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Now in its fourth edition, this textbook provides a chronological account of first language acquisition, showing how young children acquire language in their conversational interactions with adult speakers. It draws on diary records and experimental studies from leaders in the field to document different stages and different aspects of what children master. Successive chapters detail infants' and young children's progression from attending to adult faces, gaze, and hand motions, to their first attempts at communicating with gaze and gesture, then adding words and constructions. It comprehensively covers the acquisition of the core areas of language – phonetics and phonology, lexicon, grammar and sentence structure, and meaning – as well as how children acquire discourse and conversational skills. This edition includes new sections on how children build 'common ground' with adults and other children, individual differences in children's language development, how they collaborate with adults in constructing utterances, and how they qualify beliefs.
What are the constraints, cues, and mechanisms that help learners create successful word-meaning mappings? This study takes up linguistic disjunction and looks at cues and mechanisms that can help children learn the meaning of or. We first used a large corpus of parent-child interactions to collect statistics on or uses. Children started producing or between 18-30 months and by 42 months, their rate of production reached a plateau. Second, we annotated for the interpretation of disjunction in child-directed speech. Parents used or mostly as exclusive disjunction, typically accompanied by rise-fall intonation and logically inconsistent disjuncts. But when these two cues were absent, disjunction was generally not exclusive. Our computational modeling suggests that an ideal learner could successfully interpret an English disjunction (as exclusive or not) by mapping forms to meanings after partitioning the input according to the intonational and logical cues available in child-directed speech.
For both children and adults, communicating with each other effectively depends on having enough knowledge about particular entities, actions, or relations to understand and produce the words being used. Speakers draw on conventional meanings shared with their interlocutors, but do they share every detail of word meaning? They need not have identical, or fully specified, representations for the meanings of all the terms they make use of. Rather, they need only have represented enough about the meanings of the words used by another speaker to understand what is intended in context on a particular occasion. Reliance on partial meanings is common in both children and adults. More detailed, shared, representations of word meanings for a domain depend on acquiring additional knowledge about that domain and its contents.
This study focuses on adult responses to children's verb uses, the information they provide, and how they change over time. We analyzed longitudinal samples from four children acquiring Hebrew (age-range: 1;4–2;5; child verb-forms = 8,337). All child verbs were coded for inflectional category, and for whether and how adults responded to them. Our findings show that: (a) children's early verbs were opaque with no clear inflectional target (e.g., the child-form tapes corresponds to letapes ‘to-climb’, metapes ‘is-climbing’, yetapes ‘will-climb’), with inflections added gradually; (b) most early verbs were followed by adult responses using the same lexeme; and (c) as opacity in children's verbs decreased, adults made fewer uses of the same lexeme in their responses, and produced a broader array of inflections and inflectional shifts. In short, adults are attuned to what their children know and respond to their early productions accordingly, with extensive ‘tailor-made’ feedback on their verb uses.
Can preschoolers make pragmatic inferences based on the intonation of an utterance? Previous work has found that young children appear to ignore intonational meanings and come to understand contrastive intonation contours only after age six. We show that four-year-olds succeed in interpreting an English utterance, such as “It LOOKS like a zebra”, to derive a conversational implicature, namely [but it isn't one], as long as they can access a semantically stronger alternative, in this case “It's a zebra”. We propose that children arrive at the implicature by comparing such contextually provided alternatives. Contextually leveraged inferences generalize across speakers and contexts, and thus drive the acquisition of intonational meanings. Our findings show that four-year-olds and adults are able to bootstrap their interpretation of the contrast-marking intonation by taking into account alternative utterances produced in the same context.
When children talk, they adopt the language of the community they are growing up in. But many communities make use of more than one language or more than one dialect. In these communities, children have to choose, whenever they talk, which language to speak. Their choices can depend on the family role, gender, status, power, and age of the interlocutor, as well as on the topic. Their choices also depend on such factors as social class, since that in turn may affect decisions about when to use each language, and who to, in specific settings.
Choosing a language, just like choosing a speech style, reflects in part what the speaker shares as common ground with the addressee. How, then, does learning two languages – or two dialects – differ from learning just one? Growing up in a multilingual community results in the learning of not just one language, but two or more, either at the same time or within a few years of each other. What effect does exposure to more than one language have on the process and general course of acquisition? Are there differences in the road followed by bilingual versus monolingual children? In this chapter, the focus is on the social factors that affect choices of language and dialect. I first consider bilingualism in general, and then look at some of the social and cognitive issues for children learning two (or more) languages as they advance from babbling to words to constructions. I then consider children learning two dialects, a situation rather similar to that of two languages, and end with discussion of how each choice of language affects how one represents and talks about events.
