisition the focus is on communication or reception of a message as opposed to syntax and grammar as is the case in language learning. Moreover, the context is usually crucial and meaningful in language acquisition, but need not be important to the same extent in language learning. Motivation, too, is a factor that may broaden the gulf between learning and acquisition, but need not be factor that may broaden the gulf between learning and acquisition, as for the latter the language is a matter of urgent necessity. Most importantly, however, the usual outcome of language acquisition is fluency, which is by no means guaranteed in language learning.
     We often ask questions such as, do you remember when you learned to tie your shoes, ride a bike, and eat with a fork. Sometimes we can remember because a parent helped us learn how to do these things. So, since we always speak the language of our parents, they must have helped us learn to speak our first language. But do you remember when your mother taught you the past tense? When your father laid down the rules for passive sentences? We do not remember these important moments of our childhood because they never occurred.
Our parents did not teach us how to walk and they did not teach us how to talk. Yet, we learned from them. How can this be? Certainly there must have been a subtle, perhaps intuitive teaching process that neither our parents nor we were aware of. We begin by imitating what we hear our parents say as best as we can, repeating random phrases. Our parents in subtle ways punish us for the childish speech errors we make and reward correct phrases. As our speech improves, our parents respond more positively and less negatively. The evidence then indicates that children do, in fact, absorb a massive number of sentences and phrases but rather than parrot them back, they abstract rules from them and create their own grammar which they then apply to create new utterances they have never heard before. Despite the fact that children don’t know when their parents are speaking grammatically and when they are making errors, all children grow up knowing the language perfectly.


     Children with normal hearing develop speech and language in predictable stages. While there may be variation in the times of onset, and length of time of each of these stages, they are always present. Should this pattern not develop normally, the child may face a lifelong communication handicap. Normal hearing is crucial for this development and thus deviation from this pattern of development is often a sign that the child has a hearing loss.
There exist a crucial time period in which a child must be exposed to the linguistic environment or any form of communication. The time of language acquisition can be described by the following timeline: Shortly before their first birthday, babies begin to understand words, and around that birthday, they start to produce them. This one-word can last from two months to a year. Around 18 month of age, language changes in two ways. Vocabulary growth increases; the child begins to learn words at a rate of one every two waking hours and will keep learning at that rate of faster throughout adolescence. Primitive syntax emerges, including two-word strings like “papa away” or “see pretty”. By the time they are two “many children speak in complex sentences”. It is safe to way that except for constructions that are rare, predominantly used in written language, or mentally taxing even to an adult, all parts of all languages are acquired before the child turns 4.
     It is worth mentioning that continuous tracking of language acquisition is a difficult task: Between the late 2s and mid-3s, children’s language blooms into fluent grammatical conversation so rapidly that it overwhelms the researchers who study it; no one has worked out the exact sequence. Sentence length increases steadily and, because grammar is a combinatorial system, reaching thousands before the third birthday. An interesting task would be to find out if this growth depends on culture or environment.
     Amazingly, children do not seem to favour any language. They swiftly acquire free word order, rich systems of case and agreement, strings of agglutinated suffixes, ergative case marking, all languages are acquired before the child turns 4.
     Babies start acquiring communication skills as soon as they are born. Luckily they are equipped with one of the most effective tools for communicating - their cry. And they make good use of this tool, as any sleep deprived parent can attest! Pretty quickly, babies are able to produce different cries; one for hunger; one for fatigue; one for fright. Since babies learn to differentiate their cries without any adult intervention, I think many parents assume that their baby will learn language just by hearing other people talk. While, it is true that babies will pick up some language, inflection and other conversational skills from what they hear, and the most effective method to insure that a child will acquire language is to talk directly to them, early and often. That is because babies are born imitators. (7, 35-39)

The language learning process goes through several stages:
·     Prelinguistic stage (from birthday till around 6 months of age) – crying, cooing, vocal play
·     Babbling (starts around 6 months of age) – consists in the seemingly random production of sounds
·     One-word utterances (12-15 months) – the child starts to say the words of the parents’ language
·     Two-word utterances (beginning at approximately 1-2 years old) – the child begins to form two-word utterances
·     Telegraphic speech (2-3 years) - Full sentences with syntactic structure appear


