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In this assignment I will attempt to show the extent that the transcripts of the conversations between infant Cindy and the adult Patsy (see appendix A) demonstrates examples of some of the typical features of adult - child interaction. From these brief recorded moments of the conservations we can deduce the stage in which the child's language development is at and are able to analyse the role that this kind of interaction contributes to the child's understanding of the English Language. I will do this by looking at the different aspects of language acquisition demonstrated by Cindy such as; grammar, lexis, phonological features, the pragmatics and how they change within the duration of the transcripts.
Firstly it is important to consider the context of the interaction. We are told by the information available to us within the extracts that Cindy is 2 years and 16 days old in the first conversation and is interacting with a 'visiting adult' we do not know the closeness of their relationship but we can infer from this that the adult is not a main caregiver. I also note the name Patsy as the adult which is also the name of one of the authors of the language book from which this extract was taken in which case it should also be noted that her responses to Cindy would likely be more intentional in nature and not as 'natural' a conversation as that of a regular adult-child interaction.
Some of the typical features of adult-child interaction are however demonstrated by Patsy in the extracts. Her sentences are constructed in a way that gives Cindy specific opportunities to take part in the conversation. For instance, the conversation has an overall slower pace with lots of pauses, where in adult conversations fillers might be used, Patsy's vocabulary is simplified; extra information is given as clarification 'no that's a carrot.' and frequent questions invite direct participation and imitation from Cindy - in fact all but two of Patsy's sentences are in the form of a question. The conversation is also is set in in the context of the immediate surroundings, with reference to things nearby and activities that are going on here-and-now this is another typical feature of CDS. Due to the nature of the transcript it is impossible to tell whether Patsy also demonstrates the characteristic higher pitch that is so distinctive to CDS.
The first part of Cindy's language development I will look at is that of her grammatical development. The initial conversation takes place when Cindy is 24 months and 16 days old shows that she is clearly in the more advanced end of the 'telegraphic speech stage' (mercer et al, 1996, p26)of grammatical development . Crystal describes this stage as' the 'filling out' of more simple sentence patterns'(Crystal, 1994, cited in mercer et al,1996, p25) and usually consists of a simplified mode of speaking with many of the grammatical function words are omitted and only the key lexical words are used. We can see from the transcripts that Cindy is in the process of forming correct grammatical structures; she uses correct inflections and plural markers e.g. 'carrots' and question forms (line 9), pronouncing consonants at the end of words, understanding different words and how they relate (e.g. the use of the pronoun 'both') and beginning to gain the skills associated with conversation. This is particularly evident as you compare the transcripts with the timeline in which they take place as you can see a distinct improvement in Cindy's use of grammar. Within the conversations Cindy appears to be imitating and practising with different sentence structures 'he (XXX) eat carrots. ... the other one eat carrots ... they both eat carrots' which then get reinforced by Patsy's responses. By the end of these conversations Cindy is demonstrating the use of more complex syntax, using 3rd person singulars correctly and longer more grammatically correct sentences.
From a lexical perspective, Cindy appears again to make improvements throughout the exchange. She displays a good vocabulary and an improving word stock for example once she is told the correct word for 'carrot' she uses this at later dates without further mistakes. She has good use of verbs in her speech and uses the term 'go' correctly in nearly all of its occurrences although she has a more basic grip of the verb 'eat' using it in its simplest form the majority of the time. This is when Patsy's re-casts appear to work effectively as a reinforcement of the correct usage (lines 6, 12, 14) Due to the nature of the subject matter of the transcripts it is hard to tell if Cindy uses any over or under extensions as the topics and the transcripts are so limited however perhaps the use of 'tiger' for one of (what we are told in the context information) her 'dolls'.
