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Revision: Language Acquisition

If you’re here for the writing posts, this may seem a little abstract to you. However, even if you’re not studying English language like we are, then you may find this useful when it comes to writing young characters.


Crying consists entirely of vegetative sounds and crying and begins in the first few weeks of life.

Cooing consists of starting to use consonant-vowel combinations. It begins at around two months. The child may also start to laugh.

Babbling then occurs, when children experiment with reduplicated monosyllables. Phonemic expansion also occurs, where the number of sounds a child can make increases. This then gives way to phonemic contraction, when these sounds are limited to their native language. It occurs at around 6 months.

The holophrastic phase is when children say their first word, at around a year old. During this phase, single-word constructions have a deeper meaning.

The telegraphic phase is when children start to string together utterances that are still incomplete, but more than a word long.


There are several main theories surrounding Language Acquisition:

Skinner’s behaviourist theory (1957) said that language comes from the environment of a child. He theorised that children learn language through copying those around them, and being praised or corrected.

Chomsky’s Innateness Theory (1965) said that children are predisposed to learn language. He theorised that children are born with a Language Acquisition Device through which they pick up language, and a knowledge of Universal Grammar, the deep structure behind all languages.

Piaget’s cognitive theory said that children could only articulate what they can understand.

Vygotsky’s Social Interactional theory said that children need to interact with other people in order to pick up language.


Nelson found that 60% of children’s first word is a noun.

Lennenburg suggested that there is a critical period in which children learn language.

Berko-Gleason carried out an experiment with a fictional animal called a “wug”, asking children what the plural was. They found that children used the word “wugs”, proving that they had could apply the patterns of language.

Berko & Brown also discovered the “fis phonomena”, in which a child would call a fish a “fis”, but would tell an adult they were wrong if they called it that. This proves that their cognitive development is quicker than their phonological development.

Cruttenden found that adults can identify intonation better than children.

Mehler and others found that children sucked their dummies more enthusiastically when exposed to their native language, suggesting that they begin to pick up language in the womb.

Aitchinson suggested that children label (link objects to what they mean), package (understand the range of meaning – see over- and underextension) and build networks of (understand the connections between) new words.

Clarke-Stewart found that children whose mothers speak to them have a larger vocabulary.


Overregularisation occurs when a child applies a rule to an irregular situation, e.g. “falled over”.

Addition occurs when a child adds an extra syllable on the end of a word, e.g. “doggie”.

Deletion of consonant clusters occurs when a child is unable to pronounce a consonant cluster within a word.

Deletion of unstressed syllables is when a child doesn’t pronounce the unstressed syllable of a word, e.g. “nana” instead of “banana”.

Assimilation is when a child changes a sound in a word to match the other sounds, e.g. “gog” instead of “dog”.

Substitution is when a child substitutes a fricative sound for a stop sound, e.g. “debra” instead of “zebra”.

Overextension occurs when a child thinks that the meaning of a word is wider than it is, for example calling a blanket “cat” because it is furry. There are two kinds of overextension: Categorical overextension is when one word is used for all items in the same category, for example calling all round fruits “apple”; Analogical overextension is when one word is used for multiple items based on shared properties, for example calling a ball “apple” because it is also round.

Underextension can also occur, when a child thinks that a word has a narrower meaning than in reality, for example knowing that their own shoes are “shoes”, but not knowing what to call their siblings’.

More key words for this topic can be found on my Memrise course. There are also more detailed explanations of some of the theories on this blog

2 thoughts on “Revision: Language Acquisition

  1. Pingback: Revision: Language and Politeness | Blogolepsy

  2. Pingback: Revision: Standard and Non-Standard English | Blogolepsy

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