0-1     month (new-born stage): Reflexive behaviour, suck-swallow patterns, nondifferentiated crying, vegetative sounds.
New-borns prefer the sound of speech to other rhythmic sounds. DeCasper & Fifer (1980) find out that by 3 days of age new-born babies can recognize their mothers' voices. They can also discriminate consonant sounds such as ‘ba’ and ‘pa’.
2-3 months (cooing stage): Definite stop and start to oral movement. By 2 months they can discriminate the vowel sounds ‘a’ and ‘i’. Three months – gurgles and makes more vowel sounds.
4-6 months (babbling): Greater independent control of tongue, prolonged strings of sounds, experiments with sounds, sound play (da, ma, di, du ...). Five months – imitates sounds. Six months – babbles, using first single and then double syllables, combines vowels and consonants and talks to himself in a singsong. Deaf infants will babble manually at around the same age. Gestures and other non-verbal responses start at around 8-10 months. (9,44)


6-10 months (reduplication babbling): Repetitive syllable production, increased lip control, incompletely formed plosives (p,b,t,d) and nasals.
Seven to nine months – babbling rises and falls and sounds more like real conversation; baby imitates adult noises like a shout or cough, shouts to get attention. The child produces the full range of possible speech sounds – even those which do not occur in speech heard in immediate environment, and which she or he may later find “impossible” to reproduce when learning a foreign language. Thus, this does not occur by imitating the sounds in the parents’ language, since phonemes from other languages occur, and the frequency of phoneme production matches the frequency in the world’s languages rather than in the parents’ language. Also, infants at this age can tell sounds apart that are not distinguished by older members of the child’s linguistic community.
Around the age of 9 months, children usually begin to experiment with the early developing sounds such as p, m and b. These may consist of consonant-vowel (CV) combinations, such as ma or ba, and can increase to CVC mom or CVCV mama strings. Because these sounds are relatively visible, parent modelling can play an important role in a child’s acquisition of consonants.
Oviatt (1980) found that infants of 12-17 months can understand the meaning of many words before they can use them in their own speech. This is called 'receptive language' (9, 49-52)
If you introduce language and communication to a young baby in a responsive and caring manner, the baby will reciprocate with sounds, sound combinations and later with word approximations and eventually words. Here are three simple ideas to help babies of varying ages learn to communicate:
1)     A simple method with very young infants is to hold them close, make eye contact, exaggerate your smile and talk with a lilting voice. Within minutes, you have an infant “talking” back to you trying to imitate your facial and mouth movements. Since most babies are sensitive to sound and can pick up tension or upset in a person’s voice, it is important to remember to modulate your voice when speaking to them.
2)     By about four months, a baby will squeal with delight, coo, laugh and make sounds when looking at toys or familiar people. One of the best methods to elicit those responses is to read to a baby. People may kid you when you begin reading to your child when he/she is only three months old. It is for sure that exposing them to language at such an early age is one of the reasons, those teenagers devours books now, loves writing and will talk endlessly on the phone. Not only do books encourage language and communication but they also help to increase baby’s attention span.
3)     By about eight months, babies usually are making two letter sound productions such as “ga”, “da”, “ka” or “ba”. When a little one makes these sounds, it is a good idea to copy him or her and make the exact sounds back. Most times, a baby will figure out the “game”. (6, 57-63)


Shortly before their first birthday, babies begin to understand words, and around that time, they start to produce them. Altogether, it is between ten and twenty months the child finally begins to produce recognizable single words, and we say at this point that it is beginning to speak. The child starts to say the words of the parents’ language. This one-word stage continues for concrete time, as the child slowly adds new words to its vocabulary. That vocabulary does not grow rapidly. It includes several different kinds of words, but does not include any grammatical words, nor does the child use any grammatical endings such as past tenses or plurals. The words are often pronounced differently (probably because the child’s hearing hasn’t developed fully yet); for example, children tend to delete parts of hard-to-pronounce consonant clusters (such as the “str” in “string”), sometimes producing words with sounds that aren’t part of the parents’ language (such as “sring” - “sr” is not a permitted consonant cluster in English); finally, the errors the child makes often result from under – or overgeneralization (the proverbial case of calling every four-legged creature “doggie”). The words produced in one-word stage (or holophrastic stage) are not just any words. For example you get: cookie, drink, bad, fast, go, yes/no. But never: in, the and a. It looks as though the distinction between Open class and Closed class words (open-class words are "context" words like nouns, verbs, and adjectives, while closed-class words are "function" words such as articles, conjunctions, and auxiliaries) come into play. This then is further evidence to the Psychological reality of that division. These single words may even function as illocutionary acts: may assert, command or question. (9, 55)
Single words represent an entire sentence, i.e. “Milk” spoken by a toddler at this stage of language development, may be used to represent the sentence, 'Please may I have some milk'.
Scientists have discovered that infants’ first words, and the lists are almost identical all over the world. Children differ only in how much they name objects or engage in social interaction using memorized routines. Presumably children record some words parents use in isolation, or in stressed final positions. Then they look for matches to these words in longer stretches of speech, and find other words by extracting these residues in between the matched portions.(9, 56)


