Childrens' Learning

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Linguistics is the scientific study of language. It endeavours to answer the question – what is language and how is it represented in the mind? Language is a system of symbols and rules; exclusive in its form to human beings that enables us to communicate. Symbols are things that stand for other things: words, either written or spoken, are symbols and the rules specify how words are ordered to form sentences. Language symbols are arbitrary, with no necessary connection between the symbol, be it word or gesture, and the object or idea to which it refers. For example, if one wanted to construct a new word for ‘tree’, they could use almost any legitimate combination of sounds that are not already being used for other purposes. However, symbols must be used systematically for effective communication to occur. The arbitrary symbol system must be shared; for communication to take place at least two people must have access to the system.

There are a number of dimensions to language acquisition and development and each stage occurs chronologically. These are as follows:

· Phonology – study of the sound patterns of language. It is concerned with how sounds or ‘phonemes’ are organised and examines what happens to speech sounds when they are combined to form words and how these sounds interact with each other. It endeavours to explain what these phonological processes are in terms of formal rules.

· Semantics – is our knowledge of word meanings and how we acquire vocabulary. The semantic component is made up of morphemes, the smallest units of meaning that may be combined with each other to make up words. For example, the word ‘paper’ and ‘s’ are two morphemes that make up the word ‘papers’.

· Syntax – syntax is the study of sentence structure. It attempts to describe what is grammatical in a particular language in terms of rules. These rules detail an underlying structure and a transformational process. The underlying structure for English, for example, would have a subject-verb-object sentence order (‘James kicked the football’) and the transformational process would allow an alteration of the word order, which could produce something like ‘the football was kicked by James.’ The syntactic component consists of the rules that enable us to combine morphemes into sentences. As soon as a child uses two morphemes together as in ‘more juice’, he or she is using a syntactic rule about how morphemes are combined to convey meaning.
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