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Language is a system of sounds, symbols, etcetera for communicating thought or a particular system used by a nation or people and thought is thinking: concept or ideas. (Collins English Dictionary, 1998). Babies are born without language, but all children learn the rules of language fairly early on and without school-style teaching, so do babies have knowledge before they learn language? There are many theories regarding language development in human beings, which are mainly based on the nature and nurture discussion. How quickly children learn language has caused many to believe that language must be in-built into the brain. Others believe that language is learned from all around us.
Initial perception is that language develops before the child is born, so it is assumed that infants begin to learn language before the child has learned to manipulate their own speech. It appears that infants are able to categorise the world around us practically from birth, which is to group similar experiences together, so that everyday life becomes structured and concepts are then formed. Categories appear to be initially done on the basis of perceptual features of objects, and then as we get older we use increasingly less obvious features. Mandler (1997) states that the word "category" covers "perceptual categorisation" based on colour, shape, texture of objects and also "conceptual categorisation" whereby categories are richer, have more meaning and are open to reflection. To test this theory that young infants can form perceptual category representations when presented with a set of perceptually similar stimuli from the same class, Quinn and Eimas (1996) used "familiarisation/novelty preference" studies. These studies suggested that heads are necessary and sufficient for 3 to 4 month olds when forming categorical representations of cats and dogs. The infants showed that they formed a category representation equivalent to "cat". Additionally, when infants were familiarised with horses they treated novel horses as familiar, but showed greater interest in cats, giraffes and zebras. These findings support that young infants use categories.
Quinn also studied about categories and spatial relations (1994) and tested the idea that children understand the concepts of "above", "beside" and "behind", i.e. "above" and "below". The results from the tests showed that young infants can form categorical representations for above and below relations between dots and horizontal bars. More so, Quinn et al (2003) used the same method of testing to indicate that infants aged between 6 to 7 months of age, can also form category representations for "between" and "outside".
ED209 TMA05 ESSAY
JENNIFER MASON A9448083
A further study is whether infants could form categories as a result of looking at a series of dot patterns that were distorted versions of simple prototype shapes, for example, squares, triangles, and etcetera. Younger and Gotlieb (1988) carried out a dot pattern categorisation experiment where young infants were familiarised with 6 to 12 different distorted exemplars from one category, for example a square, and they were then preference-tested with the prototype of this familiar category (a non-distorted square) paired with the prototype from a novel category, i.e. triangle. The findings were that the novel prototype from the novel category was preferred by most infants, indicating that they had formed a category representation as a result of looking at the familiarisation set of distorted exemplars. The advantage of this research is that it is highly controlled in a laboratory setting, but it is not in everyday life, whereas the familiarisation/novelty preference procedure was related to day-to-day things.
There is overwhelming evidence that infants do indeed group things into categories, but how do these categories transfer into "concepts" when we get older. There are two views, one is "single process model" and the second is "dual process model". The single-process model starts by using basic information and gradually includes more information over time. For example, an animal has basic features such as body shape, limbs, face and these will eventually encompass more detailed information as movement, what they eat, etcetera. Therefore, categories are learned through looking at and naming objects in the world with others, as the child gets older the use of language is used to describe defining features of categories, i.e. more detail is provided. In support of this model is computer simulations of learning networks that form category representations based only on perceptual features. (Quinn and Johnson, 1997).
Mandler (1992,2000) argues that category representations based on perceptual features are simply "perceptual schemas" that define what a group of things image, but they do not define their meaning, so transpires the dual-process model. Not only is there perceptual schemas there are also image schemas, these account for more abstract attributes, for example, motion, sound and function. Whereas perceptual schemas are based on what you can see, hear or feel, image schemas refer to what can be inferred in some way, so both these schemas work in parallel with each other. In support of this dual-process model is Karmiloff-Smith (1986), who states that children's knowledge moves from being implicit and procedural to explicit and "thought about" - this is the concept of "redescription of procedural information". It claims that during learning/development initially implicit knowledge is rendered progressively more explicit via that reiterated action of the redescription process, resulting in a hierarchy of increasingly explicit and accessible representations.
So far, infants appear to build a rich knowledge structure of categories before they begin to speak, supporting the theory that infants must have knowledge before they learn language. It seems that these categories and concepts are vital for language to occur. Before children speak they already know about the way words sound and how they should be used. Most infants comprehend far more words than they can produce, so comprehension must proceed before production. As infants do not know the connotation of words, there must be some form of erudition before they produce them.
