What are the trends in word learning over the first two years?
Children initially learn words in stages, the first being the pre-linguistic stage. Each singular language, such as English or Italian, has various different dimensions. These are things such as the different uses of language, such as to communicate, the sound patterns each individual language uses and the rules that govern these patterns. These are all known as phonology. Semantics are they ways in which language represents meaning. The rules used to combine words in a language, is the syntax. These terms are all commonly used when describing the development from the early preverbal stage to the stage of linguistic fluency.
This is apparent through observing chimpanzees (Savage-Rumbaugh et al., 1993). They learn to
communicate through sign language and the process of pointing to sequences of symbols. they can do this, and are good at it, but it takes a great deal of effort to teach them to use other expressive forms of language such as symbols signs and sounds that communicate meaning. Any parent will tell you that once you teach a child how to speak, you will never be able to get them to be quiet ever again! This is due to the fact that the process of language development begins months before a baby even utters her/his first word. This period of time within these few months is the prelinguistic phase.
By the time a child reaches around 12 months, they will typically have started using their first word (Fenson et al,. 1994). Within the next six months, children will increase their vocabulary to around 30 words. Early word learning is very slow and requires a lot of repetitions. Ronald Schollon (1976) studied a little girl named Brenda, and found she used a singular specific word for more than one thing. One example of this being the word “nene” for milk, juice AND her bottle.
The Naming Explosion is another trend that happens between 16-24 months of age which children begin to add new words rapidly. Elizabeth Bates and her colleagues found that a rapid vocabulary growth is not restricted to the language of English, it is the same in other languages. After repeating words a few times, it is easier for children to connect them to different situations. However, other cross-linguist researchers suggest that English speaking parents emphasise nouns more than verbs when reading and speaking to children, compared to Korean-speaking parents who do not. This suggests the noun-before-verb learning pattern may be influenced by different language characteristics as well as the behaviour of the speaker.
Later word learning happens during the pre-school years when children begin adding words at much higher speeds, with a rise of up to 10 words a day (Pinker, 1994). Researchers believe this “speeding up” of the vocabulary learning process is due to a shift in the way children approach words that are new to them.
Once a wide vocabulary is developed, children begin to categorise words. Psychologists use the term fast-mapping to refer to this ability. Children begin to categorise after paying attention to words in whole groups.This can be things such as names of different fruit. By identifying what category a word belong to, the child can envisage “mental slots” for these words.Children initially categories things such as animals. However, they can become confused. An example of this may be a child seeing a cat and saying “see kitty”. We are initially unsure on what the child actually means. Is this kitty a kitty, or does she see it as any other furry animal like a dog? She may even use the word to only describe her OWN cat.
This is when under-extension and over-extension become apparent in speech. Under-extension is when a word is used for one specific object in a singular context. This suggests children believe words can only belong to one thing and is mostly common in the early stages of vocabulary development (before naming explosion). Over-extension is when children grasp the idea of categorising words. However, in this case, they do it inappropriately, such as using the word kitty in relation to all animals. (e.g. using a single word for multiple, unrelated categories).
The development of grammar and pragmatics is important when stringing together words into sentences. In the fist instance, putting two words together, then three – and so on. Children firstly begin stringing together two words around the age of 18-24 months. This is not random, it happens when they develop a vocabulary of around 100-200 words (Fenson et al., 1994).
The holophrase stage is when a toddler begins to combine a single word with a gesture, with a result of creating a “two-word meaning”. This happens before they even use two spoken words together in speech. An example of this is when a child says “cookie” and holds out their hand – indicating they would like one given to them.
The Grammar Explosion stage is when sentences become longer. The vocabulary development is fundamental to this, as children who have a more complex understanding of grammar will develop complex vocabulary much easier. As they now understand how to construct sentences at this age, they will, therefore be able to understand new words better and be able to integrate them into their language much easier. During this stage, their speech becomes “telegraphic”, which according to linguists and psychologists is when two-word speech becomes evident in speech. Within the following few months, plurals, past tenses and auxiliary verbs are added into a child’s speech.
The Inflection stage is when the form of a word is changed, usually the end of it. Children begin adding inflections into predictable sequences. Roger Brown (1973) found that in the process of children learning English, inflection is most noticeable hone children add “ing” to the end of words. Once they get the hang of this, they begin doing it in order.
Children develop a full understanding of the development of language once they begin to
understand social skills. It is important, from birth, that a child can communicate their feelings through facial expressions and gestures. These are simplistic forms of communication but are important in the sense that the baby has not learnt any words yet. This process of word learning is a coherent process of integrated stages, without which, we would not understand where a child is in their development of word learning.
I found by completing the reading and this associated tutor-directed task from Patricia Thomsons’s lecture to be very beneficial in reinforcing what she spoke about. It has helped me become more knowledgeable on the range of different theorists and the vast amount of other reading out there that is avaible to us as students to enhance our knowledge. It also helped me make the connections between thought and language, and the ways in which language is developed.