This stage begins at approximately at the age of one year to one and half. The child begins to form two-word utterances, of a sort that look like edited versions of grammatically correct, complete sentences. Vocabulary growth humps to a new word every two hours minimum rate that the child will maintain through adolescence. Syntax begins, with strings of the minimum length that allows it, namely, two. These two-word sentences already reflect the language being acquired – in ninety five percent of them, the words are properly ordered. Importantly, a child at this stage hardly ever says anything with non-adult word order. Still, however, there are no grammatical words or endings. There is more going on in children’s minds than in what comes out of their mouths. Even before they put two words together, babies can comprehend a sentence using its syntax. (9, 58)
At this stage some pronouns, especially “me/you” appear. Also appears the intonation and a structure of a sentence (often N V). Children at this stage might say “doggie gone” – an edited or telescoped version of “The doggie is gone” This shows grasp of phrase structure rules.
Combinations of words into short sentences, which tend to leave out articles and prepositions, start at around 18-24 months. These sentences demonstrate that children use syntactically correct word orders.
The short sentences which children utter at this stage usually omit words such as a, on, and the, Gerken et al (1990) suggest that this may be because they see these function words as 'spacers' between the more heavily stressed content words.
     At this stage the great development of language can be observed, and it is very interesting to record baby’s each word, at what age and how did it produce.
As language learning proceeds, the pace quickens and by 18-24 months infants may add up to 40 new words a week to their vocabulary, Dromi (1987). In total at age of 18 months: Vocabulary of a baby may be of 20-100 words including nouns and verbs and other parts of speech and single word sentences.
For example, Debby’s mother recorded the words she had pronounced during the 8 months after the appearance of her first word at 9 months (this was [adi], used both for her "daddy" and her sister "Annie") - she had acquired about 35 words. In the two left hand columns is a list of these words, organized very roughly by category ("Names 1", etc.). During the two weeks from 17 months - 17 months and a half, she more than doubled her vocabulary (the words in the two right hand columns, "Names 2", etc.). (9, 69)

Words prior to 17 months      New Words (17 months)
names 1                               names 2
mama                               Auntie
Ani (her sister)                         Lala [Claudia]
Daddy, dada
animals 1                               animals 2
     cat [gæ]                              hen
bird [bu]                              pig [pik]
body parts 1                               body parts 2
head [æt']                               mouth [maas]
hand [æn]     
     eye [æ]
other nouns 1                          other nouns 2
seat                                    spoon [poon]
juicee, jus     jus (also extended for 'ocean')
apple [æbu]     'diaper'; 'apple' [æbu]
keys      book
homee      'milk' [mik]
bus      'towel' [tao]
bock 'block'      money
baba 'baby'      'meat' [meyt]
hat [æt']     shirt*
'light' [æt']     'icecream' [ki]
ball [bA]      rice*
mess      cup
'ocean' [oshi]
'lady' [edi]
'yoghurt' [oku]
'glasses' [ga]
'dress' [des]
verbs 1                               verbs 2
'stuck' [dak]      'wait' [eyt]
back      'go upstairs' (counting) [tu]
up      'drop' [dop]
'out' [At']      sip 'sleep'
atch 'watch'
bye bye
'thankyou' [æku]
animal noises 1                          animal noises 2
hoo (owl)                               moo (cow, zebra)
af (dog: 'woof')
miæ (cat)
(t)ee (bird)
lalala (pig)
bææææ (sheep)
omom (car)
Nonsense words

* - phonetics not noted, but not adult form!