ED209 TMA05 ESSAY
JENNIFER MASON A9448083
Therefore, it is necessary to know that perception of speech sounds develops even before the child is born. Researchers (Richards et al, 1992) discovered that unborn babies can hear while still in the womb and experiments shown that the heart rate will decrease at the sound of their mother's voice (DeCasper & Spence, 1986). It is then not exorbitant to presuppose that infants begin to learn language before the child has learned to control their own speech.
Mehler et al (1994) researched into newborn infants being able to tell apart the language they have heard in the womb from atypical languages. Experiments carried out with babies have revealed that they prefer their native language. The speech that babies hear while still in the womb influences their later language perception, as newborns prefer their own mother's voice (Mehler & Dupoux, 1994), their own language, and maybe well-known voices from elsewhere. It is not just the musical quality of speech that is of significance but also the pitch and stress patterns of the mother's voice also have a great influence of the child's grasp and production of language. By approximately 4 to 6 months old infants start to make many sounds. At this stage prosodic cues are used to recognise word boundaries, which is what facilitates infants to separate word beginnings and ends, and also different voices and languages. Syllable stress is a prosodic cue that is also used and English words have most stress on the first syllable also referred to as "transitional probability". This is the probability of certain syllables appearing collectively.
A study by Johnson and Jusczyk (2001) showed that infants spent more time listening to "part-words" less familiar sounds consequently showing the preference children have for new experiences. Before actually speaking words, infants use babbling, where they practice sounds and rhythms of language. Babbling takes place in stages which are cooing at 3 months, vocal play at 4 months, recognisable syllables at 6 months, reduplicated babbling at 8 months and also at 8 months diverse babbling when different sounds follow each other. At this stage infants learn how moving their tongue and lips will change the sound they produce, and eventually use this to respond to stimuli around them and use the sound they make to articulate needs and wants.
Many theorists accept that language must be in-built into the brain, and that we are born with this in-built device which influences us to obtain language. But, children's ability to gather language so swiftly and continue to develop and communicate effectively in their environment implies that both nature and nurture must be crucial for language skills. Language development also follows a similar pattern across cultures. Chomsky (1965) uses a Nativist approach and believes that children could not learn everything about language from the environment without help, but that we are all born with genetically resolute language abilities. Infants are born with ownership of a universal grammar that determines potential language rules and language structures. Chomsky believes that we have knowledge of language before we speak, but, this view does underrate the function of the environment in language acquisition and the social context in which language learning transpires. It furthermore relates to gaining of grammatical competence rather than the functional features of language.
ED209 TMA05 ESSAY
JENNIFER MASON A9448083
Pinker (1994) also supports the notion that language is an innate capacity as children who grow up in a community where there is little non-grammatical communication end up speaking a grammatical language; hence there is reinvention of language, because of an in-built nature to make a language.
A Constructivism view is from Piaget, who considered language as reliant on other cognitive and perceptual processes and that language succeeds the stages of cognitive development. Language increases through construction of knowledge by the child and through assorted experiences, children then use their mental schema to deduce the experience and integrate it within their mental structure. Knowledge is gained from one's own experience, and only when children reach the first sensori-motor stage do they obtain language, and at the pre-operational stage do they attain proficient speech. Social Constructivism sees the child as a unique individual with exclusive needs and backgrounds, but still states that developments such as language are present at birth by the person themselves and that social contact then has a foremost part to play in learning. Vygotsky (1978) says that speech and practical activity unite, and through practical activity a child builds meaning on an interpersonal level, while speech links this meaning. Social Constructivism is closely related to Behaviourism as both say that occurrences are learned from others. Skinner (1957) stated that language is dependent on intelligence or experience relating to his imitation and reinforcement theory, as language possession occurs at a time when the infant is inept of multifaceted cognitions. Therefore, the Nativist and Constructivist (in part- Social Constructivists) theories support that we must have knowledge before we can speak, and Behaviourism is against us having predetermined knowledge before we have language.
In conclusion, it is apparent that children in all cultures follow the same advancement when learning their native language. Innate theories argue that it is an in-built system and its achievement is autonomous of social and cognitive development. Cognitive theories argue for the role of experience, and child directed learning with reference to speech and general cognitive improvement. The environment must have an effect in shaping language development but innate processes at the beginning initiate the process. It is not set in stone whether it is genes or the environment that play the acting part in language attainment, surely both views must play a significant contribution to a child's cognitive language development. Continuing research and investigation should be able to aid in knowing which is of paramount significance.
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