Language can mean many different things; it can be seen and heard, and it can be diverse and standard It is a cognitive phenomenon that follows a set of rules and tells our brains how to speak grammatically (Clark, as cited in Gee & Hayes, 2011, p. 6). Language is a set social conventions that is shared amongst a group of people (Duranti, as cited in Gee & Hayes, 2011 p. 6), and can also be material in the form of speech, audio recordings and writings (Gee & Hayes, 2011, p. 6). However, it is more than just communicating; it is the way we do things and share things with one another.
When we communicate, we share ideas thoughts, opinions, feelings and knowledge with one another. There are many ways to communicate, these include talking, writing, electronic communication (email. , telephone, television, computers), non-verbal communication, (body language, facial expression, gestures) and visual communication (images, movies). Throughout the years, there have been many hypotheses on language development and language functions, that have been theorised by linguists such as Chomsky, Halliday, Piaget and Crystal; these will be briefly detailed in this essay.
However, it is important to understand that all languages whether it is written, spoken or visual arises from social and cultural context (Campbell and Green, 2006, p. 1). Understanding the diversity of language and the roles it plays in a child’s life will assist educators to better support their students. The early stages (at home) Young children have an extraordinary capacity to master the language around them. A child’s earliest experiences with language are at home, they communicate with their family members and friends in a non-formal environment and develop language through being immersed in the language around them.
This first language is known as “vernacular language” and Gee and Hayes (2011, p. 8) states its dialect can vary depending on what part of a country they live in and their social class. Children acquire a vernacular variety of their first language, and later on, they develop specialised languages such as physics, mathematics, science, law, this allows them to become familiar with that area of expertise. According to Halliday’s model on language perspectives, there are seven unctions of language that children in the early years use (Fellows and Oakley, 2014, p. 29). The Instrumental function (used to express their needs), Regulatory function (used to tell others what to do), Interactional function (used to make connections) and the Personal function (used to express feelings, opinions and social identity), these functions assist the child’s physical, emotional and social needs (Fellows and Oakley, 2014, p. 29).
Whilst the Heuristic function (used to gain knowledge), Imaginative function (used to create an imaginary environment through telling stories and jokes) and Informative function (used to convey facts and information) assist the child to understand the terms associated with their environment (Fellows and Oakley, 2014, p. 29). Fellows and Oakley (2010, p. 30) also note another model of language perspectives that was developed by Wilkinson and categorises language functions into three questions; Who are you? Who or what is he/she/it? Who am I? There are several perspectives on language development in children.
Behaviourist (language is a learnt behaviour that is dependent on reward and reinforcement), Nativist (innate ability that all humans have), Maturionist (develops or unfolds according to a child’s inner clock) Cognitive Development (depends on a child’s cognitive development), Interactionist (socially interact) and Neurobiologist (brain structure and how it is developed) (Fellows and Oakley, 2014, p. 47) .
According to Jean Piaget’s theory, language cannot be developed until the child has developed conceptual knowledge about the world around them (Fellows and Oakley, 2014, p. 0). For example, they could not understand the term “kitty” unless they had a concept of what a cat was. Based on this theory of cognitive development Piaget theorises that there is no innate ability or special language device, but development occurs through cognitive processes such as memory, problem-solving any attention (Fellows and Oakley, 2014, p. 50). Whilst each perspective on language development is different, they each have their own merits. The nurturing or oral language development is central to early childhood and education.
Children need to participate in and be exposed to a variety of experiences that encourages them to express themselves and develop different types of language competency (Fellows and Oakley, 2014, p. 17). The development of oral language is an important element of early childhood (Fellows and Oakley, 2014, p. 17). Fellows and Oakley (2014, p. 17) claim it is the platform on which learning to write and write is built on. Oral language is either expressive (used to convey information or encode language) or receptive (used to listen or decode language) (Fellow and Oakley, 2014, p. 9). The development of language in the early years is critical if children are to become effective communicators (DEEWR, 2009, p. 19). Developing oral language in young children prior to them entering primary school will assist them to better communicate with their teachers and peers and engage in meaningful and purposeful conversations. The later stages at school (at school) Once children enter school they are linguistically competent speakers, they are able to communicate in complete sentences, and engage in conversations with adults and children.
They are able to use language in different contexts, they can code switch and as they get older they understand different social and cultural conventions and the appropriateness of language. At school, they will communicate with their teachers and peers in a classroom setting, in the playground, at sporting and cultural events. Students will communicate with office staff for administrative matters, groundsman and cleaning staff, who part of the school culture.
As they progress from primary to secondary school they are aware that language consists of accents and language varieties such as regional varieties, teenage varieties, professional varieties and much more. There are aware that language serves a purpose. Teachers need to be aware that is important to develop context and purpose to engage student learning. When introducing a book in early years, it is important to engage in role play, initiate conversation’s and make personal connections with the book. For example, the book Aaarrgghh! Spider! y children’s author Lydia Monks could be introduced by the teacher assistant receiving a fright from a pretend spider. This could lead to conversations about have you ever been scared before, and now even before the first page is turned, the book has contextual meaning.
