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What is the role of adults language and communication in children's acquisition of language.

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Introduction

What is the role of adults language and communication in children's acquisition of language. Children are not given explicit teaching in the rules of their language. The task of developing implicit knowledge of the complete adult grammar and vocabulary from the language the child hears has been called the projection problem (Peters, 1972 referred to in Goodluck, 1991). This essay will discuss the role of adults language and communication in the resolution of the projection problem in the following way: Firstly it will look at the way three of the major theoretical perspectives on language acquisition explain language acquisition and the weight each one of these has yielded on the role of adults: the nativist, empiricist and (social) learning theories. Secondly it will discuss evidence that has been used to support the social basis perspective, Evidence from child-directed speech or 'motherese', parental directedness, child-parent joint-attention episodes, twin studies of individual differences, expressive versus referential children, motivational factors and ideas from attachment theory will be looked at. Finally it will suggest, that firstly adults language and communication may accelerate language acquisition. Secondly, that an initial exposure to language is necessary for it's normal development and thirdly that biological and cognitive factors also play an important role in the highly complex task of language acquisition. ...read more.

Middle

Furthermore from the age of three, children have been found to use the complex passive sentence construction, even though it is used infrequently in adults speech (see Marchman et al., 1991, for a review and new data, referred to in Durkin, 1995). Studies by both Barrett, Harris and Chasin (1991) and Hart (1991) confirmed a strong relationship between parental input and the first word's children uttered, but as the children's vocabulary increased, the relationship decreased. Evidence of parental fine-tuning similarly suggested, that although early on (between 18 and 25 months) a positive relationship between the complexity of paternal speech and features of syntactic development is noticeable, at later stages of language development (between 24 and 25 months), this relationship is absent (Gleitman, Newport & Gleitman, 1984). 'Thus some degree of correlation may be there when language is minimal, but it reduces or even disappears as language gets going' (Durkin, 1995). However, even in the acquisition of early vocabulary, evidence against the importance and influence of child-directed speech hypothesis has been substantial. First of all, it has mainly been found to be characteristic of adults speech to children in Western middle class settings. In other cultures and social classes, children are not addressed through the use of motherese (see Snow, 1986 for a review). ...read more.

Conclusion

The nativist, empiricist and (social) learning theories and the social basis hypothesis all place a varying importance on the role of adult's language and communication in language acquisition. As Pinker put it, as long as the child's language acquisition device is triggered during the sensitive period, the process of language acquisition will occur, as 'there is virtually no way to prevent it from happening short of raising a child in a barrel' (1984, p.29). However, cognitive and environmental factors can most likely influence this process. Cognitive development may promote the use of structures already available in the linguistic system of the child, thereby speeding up the language acquisition process. Specific interact ional and communication styles between adults and children such as joint-attention, specific ways of picture book reading, and certain types of adult language usage such as 'motherese' may accelerate the language acquisition process. At this stage, it is important to continue research to increase the understanding of the extent to which and what kind of early environmental influences have the strongest effects not only on early and later language development but also on cognitive and social development. Especially research amongst young children who are either delayed or come from low social classes (Whitehurst et al., 1994) has suggested, that for them environmental stimulation of their linguistic and cognitive skills can be crucial to avoid them from falling behind cognitively and socially at an older age. ...read more.

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