Language Development In Children Result Of Environmental Processes Education Essay

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To What Extent Is Language Development In Children A Result Of Environmental Processes


Language acquisition and development is the process of how infants develop a native or a second language through the influence of either the environment or biological factors (Richards 2007). Children tend to develop language with the help of observations and what they hear around them. Strictly speaking, a child will be able to learn language through the imitation of their parents. However, language can also be developed through the innate sense of understanding language and grammar. Chomsky argues that since children are able to develop such an incredibly complex language at a young age that it must be the result of the innate ability in the brain that allows them to sufficiently process incoming stimuli. However, Vygotsky argues that children acquire language through the interaction with the environment. Through analyzing the research from the sources above, I will be exploring the result of sociological processes on language in children by responding to what extent is language development in children a result of sociological processes.

In order to answer my question through a psychological perspective, different studies and theories have been analyzed and compared thoroughly. This includes the main theories of Chomsky and the study of a feral child named Genie. Biological, Sociological and Cognitive processes will both be investigated throughout this essay. In order to successfully analyze these two processes; secondary sources, including books and Internet sources have been used to support my investigation. My hypothesis for this research question is that language development in infants and young children are socially adapted, rather than innate because it requires the influence of the environment that they are live in.

The outcome of this extended essay is that because the basic ability to acquire language is innate to the child. There seems to be no specific mechanical property of language that proves it to be innate. This results to the conclusion that any infant is equivalently qualified of obtaining any language; Infants born of different facial stocks will be able to acquire the matching method of language if raised in the same linguistic environment, hence my hypothesis was indeed accurate as it is due to environmental influence that affects the sociological processes of language development in children.

The Result of Sociological Processes on Language Development in Children


Ever since taking Psychology as one of my higher-level subjects, I've been drawn to the idea of the brain's functionality in a human being. In particular, when I was told about the haunting story of Genie, who was a feral child who spent most of her early childhood life locked inside a bedroom. After Genie was rescued at the age of 13, she was almost entirely mute, only able to understand a vocabulary of about 20 words and a few short phrases. After hearing this tragic story, I was drawn to the research idea of how children and infants have the ability to acquire language. Therefore, I was drawn to the idea of language acquisition.

Eysenck and Flanagan explain that language development in children can be divided into; language comprehension and language expression or speaking. It is said that one-year-old have better receptive language than productive language. People underestimate the language skills of children if they assume that their speech reflects all the knowledge of language they have learned. Children were require to learn at least four kinds of knowledge about language (Shaffer 2009) - Phonology (sound system of language), Semantics (meaning taken by words and sentences), Syntax (set of grammatical rules specifying how words may and may not be placed together to make complete sentences) and Pragmatics (how language should be modified to fit the context) (Eysenck and Flanagan 329-30).

The authors argues that children at a young age will first start to learn how to make sounds then learn to develop an understanding of the meaning behind it, then learn the grammatical rules and how to change the type of things that they say to fit the situation that they are in. They state that the sequence of language acquisition is very universal.

In the one-word stage study that Nelson (1973) conducted, he studied the first fifty words used by 18 infants individually, and put those words into categories. He found that the largest category was classes of objects followed by specific objects (Bornstein et al., 2004).

Genetics on Language Acquisition

A main protagonist of the view in which biological factors has an influence in producing the idea about language development is by the linguist Noam Chomsky (1959, 1965). He believes that the universal sequence of language acquisition can be best understood in terms of children possessing an innate program to develop linguistic structures. He argues that human is hand-wired to acquire language like the way that one was naturally driven to walk on two feet and eat with hands. There is language acquisition device (LAD) in our brain that is an innate structure or system that allows children to develop the language skills that they are required to. Infants are born with special skills like babbling, which is a combination of language around the word combined together (Marin).

Jean Berko (1958) is a linguist that provides experimental evidence that children and adolescents have acquaintance of morphological rules as they are able to lengthen them when building with new words. She conducted an experiment to demonstrate the idea that children do not simply imitate what they hear, as had been suggested by the behaviorists but that they learn grammatical rules and use them to generate novel and grammatically correct expressions (Balota 2004).

