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Language Acquisition Language acquisition is the p

Language Acquisition Language acquisition is the process of learning a
native or a second
Although how children learn to speak is not perfectly understood, most
explanations involve
both the observation that children copy what they hear and the inference
that human beings
have a natural aptitude for understanding grammar. Children usually learn
the sounds and
vocabulary of their native language through imitation, and grammar is
seldom taught to them;
that they rapidly acquire the ability to speak grammatically. This
supports the theory of
Noam Chomsky (1959). that children are able to learn the grammar of a
particular language
because all intelligible languages are founded on a deep structure of
universal grammatical rules
that corresponds to an innate capacity of the human brain. Adults learning
a second language
pass through some of the same stages, as do children learning their native
language. In the first
part of this paper I will describe the process of language acquisition. The
second part will
review how infants respond to speech. Language Acquisition Language is
multifaceted. It
contains both verbal and non-verbal aspects that children seem to acquire
quickly. Before birth
virtually all the neurons (nerve cells) are formed, and they migrate into
their proper locations in
the brain in the infant. When a baby is born, it can see and hear and smell
and respond to touch,
but only dimly. The brain stem, a primitive region that controls vital
functions like heartbeat and
breathing, has completed its wiring. Elsewhere the connections between
neurons are wispy and
weak. But over the first few months of life, the brain’s higher centers
explode with new
synapses. This helps an infant to be biologically prepared to face the
stages of language
acquisition. According to the textbook

