The contents of this assignment aims firstly to assess theories of language development with reference to an example of adult-child conversation. The second section will discuss the adult’s role in language development in relation to proposed theory. In the third section we will examine how one aspect of language could be developed within an early years setting, evaluate this practice and then make reference to any further steps that could be taken.
Children’s language development It is generally accepted that language consists of an agreed set of symbols which enable us to communicate with members of the same culture as ourselves (Cardwell 1996). Language can be verbal, non-verbal or a combination of the two. Throughout childhood we acquire and develop language, to do this we need to have a firm grasp of the subsections, or components, of this language. Winyard (1996) states there are five main components to human language, these are phonology, semantics, grammar, pragmatics and intonation. From birth babies show the desire to communicate through the way they enjoy sharing their facial expressions, gestures and body language and pre-verbal babbling (Bruce and Meggitt 1999). As children get older they develop more complex language.
The details of an adult-child conversation were recorded and transcribed (Appendix 1), the child is six years old. The child’s phonological development is not yet complete, in lines 18 and 21 T pronounces ‘br’ as ‘bw’. It has been recognised that until the age of six most children have difficulty pronouncing at least one phoneme (Flanagan 1994) and that children do not develop an entire range of speech sounds until they are seven years old (Hoff-Ginsberg 1997).T’s use of semantics shows that he is fully aware of word meanings and is able to convey his message in a fairly adult like fashion. He also has the ability to understand what is being said to him. With reference to grammar this will be easier to discuss if we divide it into further subsections.
Bruce and Meggitt (1999) suggest that the grammar of a language will usually include verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs and pronouns. We must also consider syntax, the rules that determine the way in which words are arranged.T uses a variety of verbs within this sample (lines 3, 10, 16, 22), children develop a use of verbs as one word utterances within the first stage of language development for example, ‘go’ or ‘gone’, in stage two the emergence of grammatical structure may see verbs placed after a subject for example, ‘Daddy gone’, and by the fifth stage children are able to use verbs confidently in longer sentences (Wells 1986).Nouns are also predominant in T’s language using them to describe places (lines 9, 12), people (line 3) and objects (lines 3, 17).
Clark (1979) states that the particular nouns children use are, unsurprisingly, gathered from their experience for example, names of body parts, familiar people and places. Linked closely to this is his use of pronouns which prevent him from repeating nouns over and over, and allow his sentences to flow more easily (lines 12-14). T often uses adjectives to add description to a noun (line 3), however his use of adverbs is limited, one example can be seen in line 6.Syntax, or grammatical rules, can be seen to be fairly developed in T’s language with correct word order, use of plurals (line 13) and preposition (line 3). However, there is still some over-generalisation of grammatical rules indicating his morphological skills are not yet complete, this problem is not continuous as comparisons of lines 20 and 26 show.
Theory indicates that children often have problems learning these rules as they are not used regularly in the English language and by four years old most will have disappeared (Crystal 1986). He talks in longer sentences using a range of function words between key-words, this shows the child has recognised that function words form a key part of English grammar and he can apply them to his own language.In relation to joining his conjunction range is limited using only ‘and’ in the sample however, this does not mean his range is not wider but the opportunity may not have arisen for him to use them. Hoff-Ginsberg (1997) says although conjunctions can be seen in the speech of three year olds a full variety may not be used until age eight. Lastly, we can see T is aware of the appropriate pragmatics for this type of communication. Looking at suggestions for pragmatic use by Dewart and Summers (1995) T falls into the appropriate categories for his age.The role of the adult With reference to language development and the role of adults some say that the child’s social environment must be responsible for language development. Right from the very beginning adults play a role in the language development of children.
By assuming that children want to, and have the ability to communicate, they talk to them, make eye contact, smile and play with them. Bruner (1983) provided a theory which emphasised social interaction, mainly with adults, as a basis for language development.He suggested a Language Acquisition Support System (LASS) which predisposes children to social interactions not just environmental exposure, this helps the child to form a sense of identity and be motivated to expand their language. However, other theories suggest the processes are more intricate focussing on the ubiquitous properties of language and dialect, stating that sequences of language development are broadly similar in all societies, in other words the common features that occur in all languages suggest some part of language development must be genetic (Banyard 1996). Chomsky argued that speech sounds and meaning is not a simple association relationship, as suggested by behaviourists, but instead we need to distinguish between the arrangement of words in assertion and the logical, grammatical relationships.He proposed that humans have an innate language acquisition device (LAD) permitting children to listen to the speech of others, extract the grammatical rules and apply them to their own language (Cardwell 1996). We can see that both environmental and innate factors have a role to play in the child’s development of language.
The way in which adults talk to babies and young children is misleadingly labelled ‘motherese’, the misleading part being that it is all adults, and some older children, who talk to them in this way. This type of speech is characterised by higher pitched voice teamed with varied and exaggerated intonation (Fernald 1985).Within the same language sample as before the adult can be seen to bring four prominent contributions to the conversation, each of which will play a part in enabling the child’s speech to develop further.
The first is linguistic competence, the adult shares their knowledge with the child in lines 10 and 11 giving a name to the day of the week where a particular event occurs. Secondly, during the sample, although the whole class is present, the adult remains focused on T and devotes their time and attention to him alone. She also allows him time to think about his answer to questions (see comment after line 18). She uses child-directed speech, not in the typified ‘motherese’ sense as the child is six years old, but her language is clear and of a level which is appropriate for him.
Snow (1986) calls these ‘semantically contingent utterances’. Lastly, the adult can be seen to scaffold the child’s language in lines 10 and 20, she provides him with some of the support and encouragement he needs to talk further.The level of control the adult has over the conversation can be categorised by Wood (1986) stating five levels of, enforced repetition (being the most control), two choice questions, WH type questions, personal contribution, and phatics (being the least control). Looking at the coding in red on the sample (appendix 1) we can see the adult has a medium to high control over the conversation asking either two choice questions (lines 5, 15) or WH type questions (lines 1, 11, 24).The level of control she takes in the conversation is most probably due to the structured environment in which it is taking place and the need to manage the time they have efficiently. By changing her use of questioning the teacher may have been able to change the child’s responses, and thus develop his language further. Many of the child’s answers are concise, only on one occasion does he talk around the subject (lines 14-19). By using less two-choice questions and adding more personal contributions the adult may have allowed the child more chance to express his opinions.