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Semantics is an entity in linguistics, which involves the study of the meaning in language. Thus language is used as part of communication, which is the transfer of information from a sender to a receiver. The meaning is transferred by word, phrases and sentences. Semantics is also a very important property for speech-language pathologists.
Why is it relevant to Speech-Language Pathologists?
A speech-language pathologist is a professional who can assess, treat and diagnose patients or clients who have speech, voice and swallowing difficulties. They encourage patients to formulate messages that are correct in order to achieve proper communication. Since communication reflects the knowledge of word meaning of an individual, semantics is greatly significant to a speech-language pathologist.
Semantics from a Linguistic View
A person is said to have a vocabulary or lexicon of his own. The development of a vocabulary is unique to each and every person, it is also heavily affected upon environmental exposure and culture. As a child grows he/she will acquire new words that help the child communicate more accurately. Also a child learns how to use words to produce new meanings and improve the words he/she already knows.
Semantics is an important unit in language together with syntax, morphology, phonology and pragmatics which all merge together. All these components are of great importance for language in order to use them and convey an accurate and useful message.
Another three important components in language are form, content and use which were studied intensely by Ferdinand de Saussure in his theory of Language. Saussure identified the form (sound pattern) and content (meaning) as inseparable and arbitrary, that is both are used simultaneously and one cannot know the form without its content and vice versa. Thus individuals with language difficulties may experience problems regarding the form and content. For example one may know the meaning of a dog but cannot produce the form or sound of the word dog. A diagrammatic representation of the components of language is on the following page.
Figure 1: Components of Language
From Robert E. Owens Jr. Language Development: An Introduction, 6th edition. Published by Allyn & Bacon, Boston, MA. (2005)
Word learning is one of the most important achievements one can accomplish, since a child will gain the ability to communicate with his/her caregiver. First the child must be interested in understanding the form or concepts in order to attain the need to communicate for his/her needs during everyday activities.
The child will start to decode (understand) language before he/she will encode (produce) a message. It is very important for a child to learn comprehension in order to start producing sounds that are associated with a given situation. The child then tries to reproduce the word without associating it with the situation where he/she heard it. After reaching this step the child then says the word in the appropriate situation and will wait for a response. This continues to occur until the child will master the word and be able to use it at appropriate situations.
The Social Pragmatic Theory of Word Learning (Tomasello, 2003)
Michael Tomasello divided his theory into three processes:
Prerequisite processes are conditions or qualities that are essential in order for a child to learn a language. Prerequisite processes are divided mainly into two aspects, segmentation and conceptualizing referents, both are crucial for word learning.
Segmenting speech is the process of classifying spoken language into words, syllables, morphemes and phonemes. Young children must develop word knowledge in order to learn how to segment words in speech from one another. Children normally deal with segmentation before linking forms to meanings. Parents usually do not use pauses between words when they are talking to their children, this may cause the child to experience difficulty in segmenting speech. Earlier studies show that the facility to segment speech develops at around six to eight months of age (Jusczyk & Aslin, 1995). Speech segmentation requires a child to be exposed to a certain amount of language.
Aslin, R. N. (1993). Segmentation of fluent speech into words: Learning models
and the role of maternal input. In B. d. Boysson-Bardies, S. d. Schonen, P. Jusczyk, P.
McNeilage, & J. Morton (Eds.), Developmental Neurocognition: Speech and Face
Processing in the First Year of Life (pp. 305-315). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer
Children learn to conceptualize in order to associate daily activities with word meanings. As children grow older, they learn how to link meanings with objects and events that they have already experienced, together with learning new words that are used in the same concept.
Foundational Processes are divided mainly into three components: joint attention, intention reading and cultural reading. As children start learning words they develop what we call mapping skills. They learn how to map meanings onto word forms. The forms were stored at an earlier age of the childââ‚¬â„¢s life, and now the children are aware of the word meaning, therefore the forms become meaningful.
Joint attention is when two individual share focus on an object, this happens when on individual signals the other individual to the object by gestures and other non-verbal communication. This sharing of focus represents first social interactions of young children that are acquiring their first words.
Word learning is a dyadic (relationship between two persons) affair that depends on both the adult and the child (joint attention). The most vital issue is the childââ‚¬â„¢s own cognitive skills and efforts which contributes to his/her intention reading and cultural learning.