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New aspects of language using a language is so much a part of our everyday lives that we do not realize just how complex an activity it is. Styx is the science responsible for investigating this activity we take so much for granted. During this series some of the tools and methods used by linguists to study the complexities of language will be demonstrated. The series is prepared and narrated by Dr. Goode Franco an associate professor of English and Linguistics at George Peabody college for teachers in today's program. Dr. Goldberg associate professor of linguistics at Vanderbilt University and Dr. Penny Odom assistant professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University discussing child language. You're going to have with us two well-known experts from other builds universities. Therefore I think I will turn the program in its entirety over to the used too late is pending Will you please stop.
Oh thank you Dr. Frankel Dr. Engle and I are coming to you from two different academic disciplines linguistics and psychology. To talk about how children learn language and how we find out how they learn language. Missing all this is Rose strange to me that such a scholarly and abstract discipline as linguistics would be interested in the question of how children acquire language. Frankly back then with six is not such an abstract science. After all it did it with language which is a common part of human behavior and seemed even the kind of behavior that does not even require a very complex NAR organization. Persons of low intelligence and I'm not able to perform a complicated task learn to speak. Some children can talk probably fluently at the age of two. Incidentally the popular believe that little girls talk earlier and more extensively than boys of comparable an age did not withstand a statistical survey done on the subject. We used linguists are interested in language pussy for the purpose of understanding it more fully. We
divide language into its basic units. This type of comprehension and this is essentially what is done in all sciences. Just to mention the study of anatomy undertaken by the medical student interests in child language by the way is very ancient. The Greek historian erotic to us telling of some medicos the second Pharaoh of Egypt who wanted to find out which language was the oldest of all languages of the world. He kept children in complete isolation with no what ten men ever talking to them directly even adding any sound in the present. When the children finally started babbling and the first word like Adams appeared to be because the Falcon sound at the centers of his kingdom it was discovered that of all the anguish of Phrygian did indeed possess I would because meaning bring it its best follow the Frisian was supposed to be the oldest language. During the Middle Ages the Emperor Frederick the second had too often read but deaf mute gnosis. But as those poor little children died he never found out about that name with these attempts of course were
not only cruel but also ill founded the language development of children does not necessarily recut the linguistic genesis of the human race and lack the physical growth of the human embryo. Not to speak of the fact that they really do not know if they were also just that he is a primordial language from which all the various languages of the globe have to said different language might just as likely have appeared on the earth at various periods of prehistory to solve these problems. We do not have the two and therefore linguists spend little or no time on trying to solve them. Certainty child unknown which nowadays is not necessary study in that clinic in modern times feel ologists. My primary concern with the reconstruction of the earliest stages in the history of the standard languages of our Western civilization. They work with written documents. The first grammar of a dialect was published as an aid as in
1821 gradually scholars became aware of the spoken language and linguistics developed only in the first time of our present century. Some of the older linguists in Europe as well as in the United States observed quite closely and accurately described the language development of their own children. But many of their fellow linguists consider these publications and some of them are quite Pandarus up to four volumes more a labor of love than a worthy scholarly account. Only in these last 20 years did child language come into its own in the United States there are now several universities with an English six departments offer courses in Chad language and in France and chuckles not backing an official proposal has been made to establish regular chains of linguist that is I mean peep it boarding with sticks that is a full time professorship in just that one field. Child language.