She also began innovating in her use of a suffix she attached to a number of words, and started to use two-word combinations for the first time. A good sample of these is listed below.

New suffix added 17 months: -iy or -iya, -iyo
Homie, bookie, juicie, Auntiya, Anniya, Daddiya, Mamiya, juiciya, bibiya, (=baby), shoesiyo

Two-word combinations beginning at 17 months
Annie shoe (holding sister's shoe)
Annie baby, Annie baby, Annie baby (repeated many times in bed)
Ernie dop (=drop) - music box closes on Ernie
Daddy keys (looking at picture of keys in book)
Annie keys (looking at picture of keys in book)
Mommy, up (wanting to be picked up)
Daddy milk
Annie [k~i ] 'ice cream'
Daddy book [observed twice]
Annie run
Daddy glasses [dædi ga]
Mommy, shoe
Auntie back (when she saw Auntie back after her nap)
Auntie car (seeing a red car in a parking lot)
Annie head (pour water to rinse Annie's hair)
Annie, han = Annie has a fly in her hand (chasing after her to look at it)
mami bash = toothbrush
mami oshi = toothpaste
mama! æku = 'thank you'
Annie oku (pointing to Annie's yoghurt)
Debby bookie = Debby's book
Lala shoe (bringing Claudia's shoes)
mami æt = Mommy out ('let me out'???)
Dadi, ee (telling Dad to clap for a trick Debby did)
Annie sleep [ani sip]. Dadi. (A. in next room with door shut.)
Annie dess (pointing to closet, dresses visible.)
Mami, nana. (reading re a baby with a banana)
Mami, ack. (put the velcro strip back together again.)


This stage begins at age of 2-3 years. At the age of 36 months vocabulary of a baby has grown to 900 words including nouns, verbs, pronouns and adjectives. Three word sentences. About 90% of the child’s speech is intelligible.
Full sentences with syntactic structure appear – the child speaks his or her first full, simple sentences, and then engages in explosive growth in syntactic complexity so that by the child’s third birthday very complex statements are formed. Children’s two- and three-word utterances look like samples drawn from longer potential sentences expressing a complete and more complicated idea. Children, though not producing complicated sentences, do produce strings containing all of its components, and in the correct order. This is still without closed class items, some affixes (past tense marker, plural) SVO word order (almost invariable), constant changing and adding of rules. For example, Labov and Labov studied their daughter Jessie’s acquisition of inversion in WH-question: Adults' rule of inversion: What do you want? Where have you been? Why are you crying? Who did you see? How will you do that? That is, Modal / have / be inverts with subject. Child speech is more likely to contain: What you want? Where you have been? Why you are crying? Who you saw? (9, 70)
The two-word stage lasts for several months, and then, in the words of the linguist Steven Pinker, ‘all hell breaks loose’. Utterances suddenly become much longer: four, five, six, seven, ten words and more. Grammatical words and endings appear and, in a matter of months, the child is using almost the whole range of adult grammatical forms of words. All kinds of new constructions appear – negation, subordinate clauses, and questions – and are quickly used with increasing accuracy and confidence. Waxman & Senghas (1992) researches has shown that 2 year olds use strategies to enable them to find out the meaning of new words. (1, 54)
According to Chomsky, sentence length increases steadily, and because grammar is a discrete combinatorial system, the number of syntactic types increases exponentially, doubling every month, reaching the thousands before the third birthday.
Debby at age 24 months, playing with toys and looking at books pronounce such words:

