"Variable forms are difficult to acquire". Discuss Until the late 1960's it was still the largely subscribed view that children's language acquisition was, on the main part, innate and occurred independently
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"Variable forms are difficult to acquire". Discuss Until the late 1960's it was still the largely subscribed view that children's language acquisition was, on the main part, innate and occurred independently from the social context and surroundings in which the child was brought up. However there have been movements in recent years to account for the effects that parents and other caregivers have on the linguistic development of a child (Romaine, 1986: 159). This paper intends to briefly look at the standard accepted view of acquisition of variation; the variationist view, which considers the social context; and to place these viewpoints into a current frame of reference by examining some contemporary studies. It intends to examine the studies in relation to acquisition of variable forms in early childhood and in adolescence. The mainstream view of acquisition of variation is that during the early years of childhood, the main period of acquisition, most of the linguistic input comes from the primary care givers, i.e. the mother and father. For this reason "motherese" has long been the main focus of first language acquisition studies (Kerswill, 1996:181). The conventional view of first language acquisition is that during the first year of life a child will gain control over their speech organs and begin to acquire speech patterns.
where data was collected from three children of pre school age in Trinidad. The data was analysed for stylistic variation between the Trinidad Creole, TC, and Standard English, SE, in the Verb Phrase which shows marked differences between TC and SE. It was shown that all three children shifted their speech style according to situation and addressee; more formal situations such as when the child was at school or during an interview required more use of the SE forms but informal situations such as when the child was at play or in a relaxed environment allow for the use of variants from TC (Youssef, 1993:257-274). This supports the idea that children learn to use variable forms at the same time as they learn to use the standard variant. Not only this they learn which is appropriate in which situation at the same time. The variationist view of acquisition of variation also supports the view that "the dialect transmission period begins early - before the age of maximal peer group influence" (Roberts, 1997b:249). This means that a child growing up in a particular speech community will in turn speak like that community, following its rules and speaking with its dialect.
From this they also learn which variant is appropriate in which social situation. At this early stage children acquire new variants with relative ease. After this stage children move into formal education and start to use more of the dialectal variants, they become distinct from their parents in their norm use. At this stage children are still able to acquire some variant forms, rules and oppositions but this is much more difficult than it was previously. Once children reach the age of adolescence they struggle to acquire new forms despite adapting their speech style to be like the social group they have aligned themselves with. After the age of sixteen, at the very latest, they are considered adults in terms of language acquisition. The only changes which take place from now on are word changes. This paper has examined standard accepted view of acquisition of variation and the variationist view; it has looked at the contemporary studies in relation to acquisition of variable forms in early childhood and in adolescence. From the evidence examined it can be concluded that variable forms are easily acquired in early childhood, during the first stage of language acquisition. As the children age it becomes increasingly difficult form them to acquire the different forms and by the age of sixteen they no longer have the ability to acquire variant forms.
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