As I said before the linguist records and faithfully describes the language development of the zone and the children. In doing so he collects his date. But what is to him passive observation. This type of math for the gathering of data on child language is taken over from psychology isn't it misses out a lot and so is the opposite. Active observation active observation occurs when you interfere with the normal course when they answer to see what will happen. That is you impose conditions on the child to see WHY DOES. The best example of a study using active observation I know I was a study done recently by some people who are interested in seeing the effect of parental correction on the progress of children's language development. These are Vesta gaiters wanted to know if parental correction and rephrasing an expansion via any expansion I mean that when the child says Mommy Mayock or that truck the parent says Oh you want
mommy to get you some milk. And yes that's a truck. This correction rephrasing an expansion. They wanted to see if it had any effect on the development of speech in children. You know a study that was done investigators looked at three groups of children. All three groups were similar in intelligence age they were all preschool children and income level to one group of these children. They did nothing. They simply let them go along normally to a second group experiment to follow the children of my own for several hours every correcting and rephrasing the children's speech and the children in the third group or simply read to for one hour a day. At the end of several months the children's progress in mind was developed it was measured in the groups were compared much to the investigator surprise the group that had improved the most was the group that had been read to for an hour a day. The group that improved least was the one to which nothing was done and the children whose
speech had been corrected expanded to rephrase or somewhere in between. Investigators concluded that simple exposure to language was the most efficient in facilitating language development. It's interesting to speculate as to Ronnie investigators chose the conditions that they did. They perhaps could have punished the chiller for making grammatical errors. Or they could have found other ways to enrich the environment of the children but they probably chose the conditions they did because they knew from observing their own children what seems to help and what doesn't. Doctoring Oh you're exceptionally qualified to talk about the values of observing your own children. Thank you doctor out of what you say does indeed parallel the results of a longitudinal study I did several years ago. The subject of the study was one of my own children off to formulating theories out of the research data. I checked these theories against the speech pattern of a sampling of other
children and found them gone for good. However the problem is so tremendously complex that nobody can really say he has a definite answer to the enamored of the language acquisition of the chad. We linguists growing up home from computer science called the discovery procedure by which the child acquires his mother language and algorithm. They are basically two opposites views on the issue. One group operating with believes that all possible grammatical rules even in the newborn and the chad eventually forgets the rules that do not apply to the language he is exposed to by living in a particular environment. The other point of view which is just as much as the preceding one. Not at all in contrast with the fact that all shared whatever language just spoken by the emphasis to learn the language of their immediate invalid. And later to an American Negro for example would not find it any more difficult or easy to run an African language than does his white fellow citizen who speaks
English just as well as he does and his grandparents may have been speaking nothing but German. This other point of view states that the child is born with a brain potentially capable of acquiring language by the way this capability of acquiring language is one of the major differences between humans and animals. The baby then imitates what he is concentrating at phone with what he considers essential concentrating at first on what he considers essential. Like the word for made up a mother he produces these words as best he can improving himself bit by bit. His algorithm consists in picking out the essential from a larger context and its grammatical rules are formulated. I am a logical generality that is. Having discovered that the past of wash is washed he will come up with the past of eat is eat it. This he will eventually correct when he realizes that incessant EDA he always hears ate. The study you just mentioned Mrs. Oldham and
the one I did myself conclude that the transition from unit to A is caused by hearing it in the correct manner in his environment rather than by being comfort be corrected. First the child listens and understands. We all know that. Let's say a 1 year old can understand many more things than he can express vocally the understanding is followed by what is termed the incubation period after which he say these very same things. If you could only understand. He doesn't say them all at once but still the basic procedure seems to be one where the pots are derived from the whole and not by service. One of the studies that we've been talking about and your own observations on your son explain perhaps why there's been increased language sophistication of children in the last 30 years has been documented that children today have more sophisticated language than children are 30 to 50 years ago. And
it's been thought that the local press radio and television or perhaps responsible for this increase since most children have access to TV and radio even in homes where the social environment is less than adequate. The findings of the study I talked about in your own observation would certainly be in line with this hypothesis about the value of television. Oh as a metal fact misses out when my son came to the United States. He did not speak English although he understood most of it because his father is a Native American and used to speak English to him even though he would reply in Italian the language of his broad environment. Before we came to the states as well as the one I spoke with him in accordance with my linguistic theory I know blockage that the young boy to sit in front of the television set something you had first of a whole lot and now of course love is as much or even too much. Like all other American children deal with that fact as I had anticipated in a fairly short time my son spoke English fluently at first with a rather atrocious exit and now enough
put the native man. How old was he when he was five years with them. There is like in all of the physical developments a critical period for language acquisition the capability of a cry of what is taught. A perfect act and Jesus by the age of puberty on the other hand as far as we can tell by now there seems to be no age limit for the mastery of the grammatical rules of a foreign language. But this problem too. We need a lot more longitudinal studies as well as out of this but psycholinguistics methodology Mrs. Owen is really one of your specialties. While the opposite of the camera part of longitudinal studies use cross-sectional studies and it's quite often used in psychology linguistics especially if one needs normative data like the average age a child says his first word. Doing cross-sectional studies entails taking samples of children from different income and intelligence levels. And finding
