Variations and Changes in Language Acqisition in Children
Children acquire language spontaneously without being explicitly taught how. Their mastery of sounds passes through stages determined by a progression from unmarked to more marked sounds, unmarked ones also being those most commonly found in languages and least likely to erode over time, as discovered by founding linguist Roman Jakobson. Their mastery of other aspects of grammar proceeds along with their ability to master rules, rather than simply memorize.
It was once thought that children learned to speak simply by imitating adults: They hear adults saying words, and then they pick up words. However, modern linguists have found that it is something apparently innate to the species, and thus it proceeds according to basic aspects of linguistic structure.
Most children start producing words from a time between the age eight and twelve months. Many children have ten words in their vocabulary at the age of fifteen months. They gradually pick up speed from that point onwards. An eighteen month old child may learn only one or two new words a day; whereas a four year old will acquire a dozen. Children do not just master a basket of words and expressions. There’s something more constrained and systematic going on. Words are just empty shells. There is no point in learning a new word if they don’t learn its meaning. Children are remarkably good at this too. They are able to learn a word’s meaning at the first time they hear it used. For instance; a child sees a cow running in a field and hear his/her mother say “cow” the child typically will figure out the right way that the word refers to the animal; not to its colour, or to its legs or to the fact that its running.
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O’Grady, William. How Children Learn Language. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
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