Language Acquisition


Language Acquisition Language acquisition is the process of learning a native or a second


language.


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 acquisition.


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 linguistic


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


messages.


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.