It is difficult to look at the pronunciation and prosodic aspects of the interaction as we do not know how accurate the transcript is at representing the information. It would seem from the transcript that Cindy is able to pronounce complicated consonant combinations at the beginning of words such as 'the' and 'they' (line 5) despite her mispronunciation and the dropping of the unstressed syllable in the word 'carrot' as 'kawo' initially (line 1). However once she is corrected by Patsy she then consistently uses the correct pronunciation. Cindy appears to have mastered the majority of the phonemes that would be typical for her age (as suggested by Aldridge cited in Mercer et al, 1996, p13) and even appears to be managing some of plosives (e.g. /p) The influence that the adult Patsy plays in assisting Cindy's language in this section however is hard to determine without an audio recording.
The social skills that Cindy has appear to be fairly socially adept for her age. Her conversations are smooth, involving of the other person, and have no abrupt topic changes. She is able to respond to prompts and questions, initiate the topics (1, 11) asks questions (9) and deals with turn-taking effectively. The prompts that Patsy provides with her adult-child interactions such as re-casting, asking questions etc, perhaps assist Cindy in gaining this awareness as her later conversation certainly have the 'feel' of a more advanced conversation.
The educational psychologist Jerome Bruner states that adult-child interaction is a factor that has significant impact in developing the child's sense of identity. He highlights the importance of 'negotiating and sharing' in a child's language development process (Bruner, 1986 cited in Mercer et al, 1996, p83), this view is shared by Trevarthen and Aitken who state that this form of interaction is crucial in motivating the child to increase the 'development of... language' (Trevarthen and Aitken cited in Mercer et al, 1996, p15). The simplified language and distinctive intonation used when speaking to children by adults, such as that demonstrated by Patsy in the extract, is often spoken in tones pitched higher than normal and has commonly been labelled 'motherese' (Mercer and Swan, 1996, page 16), and more recently 'child directed speech' or CDS (ibid).
Within the transcript, the adult Patsy can be seen to bring three main contributions, each of which will play a part in enabling the child's speech to develop further. The first is linguistic knowledge; Patsy shares her knowledge with Cindy in line 4 giving the correct name to the 'carrot'. Secondly, Patsy remains focused on Cindy and devotes her time and attention to her alone, she also allows her time to think about her answers to questions. Lastly she uses child-directed speech, not in the typified 'motherese' sense as she isn't using 'baby-talk', but her language is clear and of a level which is appropriate for Cindy. However, to me, the role that Patsy plays in responding to Cindy appears relatively 'cold' in nature. She responds to Cindy's questions with a simple 'yes' and 'no that's a carrot' and I can't help but feel when comparing this to the way in which I speak to my 2 year old in over enthusiastic 'Yay.. that's right Haydn well done' whilst clapping or even the way in which he is spoken to at nursery by his teachers, that perhaps Cindy would benefit from a more enthusiastic contribution from Patsy. This could however be down to the transcription not accurately portraying Patsy's tone and also the more distant relationship between Patsy and Cindy.
We can therefore see both positives and negatives, in terms of the adult Patsy's role, in the conversation. It is possible to summarise that although she provides many key features which help to develop Cindy's language further, I believe there are also points which could be altered to make the conversation more productive.
In conclusion, it can be deduced that this particular example of adult's child-directed speech appears to be beneficial to Cindy's learning of the English language. Whether Patsy's speech directly 'teaches' language to Cindy is still debatable, however it certainly facilitates its development through providing an opportunity for Cindy to practice, improve, and enhance her language skills in a safe and enjoyable environment.
Through both the analysis of these transcripts and the knowledge of previous research such as that of Clifton Pye and his study of Quiche in South America (cited in Mercer et al, 1996, p16) which shows that child-directed speech is not present in all cultures and yet still produces fluent speakers of the native language, we can conclude that the transcript does, to a degree, show examples of some of the typical features of adult-child interaction, and that, in this circumstance, it appears to have contributed in the child's learning of the English language. However it is my belief that it is important to distinguish that whilst use of 'such language practices can contribute to language development' it is 'not essential to it' (ibid) and that there are, in fact, a number of influences that will impact on, and assist in, a child's acquisition of language, and that each child is individual and will respond differently to a variety of methods.
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http://www.oxbridgewriters.com/essays/english-language/language-development.php accessed on 01/03/2011
http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/langdev.html accessed between 23/02/2011 and 08/03/2011