out when each child says his first word and getting an average. The major disadvantage is that it provides no insight into the underlying processes. You can get a very good and very thorough description of what an average child is doing at a certain time. Or age. But you have no idea why or. How it came about and what happens afterward. Oh sure the idea is a combination of the two methods so that we can get the thought perhaps of the longitude of the method and the numerical substance of the cross-sectional method you just mentioned. This has been tried in hospitals and orphanages. But then neither the hospitalized child know a child rape in the impost raised I mean a child raised in the impersonal surroundings of an orphanage represents a fee a prototype of the average normal infant. I know one investigator who sat for several hours each day in a couple of normal homes in order to observe the children
there. This was a very time consuming task for the investigator and quite an imposition on the families. The investigator was not to babysit. He was to observe the every day interaction between the children and their family. Needless to say that the experiment lasted over a short time. Well there was another psychologist who tried to combine both methods. She undertook a very large scale study of child language and to do this she picks on children to follow for several hours a week and she filmed and taped the child's activities and interactions with his parents and friends. And the study went on for several years. As a matter of fact the parents said that they learned to tolerate the experimenter and ignore them. At the conclusion of the study she had an enormous summer of very very expensive data. She had a room full of sound motion picture and had tapes and she had the
language transcribed in the phonetic alphabet. For the last I heard she didn't know what to do with it all. I assume she's come up with something like that. But all this points of course to the fact the child language cannot be profitably analyzed except by very close collaboration between psychologists linguists and neurologists. The collaborations of psychologists and linguists was one of the first of such interdisciplinary approaches that out by phone no longer unusual now in the American camp. We linguists posit the composition and organisation of natural language and the psychologists tell us about learning and memory. In short we have the OUAT and they have the how. Well only recently because up until about 15 years ago the psychologist of various schools were interested in accounting for all behavior with one theory. The most prominent was the theory that children simply repeated any behavior that they were rewarded for.
Whether it be a material way ward or parental approval or some other type of reward. Language then was just another form of behavior that the child engaged in he imitated what his parents and he was rewarded for. Well as late as 1954 some linguists and psychologists got together to try to collaborate on the topic. The general conclusion was that they couldn't get very far. They had no common ground. The conference in retrospect was probably not very fruitful although some publications did result from it. But then a psychologist was smart enough to point out to his colleagues his fellow psychologists that children say things that they have never said before and neither have they ever heard before. And yet these utterances are grammatical and appropriate and understood by the parent. And even after that the overall theory of reward cannot account for these new utterances on the part of the child psychologist still clung to the old theory they modified it and stretched it for three years until languished in
1957 pointed out another way of accounting for language. When he proposed a new way of describing language and then came a turning point psychology language. The crime approach is that what is learned is an abstract set of rules about the content what the language contains and about the form of the language the rules. And this happens at all three levels the level phonology level meaning the level of grammar. We turn to the linguist to find out what these rules are. Our job is to find out how they're learned. The order in which they learn. The variables which affect their learning such as the age of the child the amount of language she is exposed to and the advantages of reward. Parental approval correction and things like that. Another source of interesting language in the past is as concerned normative studies and a great quantity to the quantities of these about child language are available. One can find
out for example the mean age at which children cited for sport are the main links assented to said by the seven year old. Are the ratio of adverbs to nouns in the speech of four year olds. Such data is very intriguing invaluable but provides no insight into the process of language acquisition. Oh yes. To conclude I guess stuck to Odom was published extensively on the verbal behavior of children and is quite a special race from deaf children agrees with me that we know far too little and lots of work is still ahead of us. This applies particularly through the attempt of discovering what up to the universals of a language and a couple of great American institutions linguists work trying to on knows what is really common to all languages in categories of sound in grammatical relation trips and in the organisation of me. Here we need deficits of the philosopher and the anthropologist. There is of
course a somewhat circular relationship between language and fought not to mention the cultural set. For example in English when we talk about our siblings. We first distinguish them by sex into brothers and sisters. Then we define them by a bike. My brother the Japanese just the opposite. They first classify siblings for A and only then indicate they say this is obvious to me that the hierarchy of age for light and trading the respect due to an older person is their primary concern. The interweaving of the language thought and culture and how this was handled by the infant has given rise to some theories. All still at the speculative stage when the studies on universals would be more advanced it might turn out that the human infant is born with an innate set of universals phonetic grammatical and semantic. And all he has to acquire other linguistic components which are not common that is those parts of the