English monolinguals from age four to seven years were chosen at random to test their ability to use morphological rules by showing them a series of cards with either new or known words and asking them to complete a sentence for each. The children were then asked questions which needed them to use the right variation with the made-up words. The reason why created words were used in the experiment was so that it could test the children's ability to lengthen morphological rules to new words requiring. As well as that, it gives a strong disagreement against the rule-rote theory. Some of the actual words were also included to test the children's knowledge on some unbalanced patterns.

In order to test understanding of the noun plural formation rule, each child was given with a card with a bird-like animal and then with two bird-like animals. The experimenter would then explain the cards to the children by saying: "This is a wug. Now there is another one. There are two of them. There are two…" Then, the child was to complete the sentence by supplying the plural form of a completely new lexical item.

The results of this by Berko provided evidence that children at the age of 4 to 7 years old have understanding of the rule dealing with regular plural variation with regard to the examined children's understanding and acknowledgment of the plural form of nouns. They can length the "s" and "z" allomorphs to the new words created but they are unable to extend the "iz" allomorph even when they already know the plural form of words. On average the younger children tend to have about 70% of their answers correct while the older children would tend to score more than that. This reflects their progressive understanding of grammatical rules (Balota 2004).

Many psychologists have replicated this study many times and it has proven that even very young children have internalized systematic aspects of the linguistic system which allows them to successful produce past tenses, plurals, etc. However, the study did not indicate the number of males and females chosen to participate in the experiment. As well as that, since participants were only from a small age group, data collected might be invalid if there were children younger than the age of 4 or older than the age of 7. Hence, this may lower the reliability of the theory and the research supporting it.

A critical period is a restricted amount of time in which an event can take place. This means that there is a certain time where the infant must be open to language if one wants to acquire language normally (Kasper 2003). Penfield and Roberts (1959) and Lenneberg (1967) were the ones who firstly proposed the critical period hypothesis for language acquisition. This was constructed on the evidence from feral children who were raised without acquaintance to the environment and human language and thus she was unable to fully acquire language.

An evidence for this is a well-known case study that lends support to the critical period is the case study of Genie. Genie is a feral child who spent the first 13 years of her life locked inside a bedroom strapped to a potty chair alone by her schizophrenic father. She was a victim of one of the strictest cases of social separation. At daytime she would be tied to a child's toilet in diapers; and during some nights, she was compelled in a sleeping bag and placed in a sheltered crib with a cover made of metal. Genie was then discovered at the age of 13 when her mother left her husband and decided to bring Genie with her as well. When she had been discovered, she developed a feature called the "bunny walk" where she held her hands up in front. With this feature she became the main target of examinations to provide indication to backup the theory that humans have a critical age beginning for language acquisition. After a few months of therapy after her rescue, she had advanced to one-word answers and had learned to dress herself. (Cherry)

Genie then learned to articulate and show her feelings through signs. Whilst she was still in captivity, she was given with few toys or objects to arouse her; the bulk of her time, she was spent in a isolated room with a yellow plastic raincoat. After her rescue, she was taught to vocalize and socialize allowing her personality has changed remarkably. She had become more outgoing with people with who she was familiar and collecting colorful plastic objects had become one of her favorite hobby.

She is now a fully grown woman knowing language skills and vocabularies to a certain extent. She can now produce mostly nouns, some verbs and adjectives. With the help of many psychotherapy and language training, Genie has still not been able to successfully acquire language normally. Scientists them came up with the conclusion that the critical period for language acquisition ends at the age of 12 years old. This is because, critical period is related to the brain plasticity and lateralization, and at the age of 12, the brain appears to escape its plasticity for learning language, therefore lowering the changes for one to acquire language normally. (Kasper 2003)

Another evidence that supports the critical period hypothesis was a deaf child named Isabelle. She was found at the age of six years old and spent her life in a darkened room alone. However, she succeeded in her language learning because she was at the age of six and a half (Nagai 1997). After she was freed, she was able to complete the usual stage of linguistic development gradually. At the age of 8 years old, she was not easily distinguishable from other ordinary children of her age. The main reason why she was able to gain her language was because she started learning language before the critical period hypothesis came to an end, which was the age of 12.

