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An introduction to how babies acquire languages.

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Other Language Processes

Caregiver Speech


Critical Period

stages of language acquisition

how do babies acquire languages?

What is language acquisition?


It is the nonconscious process by which a child (baby) acquires a language. ALL children have the (inevitable) capability of picking up any language as their first one.Any child who is surrounded by speakers of a language will automatically learn it.

However, this input doesn’t normally look or sound like regular adult speech. Caretakers usually use something called caregiver speech ("motherese" or child-directed speech). Characteristics: → exaggeration in intonation → frequent use of questions → extra loudness → slower tempo

We don’t actually teach children how to speak. They only develop speech through interactions with other people.

The samples of language that parents provide their children is called INPUT. At thispoint, the majority of the input a child receives comes from the mother. father, and close family members.

Throughout the acquisition period, other language processes occur during its development. Overgeneralization: this occurs when the child has acquired a grammatical rule and applies it to every case. For example plural forms <foots/*foots>, simple past <-ed> in regular verbs like play/played, walk/walked, swim/*swimmed Overextension: While children are figuring out the semantic content of words, i.e. meanings, they tend to apply broader semantic range to people or objects; a child will take the name of a person/object to name all the things that look similar to it → all round objects are a “ball”, all types of felines (lion, tiger, etc) are “kittys”.

There is a critical period in the development of a child in which they must acquire language. If a child misses this “window” of cognitive development for language, proper acquisition doesn’t and will never again occur in any further stages of life.

1. In the womb: as early formed in the womb, a baby will already respond to sounds (primarily the mother’s heartbeat, voice and breathing), as well as intonation patterns of other’s voices. 2. Outside of the womb: the first ever sound a baby produces is that of crying, as well as being the first ever method of communication with the people around them. 3. 4-6 months old: “cooing/gooing” → baby noises 4. 6-12 months: reduplicated babbling → repetition of consonant and vowel combinations; <ma> <ba> <ga> <ka> <da> 5. 12-18 months: one-word stage → the child can now produce one-word utterances: sock, cat, mama, cookie, usually things from their immediate environment and that they have direct contact with. 6. 18-20 months: two-word stage → the child is able to produce phrases like <open door>, <pour milk>, <light on>, <cuddle teddy>. Despite not yet having the ability to form complete sentences yet, children now have the sense of the subject-verb relationship. 7. 2-2.5 years: telegraphic speech → children add new lexical elements to form more complex utterances. → “daddy go car”, “mommy clean cup” Vocabulary starts to increment exponentially, as well as syntactic formations and morphology. Throughout the following years, children will develop their language abilities to become an independent, competent speaker around the age of 8 years old.