Collections of first words are usually about such things as family members, daily routines, food, vehicles, toys and pets. And it is not surprising that people, food, animals and possessions are highly interesting to babies and need labels early on! The field of meaning here is part of the lifetime study of human relationships and people management.
At this point the young talker has joined the language club Smith, and is well on the way to learning about self-assertion, as well as cooperation. More words Single words can pack a linguistic punch, but they do have their limitations. They depend a lot on context and on the interpretive sensitivity of a carer. However, their power and flexibility increases greatly when they are combined together in order to say more complicated things.
Infants vary greatly in the rate, the frequency and the complexity of their early word combinations. The striking thing about these utterances is that they are unique to the child, their originality is a reminder that they could not have been copied from carers or the language community. They use quite different word order: in the first example the important object of attention, the door, is named before the desired action is indicated. In the latter incident the small boy was very impressed when the car was driven right on to the beach.
Developing Language and Literacy with Young Children
It was literally parked by the sea! These examples help us to see that the beginning speaker is creative, determined and resourceful as he or she struggles to use a limited hold on speech in order to communicate important new meanings. Similar social and linguistic triumphs were also achieved by our second grandson, Dylan, again at just 22 months. Not only was this a remarkably creative new three-word utterance, it also book.
Dylan had managed to reorganise his limited word collection in order to talk about an unusual encounter with fish and explore the discovery that a normally gentle, loving carer could get very angry. Professional linguists get very excited about what young children are doing when they first start to combine words together and the reason for all the excitement is grammar.
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Many small children are able, in their second year, to combine words together in original ways that convey meanings to others. This is a standard definition of a grammar see the next section. Furthermore, they have not been taught the system they have hit upon for doing this and it certainly differs from the conventions of adult language use, but it is systematic, it has a pattern and it works.
It communicates meanings to users of the conventional language system.
In other words, it is an early emerging grammar. Linguists describe grammars in terms of the things that they enable us to do with language, so what can these little children do with their early language system? Grammatical word combinations of this sort gave him a way of commenting on the world and any particular state of affairs. So, the emerging language system enables very young children to do two important things: to get things done, including involving other people, and to comment on the world.
Is this grammar? If we do not have some understanding of what a grammar is, we are likely to go along with the majority of people who would dismiss the examples above as ungrammatical. Yet I have already claimed that linguists see early word combinations as an important development: the first evidence of grammatical speech. Why then is there considerable disagreement about the nature of grammar? Some of these ancient language myths Bauer and Trudgill, are worth a closer look.
Prescriptive grammar On the one side we have those beliefs about language that emphasise correctness and rules; rules which tell us how we ought to speak and write. This is known as prescriptive grammar: it prescribes what we ought to do.
When this fails, as it must, speakers are instructed to speak like a book, using the rules of written language in their speech. This approach was the dominant view of grammar until the early years of the twentieth century and it still has a great hold on the minds of most people. It was the accepted way of teaching English in schools, particularly the grammar and public schools of Britain, until well into the s and the results are sometimes desperately sad.
Why should this be so? First, a prescriptive approach divides the nation into those who think that they can and do speak like the classical rule books of grammar, and those, the majority, who have a strong conviction that they do not even speak their own home language properly. Second, it supports a damaging belief in language league tables; some languages just are better, more logical and more sophisticated than others, goes the old argument.
This is a particularly dangerous view because of the close identification of groups of people with their language: if the language is judged to be primitive or inadequate, so are its users. Third, so many of us are convinced that grammar is difficult, boring and irrelevant to our lives that you may have already decided not to read this section of the book! Descriptive grammars On the other side, however, is modern linguistics which has much to say about the human mind, about learning and about grammar, but not a lot about Latin! The three main dimensions of modern views of grammar are highly relevant book.
First, modern grammars are descriptive. This means that they are not rigid rules about how we ought to speak and write: they are attempts to describe how we actually do so. There are complex sets of rules that govern the ways in which the sounds of a language, or its written symbols, are linked to meanings and messages. In attempting to describe these, modern linguists behave like any other scientists: they observe, listen, keep records and make informed guesses about what is going on. And they can disagree and even be proved wrong. A second distinguishing feature of modern grammars is that they are described as having three, or possibly four, levels.
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These are phonology, syntax, semantics and lexis. We need to look at these levels in more detail. The lexis is the entire stock of words available to a speech community and those words appearing in the dictionaries of a written language. Phonology Phonology is the organisation and patterning of the sounds of a language, including such important elements as emphasis and intonation.
Phonology also records the regional and social variations of sounds among speakers of the same language. These pronunciation differences are commonly known as accents. The study of phonology also includes an understanding of the physical processes involved in making the sounds we call language. Syntax Syntax is concerned with words and the ways in which they can be modified and changed themselves, as well as combined together in groups. This is the one aspect of a modern grammar that is a close family relative of the prescriptive grammar referred to above. However, there is a crucial difference: modern book.
The rules of syntax emphasise those word changes and word orders which affect meaning and communication. In the same language community there can still be differences between distinctive groups of speakers in the vocabulary and the patterns of syntax they use; this affects word order, the ways of showing tenses time , number singular or plural and possession.
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These varieties within a language are called dialects; their origins are regional and social and among the most frequently discussed in the UK are the several varieties of standard English see Glossary. There are also historical and cultural dimensions to the study of semantics. Word meanings change over time and have dramatically different effects on our perceptions.
Different cultures categorise and label the world differently: the colour spectrum, pets, possessions and food are all classified in such diverse ways that a dog can be for dinner, a mat for praying, and a book a sacred object. This characteristic of a modern grammar takes us into the next section of this chapter, because a grammar is now taken to be a description of some aspects of the human mind. The rules of grammar do not come from Latin, or from teachers: they originate in the mind.
Language and thinking The fact that modern linguists are finding out more about how we learn anything when they study small babies learning their languages is an important reason for asking the carers and educators of under-eights to take some interest in linguistics.
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The claims first made in the twentieth century book. Among these claims is the notion that some kind of universal grammar is pre-programmed in our minds Chomsky, , so that all human languages have some underlying similarities. This theory has been popularly referred to as the language instinct Pinker, It accounts for the ease and speed with which babies all over the world learn to use and understand languages, rapidly becoming skilled linguists and communicators.
Other approaches have looked at the ways in which the early language used by a child in communicating with his or her carers turns inward to change and enrich the ways in which the child can think Vygotsky, ; Bruner and Haste, A further outcome of this is that language enables us to think in a symbolic way.