When communicating we use a language register, it allows the user to adapt their language to a particular context. Different registers are used for different situations, it allows the user to effectively communicate knowing the socially accepted norms (Fellows and Oakley, 2014, p. 34). According to Emmitt, Zbaracki, Komesaroff and Pollock (2010, p. 3) there are five reasons that influence a register, these being; purpose (what is the reason), people (who), location (where), activity (format of communication) and topic (subject). Halliday identifies three key features that influence context these being; field (the subject matter of the interaction) tenor (people involved) and mode (means of communication) (Emmitt et al. , 2010, p. 33).
Exposing young children to different social situations will allow them to develop a greater understanding of language registers are how to use them appropriately (Makin, Campbell, Jones & Diaz 1995 as cited Fellows and Oakley, 2010, p. 4). Understanding when to switch between registers will assist children to communicate appropriately and effectively. Language and culture are closely linked and children learn language from their culture community. Bernstein’s theory regarding language and society is that there is a systematic relationship between different social classes (Emmitt et al. , 2010, p. 58). According to Bernstein, middle-class homes use a formal or “elaborated” code and the working-class use a ‘restricted” code (Emmitt et al. , 2010, p. 58).
As schools are closely aligned with the elaborate code this can become problematic for educators when children enter from low social economic backgrounds, compared to those children who come from restricted homes. Emmitt et al. , (2010, p 58 – 60) state that children from elaborately coded homes are exposed to a lot more stimulus, they have a wider vocabulary, they are inclined to participate more, therefore it is considered that children from a working class environment could be disadvantaged at school and labelled linguistically deficient and educationally disadvantaged.
There are two views that have evolved regarding language variation. The first one is the Language Deficient Hypothesis that was developed by Bernstein. This hypothesis is based on a behaviourist view of learning and identifies that different social structures use different language codes (Emmitt et al. , 2010, p. 59). The second one is the Language Difference hypothesis that is based on the view that language differences do not exist with the child’s family environment but the educational environment and its inability to cater for a child’s differences (Emmitt et al. , 2010, p. 9). Language and dialects should be viewed equally Labov, a sociologist believes that languages and dialects should be viewed equally, they are not deviant or deficient but different and no one dialect is superior to the other (Dwyer, as cited Caruso 1997, p. 93). Whilst these two views are different each one has its own merits and should not be dismissed.
People from different backgrounds and different social situations will interpret things differently. The same text can mean different things to different people, this raises the concept of discourse. Campbell and Green (2006, p. ) state that Discourses determines how people view and practice language, it is a set of behaviours and language that are particular to a group of individuals. For example, teachers speak education and use terms such as pedagogy and curriculum or what is known as education babble. Understanding how Discourses effect different social situations will assist a child to fit in and belong, and to not be an outsider. Language can be diverse between social classes, age groups, gender and culture, and over the years’ people have invented new styles of writing and speaking for a variety of different purposes.
Fellows and Oakley (2014, p. 39) state that here are many varieties (dialects) of English that are spoken throughout the world; it can be a regional (geographical area) or a social dialect (social characteristics). Crystal, (2013) explains that the globalisation of English means that countries around the world are taking up English and making it their own and are adapting it to suit their country’s needs. Everywhere in every country of the world English is growing and is being culturally influenced.
Walker, (2009) suggests that the world has adapted an English Mania and that two billion people around the world are now learning English as they believe it provides them with the opportunity of a better life. Ian Malcolm emphasises the importance that Australia has two very distinct forms of English, Standard Australia English (SAE) and Aboriginal English and a society we must recognise and respect both variations (Franca, L, 2012). Aboriginal English is a dialect of English that has been developed by Indigenous culture, its’ language also includes spoken words, eye contact, body language and silence (Caruso, 1997, p. 3). As educators, we need to understand that students come from different language backgrounds, not different language deficient backgrounds and embrace those differences. Conclusion In conclusion, our world is defined by language; we communicate in a variety of ways through body language, facial expressions, sign language as well as speech and writing. Every human engages in conversations every day, whether it be talking on the phone, chatting to a friend, a business meeting, ordering food at a restaurant and much more.
Emmitt et. al. , (2010, p. 17) states that language is functional, it serves a purpose in our daily lives. As humans we have a need for connection, we are social beings and we seek to communicate with other individual or groups in society (Fellows and Oakley, 2014, p. 18). We communicate with one another to give and to get, to express ourselves, to gain attention, to convey our thoughts, feelings, opinions, and ideas, to acquire knowledge, to maintain relationships, to learn about the world around us and much more.
We have created words, sounds, movements, alphabet, all in the aid to communicate and express ourselves. Communication is constantly growing with the technology and now we are more connected than ever before, we can Skype, face time, chat to anyone anywhere around the world anytime. Language is diverse, there are many different varieties, accents and dialects, all of which are influenced by social and cultural contexts. If children are to succeed then they need effective communication skills, as language is pivotal in a child’s life.