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9. A Topical Approach to. LIFE-SPAN DEVELOPMENT. Language Development. John W. Santrock. Language Development. What Is Language? How Language Develops Biological and Environmental Influences. What is Language?. Defining Language.

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life span development


A Topical Approach to


Language Development

John W. Santrock

language development
Language Development
  • What Is Language?
  • How Language Develops
  • Biological and Environmental Influences
defining language

What is Language?

Defining Language
  • Form of communication, whether spoken, written, or signed, based on system of symbols
    • Infinite generativity — ability to produce an endless number of meaningful sentences using a finite set of words and rules
language s rule systems

Sound system of language; how the sounds are used and combined – phoneme is smallest unit of sound


morphemes are units of meaning involved in word formation


Ways words are combined to form acceptable phrases and sentences



Meanings of words and sentences

Appropriate use of language in context; can be very complex


What is Language?

Language’s Rule Systems

How Language Develops

  • Babbling and other vocalizations
    • Crying - from birth
    • Cooing - 1 to 2 months
    • Babbling - around 6 months
    • Gestures - 8 to 12 months

How Language Develops

  • Recognizing Language Sounds
    • Newborns recognize sound changes
    • Can recognize own language sounds at 6 months
  • First Words
    • Receptive vocabulary considerably exceeds

spoken vocabulary

    • Timing of first word and vocabulary spurt varies

How Language Develops

  • Two-Word Utterances
    • Begins between 18 to 24 months
    • Child relies heavily on gesture, tone, context
    • Telegraphic speech — use of short and

precise words without grammatical markers

early childhood

How Language Develops

Early Childhood
  • Understanding Phonology and Morphology
    • Children know morphological rules
      • Plural and possessive forms of nouns
      • Third-person singular and past-tense verbs
    • Children abstract rules and apply them to novel situations
      • Sometimes overgeneralize rules
understanding syntax

How Language Develops

Understanding Syntax
  • Preschoolers learn and apply syntax rules
  • Children show growing mastery of complex rules for how words should be ordered
  • By elementary school years, children become skilled at using syntactical rules to construct lengthy and complex sentences
advances in semantics

How Language Develops

Advances in Semantics
  • Speaking vocabulary: ranges from 8,000 to 14,000 words for 6-year-olds
    • Rate of 5 to 8 words per day from ages 1 to 6
    • Some estimate 6-year-old learns 22 words a day
    • Entering elementary school with small vocabulary places child at risk for reading problems
    • Quantity of parent talk linked to child’s vocabulary growth and SES of family
advances in pragmatics

3 Years Old

Improve ability to talk about

things not physically present,

improved displacement

4 Years Old

Develop remarkable sensitivity to needs of others in conversation

4 to 5 Years Old

Change speech style to

suit the social situation

How Language Develops

Advances in Pragmatics
preparing for literacy

How Language Develops

Preparing for Literacy
  • Family environment linked to differences linked to differences in children’s language and literacy skills
  • Literacy comes quickly for preschoolers participating in print-related interactions
  • Literacy experiences extremely important for young children
family environment

How Language Develops

Family Environment
  • Mother’s education level is positively correlated to number of books in home
  • Single-parent and welfare families had fewer books than two-parent and affluent families
  • Kindergartener had better language skills if parents read to them 3 or more times a week
middle and late childhood

How Language Develops

Middle and Late Childhood
  • Vocabulary and grammar
    • Reading and writing assumes prominent role
    • Preschoolers usually respond with one word first
    • Elementary school children
      • Increasingly understand, use complex grammar
      • Metalinguistic awareness greatly improves
    • By adolescence, most know rules for use of

language in everyday contexts


How Language Develops

  • Before learning to read, children learn
    • To use language to describe things not present
    • The alphabetic principle: letters represent sound
  • Whole language approach
    • Instruction should parallel child’s natural language

learning; reading should be whole and meaningful

  • Basic-skills-and-phonics approach
    • Instruction should teach phonics and its basic

rules; reading should involve simplified materials

national reading panel

How Language Develops

National Reading Panel
  • Most effective phonological awareness training
    • Has two main skills: blending and segmentation
    • Best when integrated with reading and writing;

small groups more beneficial than whole class

  • Children benefit from guided oral reading

How Language Develops

  • Children’s writing emerges out of their early scribbles, about 2 to 3 years of age
  • Parents and teachers should encourage children’s early writing
  • Positive corrections discourage writing
  • Children should be given many writing opportunities
middle and late childhood1

