What Is Language?
How Language Develops
Biological and Environmental Influences
What is Language?
Defining Language
Form of communication, whether spoken, written, or
signed, based on system of symbols.
Infinite Generativity: Ability to produce an endless
number of meaningful sentences using a finite set of
words and rules
What is Language?
Language’s Rule Systems
Sound system of language; how the
sounds are used and combined –
phoneme is smallest unit of sound
morphemes are units of meaning
involved in word formation
Ways words are combined to form
acceptable phrases and sentences
Meanings of words and sentences
Appropriate use of language in
context; can be very complex
How Language Develops
Early Childhood
Middle and Late Childhood
Adulthood and Aging
How Language Develops
Babbling, gestures, and other vocalizations:
Crying - from birth
Cooing - 1 to 2 months
Babbling - around 6 months
Gestures - 8 to 12 months
Recognizing Language Sounds:
 ‘Citizens of the world’
 Newborns recognize sound changes.
 Can recognize own language sounds at 6 months.
First Words :
 Receptive vocabulary considerably exceeds spoken vocabulary.
 Timing of first word and vocabulary spurt varies.
How Language Develops
Two-Word Utterances:
 Begins between 18 to 24 months
 Child relies heavily on gesture, tone, context
 Telegraphic speech-Use of short and precise words without
grammatical markers.
How Language Develops
Early Childhood
Understanding Phonology and Morphology:
 Children know morphological rules○ Plural and possessive forms of nouns
○ Third-person singular and past-tense verbs
 Children abstract rules and apply them to novel situations○ Sometimes over generalize rules
Understanding Syntax:
 Preschoolers learn and apply syntax rules.
 Children show growing mastery of complex rules for how words
should be ordered.
 By elementary school years, children become skilled at using
syntactical rules to construct lengthy and complex sentences.
How Language Develops
Family Environment
Mother’s education level is positively Correlated to number of
books in home.
Single-parent and welfare families had fewer books than twoparent and affluent families.
Kindergartener had better language skills if parents read to
them 3 or more times a week.
Language Input and Young Children’s
Vocabulary Development
How Language Develops
Advances in Pragmatics
3 Years Old
Improve ability to talk about
things not physically present,
improved displacement
4 Years Old
Develop remarkable
sensitivity to needs of
others in conversation
4 to 5 Years Old
Change speech style to
suit the social situation
How Language Develops
Advances in Semantics
Speaking vocabulary: (Ranges from 8,000 to 14,000 words for
 Rate of 5 to 8 words per day from ages 1 to 6
 Some estimate 6-year-old learns 22 words a day
 Entering elementary school with small vocabulary places
child at risk for reading problems
 Quantity of parent talk linked to child’s vocabulary growth
and SES of family
How Language Develops
Middle and Late Childhood
Vocabulary and grammar:
 Reading and writing assumes prominent role
 Preschoolers usually respond with one word first
 Elementary school children
○ Increasingly understand, use complex grammar
○ Metalinguistic awareness greatly improves
How Language Develops
Before learning to read, children learn
 To use language to describe things not present
 The alphabetic principle: letters represent sound
Whole language approach
 Instruction should parallel child’s natural language
learning; reading should be whole and meaningful
Basic-skills-and-phonics approach
 Instruction should teach phonics and its basic
rules; reading should involve simplified materials
 2- to 3-year-olds emerge from scribbling to begin printing letters
 Most 4-year-olds can print their names Reversed letters may not predict literacy problems
 Children often invent spellings
 Adults should encourage early writing
 Literacy gets better with repeated practice
National Reading Panel:
 Most effective phonological awareness training Has two main skills: blending and segmentation
 Best when integrated with reading and writing;
small groups more beneficial than whole class
 Children benefit from guided oral reading
How Language Develops
Middle and Late Childhood
Bilingualism (Ability to speak two languages)
 Learning second language easier for children.
 Children’s ability to pronounce second language
with correct accent decreases with age; sharp drop
after age 10 to 12.
 Has positive effect on children’s cognitive
How Language Develops
Increased use and understanding of:
 Sophisticated words
 Analysis and abstract thinking
 Metaphors-Implied comparison of unlike things
 Satire- Use of irony, derision, or wit to expose folly or wickedness.
 Dialect- Variety of language distinguished by vocabulary, grammar,
or pronunciation.
○ Adolescent dialect with peers often uses jargon or slang
○ Usually used to indicate group membership
Adolescents are much better at organizing ideas and writing.
How Language Develops
Distinct personal linguistic style is part of special identity.
Vocabulary often continues to increase throughout adult years until late
 Little decline among healthier older adults.
Non-language factors may be cause of decline in language skills in
older adults.
Some decrements common in late adulthood:
 Inability to distinguish speech sounds.
 Alzheimer’s disease.
Biological and Environmental Influences
Biological Influences
Evolution and the brain’s role in language:
 Human language about 100,000 years old.
 Particular regions of brain predisposed for language acquisition.
 Most comprehend syntax in left hemisphere; emotion and
intonation comprehended in right hemisphere.
 Aphasia- Language disorder resulting from brain damage; loss
of ability to use words.
Evolution and the brain’s role in language:
 Broca’s Area- Area of brain’s left frontal lobe involved in speech
 Wernicke’s Area- Area of brain’s left hemisphere involved in
language comprehension.
Broca’s and Wernicke’s Areas of the Brain
Biological and Environmental Influences
Language Acquisition Device
 Humans biologically prewired for language
 Language acquisition device (LAD): Biological endowment to
detect features and rules of language.
 Theoretical, not physical part of brain.
 Evidence of uniformity in language milestones across
languages and cultures.
Biological and Environmental Influences
Environmental Influences
Behavioral View:
 Language is complex learned skill, reinforced
Problems with behavioral view:
○ Cannot explain people creating novel sentences
○ Children can learn syntax of native language without reinforcement
○ Fails to explain language’s extensive orderliness
Environmental influences:
 Mother’s language linked to child’s vocabulary
 Child-directed speech- Higher pitch for attention
○ Parents, older children modify their speech
Other strategies:
○ Recasting- rephrasing
○ Expanding- restating
○ Labeling- identifying objects by names
Influencing A Child’s Language
• Infants
– Be active
conversational partner
– Talk as if the infant
– Use a comfortable
language style
• Toddlers
– Continue being active
conversational partner
– Remember to listen
– Use a comfortable language
style but expand utterances
– Avoid sexual stereotypes
– Don’t make normative
Biological and Environmental Influences
An Interactionist View of Language
 Has biological foundations
 Acquisition influenced by experiences
 Children acquire native language without explicit
teaching; some without encouragement
Bruner: parents and teachers help construct language
acquisition support system (LASS)
 Resembles Vygotsky’s ZPD

Language Development