1.     Mom: Do you see Bert, Debby?
Debby: I don't see him. . . right here!
2.     That not go in here! [color matching]
3.     I can't do it [having trouble sticking a block in
4.     No shoes on Mommy [one of the monsters]
5.     Mom: You put them all back Debby.
Debby: Dump 'em out Mom.
6.     Can you? [Mom tries to help]
No, me do it!
7.     No, no Mommy.
8.     Where's this one goes, here?
9.     It doesn't fit in Mommy.
10.     I don't want that.
11.     I got to fill it up.
12.     One piece missing.
13.     Fill it up, and then.
14.     Another one Mommy.
15.     Mom: Where, Darling?
Debby: I'm looking for it. [bigger kids go off to look at pictures]
16.     I want to go too Mom.
17.     I found my donut Mom.
18.     I want to peek inside. [wants to go where bigger kids are]
19.     I want to see what Annie is doing,
20.     and you do too.
21.     I don't know where it is.
22.     Where's Annie?
23.     In her room. [answers her own question]
24.     Mom: Lots of pieces are missing Debby. [now doing jigsaw puzzle]
25.     Debby: I guess so. There. Behind me.
26.     All done. It's all done. [puzzle]
27.     It's very soon.
28.     Maybe he's sleep. [looking around at stuffed Sesame St. figures]
29.     And Bert's awake,
30.     I don't know.
31.     Look at that mouse over, the bear and the rabbit.
32.     Mom: Ask the bear if he wants to read the book.
33.     Debby: Bear, you want look into book? [Debby shows the book to her toy bear]
34.     Listen Teddy Bear, have a gingerbread house.
35.     This is a bow and this is a mouse.
36.     A mouse, bear!
37.     The cheese. [this is on the last page of the book]
38.     Mom: Did the bear like that book?
Debby: He wants to read it again.
39.     Listen, Bear, listen to it.
40.     I'm so happy to read that book.
41.     Mom: Ask the bear if he likes that book.
Debby: Ah Bear, you like it?
42.     Mom: Does he like the book?
Debby: He likes it.
43.     So happy and so fun.
44.     What's the mouse doin' in the candies?
45.     What's this mouse, bear?
46.     What this is Mommy?
47.     Mom: That's a panda bear.
Debby: A panda bear! I guess so.
48.     This [her white bear] is a panda bear too.
49.     No this is not a panda bear.
50.     I'm so happy to see you! [to bear]
51.     I no like that book.
52.     Can you read it to me?
53.     That lady's upside down!
54.     Mom: Ask Panda Bear if he likes the book.
Debby: Panda Bear, are you like it?
55.     You can read it; I can't read it.
56.     Bear, are you liking it?
57.     Oh it broke, sorry it broke. [page of the book ripped]
58.     Band-new tape on it.
59.     Are you liking it? I don't like it.
60.     Mommy it broke.
61.     Are you liking it? I don't like it.
62.     He know it broke.
63.     Are you liking- Annie come on!! [to her sister who has emerged from her room]
64.     Are you liking it?
65.     Daddy's hammering the blocks? [hearing hammering sound outside her room]


By around 3 years children are inserting the 'spacers' which they previously omitted. They are also capable of asking well-formed questions. Grammatical morphemes i.e. suffixes, prefixes and auxiliary verbs which modify the meanings of words and sentences. There is evidence to suggest that these grammatical morphemes are learnt in a particular order. This may be because the morphemes children learn first are not as complex as those learnt later. Rules of grammar at this stage are often over regularized. i.e. "I brushed my tooths", and "It runned away". This is strange as children have often aware of the correct forms of many verbs before they learn grammatical morphemes. (1, 60)
Transformational rules begin to be acquired around the ages of 2-2.5 years. These rules enable children to produce negative sentences i.e. "I was not eating pizza", and also to change declarative sentences to questions. This compares with the child's earlier questions that were usually declarative sentences spoken with a rising intonation that inferred a question. i.e. "Where doggie going?". Bloom, Merken & Wootten (1982) found that children at this age begin to ask 'what', 'when', and 'how' questions before they are actually requesting information.
At first negative sentences are produced by simply putting a negative word in front of a statement. Later children learn to negate sentences in the same way as adults.
Between 2.5 - 5 years children begin to express relational concepts. Big/little are usually the first to appear, by 2.5 years these can be used to express relative sizes.
Researchers have found that children acquire spatial contrasts in a particular order. Telegraphic speech was thought to be universal to all cultures, but research by de Villiers & de Villiers (1992) has shown that children from Russia and Turkey produce grammatical speech from the beginning. This may be because there are less rigid syntactic rules and more stress is put on 'spacers', than in other languages.(4, 78)
At the telegraphic stage, children often use context to convey meaning. The same two-word utterance therefore may be used to mean different things.
Non-verbal gestures start playing a part at around 2 years of age when children realize more fully that conversation involves turn taking. The need (or benefits) of politeness when making requests is also being incorporated into their language skills. At the age of 48 months vocabulary of a child is now at about 1500 words. Flavell et al (1993) found that although parents don't consciously teach their children grammar, they do teach them the etiquettes of conversation.
There are two explanations for this particular order of learning:
The adjectives learned first - big/little are used more commonly by adults than those learned later i.e. wide/narrow. They are also less semantically precise, big/little apply to more situations than wide/narrow or deep/shallow. Pragmatics (treating points from a practical point of view) and Conversational skills 3-year-old children are starting to realize that not everything that is said, has a literal meaning. They also adjust their speech when communicating with either younger children or adults. By the time they go to school around 5 years of age, children have learned a lot about spoken language in a very short space of time, and are able to communicate in effective fairly complex sentences. During the next 3-4 years they will refine their speech and add many new words to their vocabularies. The period between 6 years and adolescence is not covered in this section. (8. 57)