How Language Develops

Middle and Late Childhood
  • Bilingualism— ability to speak two languages
    • Learning second language easier for children
    • Children’s ability to pronounce second language

with correct accent decreases with age; sharp drop

after age 10 to 12

    • Has positive effect on children’s cognitive



How Language Develops

  • Increased use and understanding of
    • Sophisticated words
    • Analysis and abstract thinking
    • Metaphors— implied comparison of unlike things
    • Satire— use of irony, derision, or wit to expose

folly or wickedness


How Language Develops

  • Adolescents are much better at organizing ideas and writing
  • Dialect— variety of language distinguished by vocabulary, grammar, or pronunciation
    • Adolescent dialect with peers often uses jargon or slang
    • Usually used to indicate group membership

How Language Develops

  • Distinct personal linguistic style is part of special identity
  • Vocabulary often continues to increase throughout adult years until late adulthood
    • Little decline among healthier older adults
  • Non-language factors may be cause of decline in language skills in older adults

How Language Develops

  • Some decrements common in late adulthood
    • Inability to distinguish speech sounds
    • Tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon
    • Alzheimer’s disease
      • Language does not change
      • Word-finding difficulties are early warning signs
biological influences

Biological and Environmental Influences

Biological Influences
  • Evolution and the brain’s role in language
    • Human language about 100,000 years old
    • Particular regions of brain predisposed for

language acquisition

    • Most comprehend syntax in left hemisphere;

emotion and intonation comprehended in

right hemisphere

    • Aphasia— language disorder resulting from

brain damage; loss of ability to use words

biological influences1

Biological and Environmental Influences

Biological Influences
  • Evolution and the brain’s role in language
    • Broca’s area — area of brain’s left frontal lobe involved in speech production
    • Wernicke’s area —area of brain’s left hemisphere involved in language comprehension
      • If damaged — fluent incomprehensible speech produced
language acquisition device

Biological and Environmental Influences

Language Acquisition Device
  • Chomsky
    • Humans biologically prewired for language
    • Language acquisition device (LAD):

biological endowment to detect features

and rules of language

    • Theoretical, not physical part of brain
    • Evidence of uniformity in language

milestones across languages and cultures

is there a critical period for learning language

Biological and Environmental Influences

Is There A Critical Period For Learning Language?
  • Fixed time period for mastering developmental experiences
  • Lenneberg
    • Language depends on maturity
    • Critical period for first language is 18 months to


    • Preschool years most important: language

develops rapidly and easily

behavioral and environmental influences

Biological and Environmental Influences

Behavioral and Environmental Influences
  • Behavioral View
    • Language is complex learned skill, reinforced
    • Problems with behavioral view:
      • Cannot explain people creating novel sentences
      • Children can learn syntax of native language without reinforcement
      • Fails to explain language’s extensive orderliness
behavioral and environmental influences1

Biological and Environmental Influences

Behavioral and Environmental Influences
  • Environmental influences
    • Mother’s language linked to child’s vocabulary
    • Child-directed speech— higher pitch for attention
      • Parents, older children modify their speech
    • Other strategies
      • Recasting— rephrasing
      • Expanding— restating
      • Labeling— identifying objects by names
an interactionist view of language

Biological and Environmental Influences

An Interactionist View of Language
  • Language
    • Has biological foundations
    • Acquisition influenced by experiences
    • Children acquire native language without explicit

teaching; some without encouragement

  • Bruner: parents and teachers help construct language acquisition support system (LASS)
    • Resembles Vygotsky’s ZPD