language which make each language unique and all languages different. This city leaves a lot to do for the child but somehow it's a new approach to. The entire process of language acquisition. Well we had a very interesting discussion here over some questions I would like to see you ladies perhaps you can get some additional information on sort of puzzles me is the question of to which aids is language high language when does it become a dud. Is there any way of establishing that objectively which is say a penny psychologically Linguistically it's a definition are traveling which of us is out of language false positive by a French linguist must said Cohen who called it loud to be beat. Yeah. And long I didn't now it's very very difficult to draw the line precisely when the one finishes and the other begins and I don't think we can
ever put straight straight Kerim categorizations to define too because traveling Bush is reveled that it's the right pronunciation develops in one way sometimes the form of the grammar sometimes after the grammar school so the child may be very advanced on one level and steal behind and on the other and vice and you know there is a great deal of challenge. You mean the lower threshold and the upper threshold their bows. Do you include the babbling stage at all in child's language when the babbling stage is of course very crucial and has in my opinion not been allies quite properly. Because he is the first sounds the child utters and seem to be quite random and not representative of any language. Then all of a sudden or
whatever seems all of a sudden that shot starts passively imitating specifically imitating the sound just when I actually hear. So this creates all sorts of problems and the U.S. is not representative but it may nevertheless be systematic or anything really systematic and there's no question that the systematic and that he is trying it on I don't think they just say the moment you go into such near very detail technical customs and they are lots of studies on that and there are many things which are yet up another question which is closely tied in with that as at what age would you consider a child become trustworthy informant so that you can ask questions and you know that the answer is really trustworthy. If there are any roughly and the limits psychologically that is a largely irrelevant venue where a child does become a trustworthy inform. You know I have a 3 year old and I wouldn't trust him. Except maybe for some simple questions because he can't understand complex constructions that would
be entailed in asking him the questions. But perhaps a 4 or 5 year old trust I think using By that time you can ask questions and get answers which make sense because you know even adult informants are sometimes not trustworthy give you what the linguist likes to hear in many instances if they follow His way of thinking. We may have to wait till the children old enough to know the words that describe the language like nouns. Yes passive active Yes but you don't have to ask you read the questions. Just describe something and do you feel and so I know right now. One other question which puzzled me while you we're speaking about your set of babies. According to one theory I was supposed to have some kind of first theoretical deep structure available and then when they grow older into a typical language environment they forget some of the these rules. He seems to imply some kind of consciousness. Is there any way of making studies which can prove this kind of approach.
Perhaps I should address that to Penny. It's more psychology than linguistics. Now that is currently the major problem is getting at these unconscious underlying processes that we have no direct access to. While the attempt at ways of getting at it. Hypothetical for. An armchair right now I say there's just no no way to experimentally get that design exactly what I thought you can experiment with things which I really nobody is awareness. Is there a good amount of cooperation between linguists and psychosis in this specific area. Yeah supposing they were theoretical out of my theoretical lot regulated Yes yes I can. I can see that what you say about it that most of what can be learned about to the language child language has now been studied and the areas the gray areas yet unknown are comparatively minor while the basic areas which I don't know how I think they present are we don't have enough data on China which we have a lot
of studies a bunch of right but very few just plain recording long due to the rear following shot from both too and he reaches that. Stage of adult language. They are saved for what I would say that what we need is more complete coverage amounted to a number of studies of a lot of children and then we confront me and I can feel everything our theories cannot so easily be disproved or proved because we just don't ave data. Yet both right have people of different countries found similar phenomena. The great differences. You mean to tell me they want to analyze the pros they want to have it I guess I'm going to end the problem is determined on your theoretical approach to graphics and they quote them in my approach but these would be general theories that would have nothing to do with a specific language spoken well thought out and you want to say something that I want to say that even if you do have these good longitudinal studies then you only have records of the output of the child.
You have no earthly idea how he's progressing his understanding which we know proceeds production and what he's capable of understanding may be quite different from what he's capable of producing. Oh I quite agree with you and I even jotted down some publication AAB that what their main forward off the recording of tabbing is that they don't record enough of the pams language and they do not describe suppression BP and tire situation be it when the conversation took place. Now that reading study I think you know what I want to bid on a still a very very All new one night in the 1920s. A couple of psychologists you know quite how to describe the patterns of language and always give a perfect about the situation when the commit happened because you have. Asked someone do you have.
I guess the more about this we can read in your book about a child's language so. So not quite yet thank you very much. And anyway the subject for today's program has been child language participating where Dr. Val Berger from the proper angle. So is he a professor of linguistics at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Penny Odom assistant professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University and Dr. Frankel new aspects of language is prepared and narrated by Dr. Greg Franco associate professor of English and Linguistics at George Peabody college for teachers and is produced in the studios of WPI then this is Richard Waddell speaking. This program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
New aspects of language
Child Language
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Nashville Public Radio
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Producing Organization: WPLN
Producing Organization: Nashville Public Radio
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Chicago: “New aspects of language; Child Language,” 1968-10-07, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 3, 2024,
MLA: “New aspects of language; Child Language.” 1968-10-07. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 3, 2024. <>.
APA: New aspects of language; Child Language. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from