Lenneberg (1967) claims that there are evidence to support the critical period hypothesis from the studies on aphasia. This involves some loss of language due to brain injury. Some children who became aphasic before puberty were able to recover the majority of their language functions. This type of situation tends to happen to children with brain damage that occurred before the age of 5 years old. As referring back to the critical period hypothesis, children who damaged their brain after puberty or the age of 12 years old tends to have a slow or partial part of recovering their language.

Even though deprivation studies are useful examples from which we draw some inferences, they rarely provide scientific data. As well as that, another possibility why Genie was abandoned was because she was retarded from infancy, or that inability to develop language resulted from the bizarre and inhuman treatment she suffered. There is a report that Genie's left hemisphere was atrophied because of the brain damage causing her to only have the ability to use the right hemisphere of the brain. The right hemisphere of the brain has little function in language processing which could also mean that the rain may not be the key biological factor for language acquisition.


Shatz and Gelman explains that most important environmental factor in language acquisition is the nature of the social interaction between the mother and her child. Most mothers adopt a style of speaking to their child known as the mothers (or parentese). Mother uses very simple sentences, which later on will progressively become longer and more difficult as the child's own use of language develops (Shatz and Gelman, 1973). In order to help their children, mothers typically use sentences that are slightly longer and more complicated than the sentences produced by their children (Bohannon and Warren-Leubecker, 1989). Mothers, fathers and other adults also help children's language development by means of expansion. These consist of fuller and more grammatical versions of what the child has just said. For example, a child might say "Cat out", with its mother responding, "The cat wants to go out" (Eysenck and Flanagan 337). Harris et al. states that the way mother talks to her child has an impact on the child's language development. An experiment found out that 78% of what mothers said to their 16-month-old children related to their objects to which the children were attending. However, the situation varies when the experiment was conducted with a different group of children whose language development at the age of 2 years was poor. Among these children, only 49% of what mothers said to their children at the age of 16 months related to the object of the children's attention.

Sociolinguistic on Language Acquisition:

From birth, people who talk to them or interact with them often surround children. This communication plays a really big part in how they learn to speak their native language and how language is developed. Behaviourists view the process of one acquiring language as a building process that results from an interaction with the environment. This is because; B.F. Skinner believes that children must be taught all aspects of language in order for them to learn the rules of their native language by imitating what they hear in their environment. The case study of Genie tends to lend some support to Skinner's theory because, even though she had the innate ability to acquire language, she didn't have the exposure to the language and the environment around her causing Genie to not be able to produce it.

Lev Vygotsky believed that all cultural development in children and infants are visible in two stages. The first stage is when the child observes the interaction between other people when they are communicating and then the behavior will slowly start to develop inside the child. Vygotsky speculated that a child tends to learn best when cooperating with those around him to unscramble the problems. At this stage, interaction between the adult and the child is a must so the child can be able to solve problems by independently in the future. This relates to language acquisition because when the adult talks to the child, the child will soon learn to respond and start communicating.

Burner believes that children and adults learn best when they retain knowledge by themselves. He argues that infants are unable to communicate even when they are unable to speak. This is because, the interface between the two, such as games or non-verbal communication helps to shapes the structure of language acquisition before the child is able to come in contact with words verbally. He argues that as an collaborative, the formatted events in which how children acquires language establishes a language acquisition supporting system (LASS). This is the environmental complement to the innate. (Cole 317-18)

