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Your essay will explain children’s language development through a response to the following question:
What roles do nature and nurture play in children's language development?
In order to respond to this question, you will need to do the following:
- Describe how children acquire the components of language (phonological, syntactic, semantic and pragmatic). For example, how do children acquire phonology and understand how sounds represent meaning (semantics) and rules of putting words together to form sentences (syntax)?
- Discuss the role nature and nurture play in supporting the development of each of these components. In order to do this, you will need to draw on one or two relevant theoretical perspectives.
From Plato's theory of mimesis (b 428 BC) to the present day, scholars have wondered how language is acquired in human beings tracing it chronologically from birth till adulthood. Many theoretical perspectives have sprung up in the last century, and it is a consensual opinion that language learning in children is far different from that in adults. Hence, adult phonological theories cannot be applicable to children. (Waterson, 1971, Menn, 1976, 1983, Bernhard and Stemberger, 1998) This essay examines the various theories which study phonological, semantic, syntactic and pragmatic development of language in children.
Although different children learn a language at different paces, the general progress of learning starts from sounds to syllables and gradually to words. In her article on Syntactic Development in Children, Amanda Hermes observes that syntactic rules are acquired in children automatically without any “explicit instruction.” (Hermes, 2017) We can trace the learning process in four stages of development. The first stage, which lasts from 0-18 months, involves the infant’s interaction primarily with its mother. Here the child learns to distinguish sounds and connect them with actions. This stage mostly displays the phonological development of language. Phonological development takes place in the earliest part of childhood, wherein the child is able to associate sounds with meanings. (National Center for Homeless Education, 2016). According to Chomsky, the celebrated linguist, normal children are born with an innate syntactic inheritance which 'enables them to grasp the basic workings of language.' (Miskimon, 2017) Thus, the earliest part of childhood is dominated by nature rather than nurture. Skinner, however, stressed that positive reinforcement and environmental utterances were more instrumental in developing a child's speech. (Lemetyinen, 2012) Thus, the child goes mouths the words spoken by its mother and tries to repeat them. This is called 'operant conditioning'. (Khalidah, 2014)
The second stage starts from the age of two, by which children have learnt almost 300-1000 words. It continues up till the preschool age of four and a half years, by which the child is ready to face the world and display his vocabulary. The great distinction in the vocabulary storehouse (300-1000) depends upon parenting strategies, as observed by the Stanford research report of 2013. Proper linguistic nutrition goes a long way in the speech development of toddlers, the report observes. (Carey, 2013) The toddler age is dominated by semantic development wherein the child asks repeated questions and is the most inquisitive. The Chomskian supporters like Ambridge and Lieven argue that in this stage, the child instinctively focuses on learning the meaning of the language. (Ambridge and Lieven, 2011) It applies the philosophy of ‘universal grammar’ and combines verbs and nouns to form incoherent phrases. For example, a toddler may say, “Daddy milk”. (Chomsky, 1965) Hence, in this stage, the child is more inclined towards semantics than phonology. Skinner, too propounded a similar theory. He stated that this was one of the most critical stages of language development as children who did not learn language till seven would never be able to catch up with others entirely. (Traxler, 2012)
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