Related to the idea of ‘language genes’ is the hypotheses of a genetically based developmental schedule determining a critical period for language acquisition. Since Lenneberg (1967), the notion that first language acquisition can only be normal if it occurs during a critical period (from age two until the onset of puberty, according to him) has been generally accepted. Often, this critical period has been assumed to be a specific feature of language acquisition, and not one of learning in general. Lenneberg cited four aspects of brain development related to these hypotheses: (1) pronounced morphological development with growth coming to a halt at the end of the period; (2) steady and orderly histological development (of dendritic arbors in particular) during the period; (3) high levels of cholesterol and cerebrosides related to myelination; an (4) changes in brain electrophysiology. (7,35)
Over the years from 2-7, when language is mastered, children constantly adjust their grammar until it matches that of the adult speaker population. This critical period between the ages of 2-7 suggests that first language learning, like walking, is an innate capacity of human beings triggered by a level of development more than feedback from the environment. That is, so long as a child hears a language – any language – when they reach this critical period they will learn it perfectly. If this is true, any child not hearing language during this period not only should not learn to speak but also should not be able to learn to speak. (1,19)
Evidence for a critical period of language acquisition is abundant and the ethical implications of research on this question are obvious. However, there have been a few tragic non-scientific bits of evidence that supports the innateness + critical period hypothesis and there are cases of ‘feral’ and deprived children, who receive language stimulation only after the onset of puberty and do not acquire language normally. The first bit of evidence comes from the so-called Wild Boy of Aveyron, Victor. Victor is the name given to a boy found roaming the woods of Averyon in southern France about a century ago. He behaved like a wild animal and gave all indications that he had been raised by wild animals, eating off the floor, making canine noises, disliking baths and clothes. He also could not speak. He was taken in by Doctor Jean Marc Itard who had developed a reputation for teaching the deaf to speak. However, after years of work, Itard failed to teach Victor to more than a few lexemes. A similar event unfolded in Los Angeles in 1961 when a 13-year-old girl was discovered who had been isolated in a baby crib most of her life and never spoken to. She was physically immature, had difficulty walking and could not speak. Psychologists at UCLA spent years trying to teach ‘Genie’, as they called her to protect her identity, to speak. While Genie did get to the point she could communicate, her speech never advanced beyond the kind of constructions normal children begin. In other words, she could use words to the same extent as chimpanzees but could not manipulate grammar, as indicated in the prefixes, suffixes and ’function’ words missing. At middle age she stopped talking altogether and was soon committed to a mental institution. The evidence is not conclusive but all of it suggests that language is an innate capacity of human beings, which is acquired during a critical period between 2-7. After that period, it becomes increasingly more difficult for humans to learn languages, which explains why learning a second language is more difficult than learning a first one (or two or even three). (7,55)


Birth to 3 Months:
•coo and gurgle
•laugh and use voice when played with
•watch your face when spoken to

3 Months to 6 Months:
•babble (use a series of sounds)
•make at least 4 different sounds when using voice
•babble to people when they speak

6 Months to 9 Months:
•babble using "song-like tunes"
•use voice (not crying) to get your attention
•use different sounds and appear to be naming things

9 Months to 12 Months:
•use jargon (appear to be talking)
•use consonant sounds (b, d, g, m, n) when "talking"
•jabber in response to a human voice, using changes in loudness, rhythm, and tone

First true words appear between ages 12 to 15 months
12 Months to 18 Months:
•give one-word answers to questions
•imitate many new words
•use words more than one syllable with meaning (ex. "bottle")
•speak 10 to 20 words

