A baby speaks directly to the camera: “Look at this. I’m a free man. I go anywhere I want now.” He describes his stock-buying activities, but then his phone interrupts. “Relentless! Hang on a second.” He answers his phone. “Hey, girl can I hit you back?” That scenario has been very common in commercials and movies throughout the past 15 years in which the majority of viewers perceive it as unrealistic and very comical. Joshua Hartshorne published a article called “Why Don’t Babies Talk Like Adults?” in Scientific American Mind which attempts to answer the question: ” Why don’t young children express themselves articulately?
Researchers are uncovering clues about the brain development and the mysterious process of learning a language by attempting to answer the question: “Why don’t young children express themselves articulately?”, in which they have discarded the “copycat” theory. Which states that infants learn to express themselves articulately by copying what they hear. In other words infants will listen to the words that are used by adults in several situations and later on imitate them accordingly. But adults have not been expressing them in one word sentences or even in short sentences. Therefore, the “copycat” theory does not explain why toddlers are not fluent as adults, but brings us to a very critical question why do infants speak in one-word sentence? Over the past century scientists have settled on two reasonable possibilities. First theory is called “Mental Development Hypothesis” which states that infants speaks in one word or short sentences because their brains are still immature and much undeveloped. Therefore, they cannot dominate adult speech. The supporting argument is that infants do not learn to walk until their body is ready; likewise, they will not speak multiword sentences or use word ending and function words before their brains is capable of doing so. The second theory is called “Stages of Language hypothesis”, which states that speech is an incremental step progress. A basketball player his or her jump shot before learning to both jump and shoot, and children learn to add and then multiply, never in the reverse order. For instance, in a 1997 review article published by two cognitive scientists, Elizabeth Bates of University of San Diego and Judith C. Goodman from University of Columbia found that kids usually begins speaking in two word sentences only after they have learned a certain amount of single words. In other words children must cross a linguistic threshold so the word combination process can be developed. The differences between both theories are: “Mental Development Hypothesis” states the patterns in language learning should depend on a child’s level of cognitive development and “Stages of Language Hypothesis” states that learning language patterns are not dependable on the brain development. However, to prove which has hypothesis is correct has been extremely difficult because most children learn language at around the same age, thus in similar stages of cognitive development. But 2007 Harvard neuroscientists Jesse Snedeker, Joy Garen and Clarissa L. Shafto found an ingenious way around the problem. They studied the language development of 27 children adopted from China between the ages of two and five years. International adoptees are ideal population in which to test the competing hypothesis about how language is learned because many of them are no longer exposed to their birth language after arrival in U.S and they must learn English similar way infants do, by listening and by trial and error. Even though those international children had a more mature brain, just as American born infants, their first English sentences consisted of single words and were largely bereft of function words, word endings and verbs. The researchers also found that adoptees and native children started combining words in sentences when their vocabulary reached the same size. Therefore, it suggests that what is relevant is not how old a child is or how mature their brains are but the number of words they know. The finding that having a more mature brain does not avoid the toddler talk stage suggests that infants speaks in one word sentences or even short sentence not because they have a infant brain but because they having only initiated the process of learning an language. In fact they must accrue sufficient vocabulary to be able to expand their conservations. In conclusion infants do not express themselves as adults because language development is a gradual process. Therefore, “Stages of Language Hypothesis” is the most supported theory.
The article Why Don’t babies Talk Like Adults By Joshua Hartshorne was published Scientific American Mind. Scientific American Mind has been bringing its readers unique insights about developments in science and technology for more than 160 years therefore I had curiosity analyze the information that has been shared with so many readers throughout years. The structure of the article was not very organized. I had to read the article more than once so I could identify theories of language development therefore the structure of his article made it difficult for the reader to identify his main arguments. Although, Hartshorne does very good job in introducing, explaining and concluding each theory. He also provides his reader with a scientific research conducted by Harvard neuroscientists that analysis “The Adoption Effect”. He should have explained a little more in depth about experiment procedures so the readers could know how it was conducted. Also in his conclusion he does not tie the his final arguments to the initial question: “Why don’t young children express themselves articulately? But he leaves it to the reader to tie it together. I did not agree to the sentence: “Behaviorism, the scientific approach that dominated American cognitive science for the first half of the 20th century, made exactly this argument”. It is very inaccurate to claim that behaviorism ever dominated cognitive science because Cognitive science is one approach to the study of human behavior, Behaviorism another approach. He should have explained more in depth that “cognitive science” which is normally chosen to contrast with the approach taken by behaviorists, who preferred to study behavior without recourse to such notions as thought or the mind. Future research made me acknowledge that behaviorism and cognitive science co-exist, with behaviorism being the elder approach by fifty years or so. Overall, his article was informative and correct although should have been more scientific. Joshua Hartshorne also did not go into the mechanical or scientific area of language Development therefore it provoked me to research the topic more into depth which seems to be the purpose of Scientific Mind articles.
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