Much more of the world is bilingual or multilingual than monolingual. Most people grow up speaking two or more languages (Grosjean 1982). And those not exposed to two languages from birth frequently start learning their second language when they enter school, with other languages coming later during the school years (Bialystok 2001; Bialystok & Hakuta 1994; McLaughlin 1984). Even in the United States, where the emphasis tends to be on English, with the assumption of a monolingual population, the census statistics for 2010 show that there were over 60 million speakers over age five (out of 291 million) who reported speaking a language other than English at home.
What do children need to know and do to participate successfully in conversation? First, they must learn to observe some basic conditions for conversation:
• Speaker and addressee must share a joint focus of attention during the conversational exchange and take account of common ground.
• Speakers must take account of what their addressees know and tailor their utterances accordingly.
• Speakers must choose speech acts that are appropriate for the meanings they intend to convey.
• Participants in a conversation must listen to what others say so they can each make appropriate, relevant contributions when they take a turn.
Establishing joint attention requires speakers to make sure that the addressee is attending both to the speaker and to whatever the speaker is attending to. This condition is essential to successful reference, whether by a child or an adult. Joint attention is supplemented by both physical and conversational co-presence (H. Clark 1996). Physical co-presence is particularly important for young children, since, together with joint attention, it helps solve the mapping problem when they encounter unfamiliar terms. And conversational co-presence gains in importance as children's lexical knowledge and general linguistic skills expand, since they become better able to use whatever linguistic as well as nonlinguistic information speakers offer in the course of conversation.
Speakers also need to be able to convey their intentions, and this requires that their addressees be able to recognize the speech acts they produce. To be successful, speakers need to assess what their addressees already know (their common ground) and tailor their utterances on that basis. In addition, they need to make clear whether they are asserting or commenting on some state of affairs, making a request for information or for action, or presenting some other speech act (a promise, a threat, a greeting, and so on) or a combination of speech acts. Lastly, all the participants in a conversation need to make their contributions relevant, appropriate to the topic at hand at each stage in the exchange.
Speech acts can be classified into several types (Searle 1975). The main categories that have been described are assertives, directives, commissives, expressives, and declarations. First, with an assertive, speakers convey their belief that a proposition is true. The commonest assertives are straight assertions (e.g., Rod left yesterday), but they can also be introduced by verbs like suggest, hint, swear, flatly state, and so on (e.g., I swear Rod left yesterday).
As children add to their first words, they add specificity and detail to how they express what they want and what they are interested in. This all entails including more information, and hence more complexity, in each utterance, as in the move from More block to I need another block or They've got all the blocks. This in turn requires the learning of structure: structure in the form of contrasting inflections added to words and in the form of constructions reflected in the combinations of words. To do all this, children have to start learning to think for speaking in their first language (Slobin 1996). That is, they must start to use the conventional constructions for expressing particular meanings.
The focus of this chapter is on the move from single-word utterances to longer utterances, the emergence of multiword combinations, and the meanings children use these combinations to express. In doing this, do children begin from formulaic forms that they then analyze into the component parts, much as they try whole words and only later extract the segmental details (Chapter 5)? Or do they build up utterances one element at a time, with each word or affix that they add? That is, what do longer utterances tell us about emerging structures and the uses children make of them at this stage in speaking?
One word at a time
One-year-olds don't speak very often. When they do, they typically say one word at a time and produce their words at extended intervals, with long pauses between utterances. Some researchers have proposed that there is a single-word stage during the first few months of language production, a stage in which children never produce more than one word at a time. In a remarkably detailed case study, Dromi (1987) followed the progress of Keren up to the point where she began to produce word combinations. For the five to six months prior to this point, Keren exhibited a consistent pattern in her uptake of new words in production. Her first attempts were generally far from recognizable, and she would then spend several days or even weeks in intensive practice until her productions of each new word approximated the adult pronunciation more closely. Only then did she add a few more new words. That is, her progress showed a pattern of additions followed by intensive practice that resulted in much greater intelligibility.
[L]anguage acquisition is to a great extent the learning of how to make conversations.
Jean Berko Gleason 1977
Language is a social art. In acquiring it we have to depend entirely on inter-subjectively available cues as to what to say and when.
Willard v. O. Quine 1960
Chapter 12: Honing conversational skills ■ 317
Chapter 13: Doing things with language ■ 346
Chapter 14: Two languages at a time ■ 380
Speakers need to be flexible as they participate in conversation. For this, they must master a range of skills, from telling stories to persuading someone of their point of view; from giving instructions to telling jokes; from adjusting their speech to the level of the interlocutor to translating from one language to another. The focus in these chapters is on children's emerging skills in conversation, as they learn how to talk to different people about different things and how to adjust their speech to accommodate to their addressees as they accumulate common ground in each exchange. Children learn how to present topics and choose goals in conversation. And when they learn two languages at once, they are faced with an additional choice – which language to use when.