Child Development: A Thematic Approach, 3rd Edition (D. Bukatko & M.W.
Daehler, 1996, p. 252) there are four main components to language
These components are phonology, semantics, syntax and pragmatics. Phonology
is the study of
how speech sounds are organized and how they function. It is the main
accomplishment during the first year of life. The phonology of language
refers to fundamental
sounds units and the rules for combining them.
Each language has a certain number of sounds called phonemes. Phonemes are
the smallest unit
of sound that affects the meaning of a word. Infants are able to identify
hundreds of variations of
sounds. For example, an infant who is six months old can detect the
difference between ma and
pa. An infant`s first year is mainly receiving messages but also working on
being able to produce
As they physically develop infants form the ability to make sounds. Some of
these initial sounds are cooing, vowel like utterances occasionally
accompanied by consonants and babbling which are consonant-vowel
combinations. During the first 6 months of life, physiological changes,
such as the shape of oral cavity, tongue development, motor control of
lips, and tooth eruption, also take place that contribute to speech
development. One of the infants task is to identify phonemes. According to
the textbook (D.Bukatko & M.W. Daehler, 1996, p. 202) infants show an early
sensitivity to prosody, which is patterns of intonation, stress, and rhythm
that communicate meaning in speech; the fluctuations of the voice. For
example, raising your voice to ask a question or lowering it to let the
infant know you are serious. This helps infants to learn the phonology of
their language and prepares them for the next stage of learning which is
semantics. Semantics is the meaning of words or combination of words.
Shortly before babies have their first birthday, they begin to understand
words, and around that birthday, they start to produce them (Clark, 1993).
Words are usually produced in isolation. This one-word stage can last from
two months to a year. Children’s first words are similar all over the
planet. About half the words are for objects: food (juice, cookie), body
parts (eye, nose), clothing (diaper, sock), vehicles (car, boat), toys
(doll, block), and household items (bottle, light, animals (dog, kitty),
and people (dada, baby). At this time children usually start to use
gestures to call attention to an object or event defined as
protodeclarative communication. Protoimperative communication is the use of
a gesture to issue a command or request. For example a child throws his
bottle down to show that they no longer want it or they point at specific
objects they want the parent to see. Around 18 months, language changes in
two ways. Vocabulary growth increases and the child begins to learn words
at a rate of one every two waking hours, and will keep learning that rate
or faster through adolescence (Clark, 1993). Primitive syntax begins with
two-word strings such as all dry, all messy, all wet, I sit, I shut, no
bed, no pee, see baby and see pretty. The child utterances in this two-word
stage are described as telegraphic because they contain only the elements
necessary for getting the message across, leaving out modifiers and
prepositions. Syntax is important because the child learns to combine words
correctly or grammatically. It is at this stage the child learns to express
internal states and also to direct the actions of others. Pragmatics is the
rules for using language effectively within a social context. For example
when a preschooler yells out Give me that book! she may be unaware that
this order to her teacher is socially unacceptable.
Parents play a significant role in teaching the child what is socially
acceptable and what is not. They do this by reminding the child to always
Thank you and Please and to use other socially acceptable manners. They
also act as models by acting out what they are requesting from the child.
Normal children can differ by a year or more in their rate of language
development, though the stages they pass through are generally the same
regardless of how stretched out or compressed they seem. Infant`s Respond
To Speech Infants respond to speech in various ways. Infants communicate
through crying, fussing, smiling, body movements, and other nonverbal
behaviors. With repeated interactions, their parents, families, and other
significant caregivers interpret the meaning of these signals and respond
accordingly. Both participants, parents and child, are part of a unique
conversation. For example, a typical conversation a parent may say is “Look
at daddy. Look at daddy.” The infant’s face turns in the direction of the
voice and daddy exclaims, “She’s looking at me! She’s looking at me!” This
is called a language-body conversation because the parent speaks and the
infant answers with a physical response such as looking, smiling, laughing,
turning, walking, reaching, grasping, holding, sitting, running, and so
forth. These conversations continue for many months before the child utters
anything more intelligible than “mommy” or “daddy.” Although the infant is
not yet speaking, the child is imprinting a linguistic map of how the
language works. Silently, the child is internalizing the patterns and
sounds of the target language. When the child has decoded enough of the
target language, speaking appears spontaneously. The infant’s speech will
not be perfect, but gradually, the child’s utterances will approximate more
and more that of a native speaker. Through these early exchanges, infants
discover that their behaviors regarding language have a powerful effect on
their caregivers and they soon develop more efficient ways to communicate.
In a study, found in an article on the Internet, the author reports, Peter
Jusczyk (1997) found that at 4 1/2 months, babies respond to their own
names. But the response is largely undifferentiated from other kinds of
speech, just like a child might respond to Hi, without knowing what it
Infants can be offered certain nonsense words or sounds and will appear
excited because it is part of a routine that has been established by parent
and the infant. The understanding and use of language to communicate begins
early in life. Babies initially interact with their world by: Crying and
squealing to show hunger or pain. Exploring objects by banging them
together, throwing, or mouthing them. Copying other people’s actions e.g.
Waving bye-bye. Blowing raspberries, to show excitement and pleasure.
Looking at objects and people. Using their faces to communicate e.g.
Smiling, frowning. – Taking turns in making sounds. Cooing and babbling.
Hearing is an important factor in a child’s ability to develop normal
speech and language skills. Newborns build a foundation for these skills by
hearing voices and environmental sounds. If hearing loss is not detected at
this early stage, a child’s language development is significantly delayed
(Chen 1999). Frequently, parents are the first to notice a problem with
their child’s hearing. If a child is not responding appropriately to audio
stimulus, the parent may want to request a hearing test and other
evaluations. Hearing loss affects speech and language development, which
inevitably impacts academic performance and communication skills. A child’s
communication is considered delayed when the child is noticeably behind his
or her peers in the acquisition of speech and/or language skills. Speech
disorders refer to difficulties producing speech sounds or problems with
voice quality. They might be characterized by an interruption in the flow
or rhythm of speech, such as stuttering, which is called dysfluency. Speech
disorders may be problems with the way sounds are formed, called
articulation or phonological disorders, or they may be difficulties with
the pitch, volume or quality of the voice. Summary Right from birth, all of
the senses are operational. Babies reacts to pain, heat, cold and
certainly, to touch. The newborn seems to distinguish certain kinds of
sounds, smells, and even tastes. Language acquisition seems to happen at
lightning speed. The challenge in this paper was explaining how kids pick
up language so rapidly. There are many questions about when infants start
to hear and respond to sound. Colleagues credit Peter Jusczyk (1997) for
being one of the key experimentalists to bridge the gap between the study
of infant speech perception and language development. It is his belief that
the very seeds of language learning, in fact, start to develop in the womb.

Just last week, in the U.S. alone, some 77,000 newborns began the
miraculous process of wiring their brains for a lifetime of learning.
During a child’s development, there are a series of time periods, or
“windows,” in which a child can best learn or refine a particular ability,
such as speech.
After this time period is over it becomes much more difficult, sometimes
impossible, for the child to learn the same thing. With this in mind, it is
important for researchers to continue to observe and learn about language
acquisition. Where it starts (the womb) to what critical periods an infant
or child will have the greatest window of opportunity is very important if
we are going to overcome some of the language disabilities that we have. In
a world where babies are born prematurely and mothers are having drug
exposed and positive toxic babies, it is imperative that the research
Chen, Deborah, Ph.D. (1999) Learning to Communicate: Communications Issue
XII, California State University, Northridge Chomsky, N. (1981) Lectures on

Government and Binding. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Foris Publications. Clark,
E. V. (1993) The Lexicon in Acquisition. New York: Cambridge University
Press Jusczyk,
Peter (1997) Johns Hopkins University. Mama! Dada! Origin of Language
Pegged At

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