Research to support the theories of Vygotsky and Burner is by Berk (1994). Berk conducted a study on inner speech and found that children at the age of 6 spent an average of 60% of their time talking to themselves whilst solving mathematics problems (Hope). Those whose speech contained numerous comments on the things that needed to be done on the current problem did better at mathematics over the following year. This strongly supports Vygotsky's view that self-guiding speech in children can successfully direct their actions. By the self-guiding speech, it allows children to easily focus on the task that they were currently working on. Vygotksy argued that private speech weakens and becomes more internal as the child gets older and when their level of performance starts to improve gradually. Berk (1994) also found that speeches of 4 to 5 year olds made Legos became more internalized with each play session as their model making abilities improved. (Hope)

In Vygotsky's study, wooden blocks consisting of nonsense symbols were presented to children. The entire nonsense syllable was used in a constant way to refer to blocks having certain features. Children were then given the task of deciding the meaning of each syllable. There are four stages in the formation of concepts - Vague syncretic stage, Complex stage, Potential concept, and the mature concept. He argued that language and thought are essentially unrelated during the first stage of the language development as young children have "pre-intellectual speech" and "pre-verbal thought". During the second stage in the formation of concepts, language and thought develop in equivalent, and begin to have very little influence on each other and at the third stage, children will then start to acknowledge the speech of others and talking to themselves (private speech) to assist in their thinking and problem solving. When constructing this theory, Vygotsky's theory was that children typically learn best in social context where someone is more knowledgeable carefully guides and encourages their learning effort (Eysenck and Flanagan 373-374).

Durkin (1995) pointed out that the whole approach was based on the dubious assumption that, "helpful tutors team up with eager tutees to yield maximum learning outcomes". Salomon and Globerson (1989) also pointed out that there are several reasons why this assumption is often incorrect. For example, if there is a big status different between the tutor and the learner, the learner may become uninvolved in the learning process. Another possibility is what Salomon and Globerson called "gaining up on the task", in which the tutor and learner agree that the task is not worth doing properly.

For children to successfully acquire language, children must be included in normal, everyday human activities with others who have already acquired a language. The crucial method of active input in human activity mediated by language is demonstrated by research on children who grew up in an environment without direct contact to language but with normal human interacting in a language mediated environment. This can be seen in students of deaf children conducted by Susan Goldin-Meadow. Two sets of deaf children who only uses sign language were chosen in the United States and Taiwan. She discovered that there is a difference in the use of gesture to accompany speech from the children from Taiwan and those in the United States. (Cole 1993). Also, the children tends to develop complex sentence structures on their own without their parents teaching them first.

However, once they are able to acquire language, they seemed to have failed to acquire the grammatical rules of language. Hence, it seems that the mere fact of being raised in an environment whether the actions of all the other participants were organized by human language and culture is sufficient to allow the child to develop the essentials of linguistic structure. Though without the access to the additional information provided by the environment, one has no opportunity to discover its more accurate and grammatical features.


In conclusion, the review of difference theories of language development in children including: the imitation theory, the innateness theory, and the cognitive theory; they are correct to a degree, as they each describe a particular aspect of a complex phenomenon. In relation to my research question, cognitive development is an essential requirement for linguistic development. However, language does not occur freely because of cognitive development. Imitation, repetition and structured contribution are all part of language acquisition. Greater exposure to language could speed up language acquisition, but it is not essential. Hence, all children exposed to language, regardless of environmental factors and differences in intelligences, are able to acquire very complex grammars at a very young age. As stated earlier in my essay, the language acquisition device which is innate to the child allows for such rapid and successful language acquisition by children.

In summing up my analysis through my research essay, language acquisition in children is a natural consequence of the human society. All children who are exposed to language acquire it naturally without deliberate efforts of teaching or learning. The outcome of first language acquisition will be the same regardless of individual differences in intelligence. Two children with quite different intellectual abilities will both acquire a highly complex native language by the age of six. Although the basic ability to acquire language is innate to the child, no specific structural property of language has yet been proven to be innate. Therefore, any infant is equally capable of acquiring any language and that is the result of analyzing the various sociological processes on language development; Infants born of different facial stocks will be able acquire the same form of language if raised in the same linguistic environment.