The Studies of Child Language AcquisitionWhat problems has the study of child language acquisition posed for researchers in the past? How have the different
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The Studies of Child Language Acquisition ______________________________________________ By Kim Lucas Lng2003 Child Language Acquisition Kim Lucas 1 The Studies of Child Language Acquisition What problems has the study of child language acquisition posed for researchers in the past? How have the different methods of study used tried to overcome these problems? Around one hundred years ago the generic field of child development acclaimed much interest. This interest ignited the desire for those involved, and for the first time in the history of child development, studies were undertaken. The aim of such studies was to ascertain the general development of children. One area in which studies took place was that of child language acquisition. Linguists strived to identify basic milestones within a child's linguistic development; this would set a benchmark within language acquisition and also for further studies. Such studies could also help to identify possible childhood speech difficulties at the earliest possible stage. There were three major periods of child language studies each with their own set of methodologies and theoretical orientation. The primary period was that of diary studies which were prominent from around 1870 until approximately 1926. Although diary studies were still ongoing at this time they were overshadowed by the appearance of large sample studies. Large sample studies began to take place around 1926 until approximately 1957, which was a relatively short period in comparison to rival studies. 1957 saw the emergence of longitudinal studies, which is the method still used today.
This could mean that the children who were studied may have been exposed to a more complex language. Many diary studies were also carried out by those with no specific linguistic knowledge and therefore, as Ingram (1989) suggests, the observer may not be qualified to undertake such research. This could mean that significant features of the child's language development, for example, the phonetic features, are omitted from the data, which again, could result in the inaccuracy of the study. Diary studies can prove to be subjective and also lacking in the depth of study. Often, facts are not sufficient and require surrounding information regarding the context. There is no doubt that diary studies provided a wealth of information but, as suggested by McCarthy (1954), Although this wealth of observational material provided stimulating and suggestive for later research workers, it has little scientific merit, for each of the studies employed a different method; the observations were for the most part conducted on single children who were usually either precocious or markedly retarded in their language development; the records were made under varying conditions; and most of the studies were subject to the unreliability of parents' reports (McCarthy 1954, p.494) 1926 saw the emergence of large sample studies, which meant that the previous diary studies became dormant. Diary studies did by no means cease to exist at this time, Leopold conducted a study 1939-1949 (http://bowland-files.lancs.ac.uk/chimp/langac/LECTURE2/2diary.htm). A more recent diary study can be dated to Weir, 1962. However, at around the time of 1926, behaviourism was having an impact on those associated with child development.
It is probable that within the area of speech sounds for example, it would be a challenge to make detailed transcriptions without the aid of audio equipment. An unnatural environment could also affect the outcome of large sample studies, as it is likely that 'observers paradox' would have played a role, that is, one or more of the children could have been affected by the presence of a stranger. If this is true of a large sample of the children studied, then again, the outcome may not be a true reflection of the capabilities within a specific age group. It would be arduous to favour one of the above methodologies over the other as both types of study show clear strengths and weaknesses. As previously Kim Lucas 6 discussed, the late 1950's saw the emergence of longitudinal sampling, which involved the work of many linguists including that of Braine (1963, Miller and Ervin (1964), Bloom (1970) and Brown (1973). A more recent longitudinal study was carried out by linguist Clare Painter, published by Cassell, 1999, as noted in the Language Journal of the Linguistic Society of America (September 2003). It could be said that longitudinal studies provide studies of child language with an overall equilibrium by withdrawing the positive features from the methodologies of diary studies and large sample studies. It is true to say that both diary studies and large sample studies have been valid in their own right and have provided linguists with a wealth of invaluable information. The methodologies used may not have been fully comprehensive but have provided further studies with an invaluable benchmark in which to acquire knowledge of child language acquisition.
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