18 Months to 24 Months:
•use own first name
•use "my" to get toys and other objects
•tell experiences using jargon and words
•use 2-word sentences (ex: "my shoe," "go bye-bye," "more juice")

24 Months to 30 Months:
•answer questions (What do you do when you are sleepy?)
•use plurals (ex: "2 books," "dogs")
•speak 100 to 200 words

30 Months to 36 Months:
•use question forms correctly (who? what? where? when?)
•use negative forms (ex: "it is not," "I can't")
•relate experiences using 4- to 5-word sentences


Baby ”talks” long before any actual words emerge and language development may follow a general sequence.
Some babies are much slower than this timetable – development is highly individual.
     Generally, a baby’s first words, at around a year, take the longest to learn. After he/she gains first word, you may have to wait weeks or even months for the next one. As a rough guide, a baby may learn one to three words a month until he/she has about 10, which could be at any stage from 13 to 19 months. After this, quite often the pace tends to quicken, with words coming thick and fast – so much so that this phase, around two years, is called the “vocabulary or naming explosion.” In this phase, babies may learn a new word a day until gaining a vocabulary of around 50 words. A month or two after this point come the first sentences; these are of two words like "Daddy gone”, or “Mummy work”. From now on, vocabulary increases, sentence structure becomes more complex, and probably by three a child will have acquired enough mastery of language to be asking non-stop questions about everything under the sun.(9, 138)
     Late talking may simply be due to laziness, especially in later born children (i.e., third onward) because the older children tend to talk for them, or to understand what the child means who just vocalizes or gestures. Another reason for later development may be that the child is focusing on some other aspect of his/her development, for example physical growth and motor exploration.
     Occasionally, late talking may indicate physical problems such as deafness, or neurological disorders such as autism, but in this case, it is likely to go with other noticeable signs of abnormal development. A tiny group of late talkers may also lag behind in cognitive development. Generally – these tend to be children who have trouble understanding the language of other people.
     Most often though, late language development is nothing to worry about. Most children who talk later usually catch up later, and speak early does not mean the child will be especially bright or good at reading.
     Genetic variations can account for later language acquisition. It would seem that part of the machinery for learning language is inbuilt into the brain and can be inherited, and some research indicates this may have more to do with matters such as the speed of learning new words, and the ability to understand others language. Brain maturity also plays a part, and of course, this too varies very much from child to child. For example, as Broca’s area (Broca's area of the brain - a small patch of the cerebral cortex; adjacent to the part of the motor-control strip dedicated to the jaws, lip, and tongue; seems to be implicated in grammatical processing in general) develops, the region in the brain for language production, children develop speech and grammar. Amazingly, the brain knows which areas the baby needs to be ready first. Wernicke’s area, the centre of language comprehension, develops a good six months before Broca’s area even starts.
     Environment is another major influence, especially in terms of pronunciation, rate of grammatical development. Parents who talk and read more to the child regularly, who share toys and games with the child, and who respond to the child’s words, seem to have children whose language develops faster.
     Parents over-anticipate their baby’s needs. The baby’s needs are being met by pointing, gestures and by interpretation or trial and error problem solving by parents, siblings and grandparents. As a result, their baby has no real motivation to acquire language. These parents have to make their toddler understand that they and the whole family expect that the child will use words to communicate his needs is a vitally important step in helping him actually acquire the language. Between eight months and twelve months is a good time to begin identifying objects’ names for the baby. For example: If he fusses and you figure out he wants a bottle of juice, identify it again for him while you help him to drink. Talk about the juice. Is it good juice? See if you can get him to respond with some sound.
     Everyone is most likely to spot problems between ages one and three. This is when language progresses most rapidly as maturing takes place in the sensory cortex, the part of the brain that processes messages from the senses. What is key is that the child appears to understand what you are saying to him/her. (9,144)