Infants are born into a social world, a world of touch, sound, and affect, a world of communication. They develop and grow up as social beings, immersed in a network of relationships from the start. It is in this social setting that they are first exposed to language, to language in use. This language forms part of the daily communication around them and to them. It regulates what they do. It tells them about the world, events, actions, objects, and relations within it from various perspectives, and presents them with affective attitudes to both people and events. In short, language is a central factor in the social life of infants. The users of the language they are exposed to provide the context in which children themselves will become proficient at communicating wants and desires, affect and interest, specific perspectives, requests and instructions, questions and observations, and commentary on all aspects of everyday life.
This chapter explores the social setting in which children are exposed to language, respond to it, and begin to use it. It is in and from interaction that children are offered conventional ways of expressing attitudes and of saying things, along with the conventional words and expressions for what they appear to be trying to say. And it is in interaction that children take up adult words, expressions, and constructions. Language can be used for talking about needs and desires, or objects and events in the world at large; for talking about how to behave, how to act, and what to say; for talking about problem-solving, for arguing or explaining, for giving instructions; and for pretending, teasing, joking, or telling stories. In all these uses, language always forms part of a larger system for communication. It's therefore important to keep sight of communicative purposes and goals in looking at how children become members of the speaking community and learn in turn how to talk with the same range of skills as adults. It is in this setting that children learn to break up the stream of speech into smaller and smaller elements, learning to identify words and morphemes, phrases and clauses, as they communicate with the people around them.
As children become more skilled at using language, they use it in more ways for greater effect. They make use of a growing array of linguistic options to mark social roles for both speaker and addressee: features that identify speech as appropriate for a child compared to an adult, a girl compared to a boy, a teacher compared to a student, a doctor compared to a patient. As children grow up, they become members of other communities and learn how to mark their membership linguistically in each: family, classroom, band, computer lab, tennis team, adventure camp. They also learn how to do more with language: how to be polite, how to be persuasive, how to negotiate to resolve conflicts; how to talk inside the classroom as well as outside; how to weigh sources of information; how to distinguish actual events from play. And they learn how to tell stories, becoming increasingly adept at presenting protagonists and their motives, at tracking events that move the action along, and at placing the protagonists in the appropriate setting.
To manage all this, children first of all extend their repertoires of speech acts. Speech acts have often been represented as a matter for the speaker alone (e.g., Searle 1975), but in conversation, speaker and addressee often collaborate in the production of a single act, so traditional descriptions mislead in leaving out addressees (see H. Clark 1996). And in mastering the many words and constructions for each speech act, children come to realize that they can use specific forms for many functions depending on the speaker, addressee, setting, and preceding conversation. Equally, they can convey specific functions with many forms. As children add to their repertoires of both forms and functions, they become more effective in how they use language (Budwig 1995; Slobin 2001b). This chapter focusses first on language skills that mark social roles and then on the genres of language use that speakers exploit to achieve their communicative goals.
Speakers use language to present themselves. They use language to identify the role they take in one context versus another – a father, a teacher, a tour guide, a pianist. They use language to signal intimacy and distance. And they use language to mark gender, status, and power.
[E]ven within a single language, grammar provides a set of options for schematizing experience for the purposes of verbal expression. Any utterance is multiply determined by what I have seen or experienced, my communicative purpose in telling you about it, and the distinctions that are embodied in my grammar.
Dan I. Slobin 1996
Words are not coined in order to extract the meanings of their elements and compile a new meaning from them. The meaning is there FIRST, and the coiner is looking for the best way to express it without going to too much trouble.
Dwight Bolinger 1975
Chapter 7: First combinations, first constructions ■ 173
Chapter 8: Modulating word meanings ■ 201
Chapter 9: Adding complexity within clauses ■ 227
Chapter 10: Combining clauses: More complex constructions ■ 260
Chapter 11: Constructing words ■ 288
These chapters focus on the steps children take as they express more elaborate meanings, beyond one word at a time. They must find which constructions to use for particular meanings and which words can go in each construction. They work out which inflections can be applied to different word-types (nouns, verbs, and adjectives) and the meaning each inflection adds; how to present information to the addressee and how to adopt different perspectives as the speaker; how to combine clauses in talking about complex events; how to analyze complex words and coin new ones. As children become increasingly skilled at communicating what they want and what they think, they extend their uses of words and constructions to convey their meanings.
How do young children learn language? When does this process start? What does language acquisition involve? Children are exposed to language from birth, surrounded by knowledgeable speakers who offer feedback and provide extensive practice every day. Through conversation and joint activities, children master the language being used around them. This fully revised third edition of Eve V. Clark's bestselling textbook offers comprehensive coverage of language acquisition, from a baby's first sounds to a child's increasing skill in negotiating, explaining and entertaining with language. This book, drawing together the most recent findings in the field, and illustrated with examples from a wide range of experimental and observational studies, including the author's own diary observations, presents an essential and comprehensive guide to first language acquisition. It will be fascinating reading for students of linguistics, developmental psychology and cognitive science.