1.     Ensure that the child is wearing appropriate amplification or other sensory aids during all waking hours of the day.
2.     Talk to the child clearly, at a normal conversational level, and at close range.
3.     Be aware of the child's interests, and talk to him/her about the features in the objects and events that are taking place while observing them.
4.     Follow the child's focus of attention. Don't try to constantly lead or control topics of discussion.
5.     Talk to the child about the routine situations in his/her life.
6.     Talk about shared experiences and events and objects that are common to both of you.
7.     Use different voice patterns when indicating various aspects of speech to the child.
8.     Use intonation to mark important elements in utterances.
9.     Allow the child plenty of time to respond during conversations.
10.     Shift gradually the responsibility for being understood from you to the child as he acquires more spoken language.
11.     Use mainly complete sentences when speaking.
12.     Provide the child with the opportunity to acquire language by participating in activities which are common in life.
13.     Maintain a close relationship with professionals in order to provide the child with the optimal opportunities to develop spoken language communication.
14.     Be prepared to be the primary person responsible for the initial development of the child's spoken language.
15.     Work in as many one-on-one situations as possible until the child has acquired reasonable communication skills.
16.     Remember children who have learned in primarily one-on-one situations have to learn additional communication skills to interact appropriately in a group setting.
17.     Remember to set aside time to just play with the child without concentrating on language development.
18.     Do not begin formal teaching of vowels and consonants until ample time has been spent on the informal learning of spoken language.
19.     Remember that speech production and reception are complex issues and give the child adequate time to learn them before you conclude that he/she cannot handle them.
20.     Use meaningful communication as a base for developing spoken language.
21.     Optimize the child's contact with his/her hearing peers in order to enhance natural development of his/her spoken language skills.
22.     Motivate the child to talk by ensuring that his/her experiences with the acquisition of spoken language are successful.
23.     Adopt an alternative communication system only as a last resort.


Language acquisition refers to the process where a normally developed child is able to become a proficient language user without having to make seemingly difficult efforts. Acquisition, therefore, is in contrast with ‘learning’ which refers to the processes where deliberate efforts have to be made in order to become proficient with the use of language, for instance, the ability to write and read.
Children seem to be able to acquire a language at a speed no adults can match. By the age of three, a child is able to communicate with adults as well as with peers for his/her needs. From the analysis of the child’s acquisition process of a language, it seems that the child is a ‘linguist’ him/herself in that the child is able to construct his/her ‘grammar’ of the language, hence the ‘little linguist’ theory. Each child goes through several stages before he/she starts talking. The acquisition of language starts as soon as a child is born. From birthday till around six months of age is the prelinguistic stage, when a child is crying and cooing. Then comes the stage of babbling that lasts from about seven to nine months, the child then produces the full range of possible speech sounds - even those which do not occur in speech heard in immediate environment. One-word utterances start from twelve until fifteen month of age. The child's vocabulary includes some several different kinds of words, but does not include any grammatical words, nor grammatical endings. The child's vocabulary in this stage does not grow rapidly. But the rapidity of growth of vocabulary starts at the stage of two-word utterances. Here the intonation and a structure of a sentence appear. However, there are no grammatical words or endings. At the age of three the child starts to pronouns the full sentences with syntactic structure and the vocabulary has grown to almost one thousand of words including nouns, verbs, pronouns and adjectives.
     However, what a child does when she or he learns language: what exactly does a child do? Whatever it is, it is universal – it is acquired regardless of culture, language, class, etc. – it is effortless.

Works cited:

1.     Bates, E., Bretherton, I and Snyder, L. (1988) From first words to grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2.     Bloom, L. (1973) One word at a time. The Hague: Mouton
3.     Brown, R. (1973) A fist language: The early stages. London: George Allen and Unwin.
4.     Chomsky, N. (1968) Language and mind. New York: Harcourt.
5.     Greenfield, P. M. (1991) Language, tools and brain: The ontogeny and phylogeny of hierarchically organized sequential behavior. Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
6.     Leonard, L. B. (1976) Meaning in child language. New York: Grune and Stratton.
7.     MacNamara, J. (1972) Cognitive basis of language learning in infants. Psychological Review.
8.     Pettito, L. (1987) 'Language' in the prelinguistic child. In F. Kessel (Ed.) The development of language and language researchers. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum
9.     Scollon, R. (1976) Conversations with a one-year-old. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press
10.     Sinclair-de-Zwart, H. (1973) Language acquisition and cognitive development. In T. Moore (Ed.) Cognitive development and the acquisition of language. New York: Academic Press.
11.     Trask, R.L. (1995) Language – the Basics’, TJ Press LTD, Padstow, Cornball, London.
12.     Zinober, B. and Martlew, M. (1985) The development of communicative gestures. In M. Barret (Ed.) Children's single word speech. Chichester: Wiley. Pp.: 183-215.

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