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ENGB3 Child Language Acquisition - Exam Revision Practice

Steve Campsall | Friday July 02, 2010

Categories: Hot Entries, Child Language Acquisition, An Introduction to Child Language Acquisition, CLA Exam Revision, AQA A Level English Language B, ENGB3, KS5 Archive, AQA A Level


A Way to Analyse A Child’s Language

  • Work out the transcript’s ‘big-picture’ – and remember that the transcript isn’t what you are analysing: it’s the original oral communication you need to be focusing on. The transcript is a mere shadow of this: you need to flesh out the scene and be there – be the participants! Try hard – it’s worth it. Use your imagination.
  • For this unit (Language Change included) start your answer with a brief overview of the important discourse from which it derives. In CLA, you’ll need to be considering and mentioning briefly relevant linguistic aspects such as the stage of acquisition reached, relevant contextual and ‘audience’ aspects, and so on.
  • Keep in mind that language is how people express their thoughts and ideas to someone else – and these are affected by aspects such as genre, context, audience and purpose; thus, the eventual linguistic (and paralinguistic) choices we make will reflect, to a greater or lesser degree, each of these four key aspects. In conversation, genre is less important but context reigns supreme. Think of it this way: these four key aspects (‘G-CAP’) all act to constrain ‘free expression’ – and thus one way to analyse language is to consider how far the language diverges from ‘freely expressed thought’. Children have a further constraint: they can’t think in ways that are as sophisticated as an adult; but they can think in ways far more complex than they can speak; also, they are naturally less aware of any constraints and are often not even aware of them – and their language choices will reflect this.

A Six-Point Plan

1. Consider the child’s likely or typical stage of language development; take account also of context and ‘audience’ aspects that seem to you to have an impact. Now, making rough notes if it would help, work out how the child might have responded if it were a fluent English speaking adult.

2. Make notes (mentally at least) of what important differences there are between the child’s actual response and the way a competent speaker might have responded. Keep in mind a competent speaker’s lexical choices, likely greater semantic complexity, grammatical choices, awareness of context and shared values, likely use of non-literal, i.e. figurative (metaphorical) and ironic language, use of idiomatic language, connotation and pragmatics.

3. Don’t just analyse and discuss the child’s words and grammar: think, too, about how they have responded conversationally (keep adjacency pairs, Grice and politeness, for example, uppermost in mind and how difficult these are to get used to – they are, after all, conventions and these have to be learned and absorbed before becoming naturalised).

4. Think, too, about the adult’s uses of language (if there is an adult in your transcript). Krashen theorised about how children don’t easily accept “correction? – but more importantly is the need for you to think about what is going on in the child’s mind as it tries to work out what the adult has said and how best to respond. Children know more than they can put into words; they understand more language than they can use: think deeply about this as it can be very revealing and allow for highly subtle, high grade responses.

5. Work out which theorists’ work could be drawn upon to support the child’s attempts at responding.

6. Choose a variety of responses from the transcript that will point to important and different aspects of CLA. For each quotation, create a ‘PEE’ style paragraph. Be sure to consider the frameworks and use them to help you create a methodical account; and, of course, discuss theoretical standpoints where relevant.

Example, Analysis & Commentary

CT: You want me to say a poem to you? What poem shall I tell you?

C: Goldilocks and the three bears

A Possible Response

[NB An introductory overview is not included here] Even though the carer uses two kinds of interrogative (the first a declarative presumably with rising intonation, the second the more usual auxiliary verb-subject inversion), the child’s response uses standard grammar. That said, the response could also be considered elliptical: “I don’t want a poem; I would like a story please, maybe Goldilocks and the three bears?. In this analysis, Bruner might suggest that the child has learned to use the minimum language to get what s/he wants; Piaget might suggest that the child is not yet sufficiently cognitively developed to understand genre differences between poems and stories; Halliday would call this an example of the “instrumental? function of language used by the child to get what he wants but lacking the pragmatic force that would be expected from the added politeness an adult would feel inclined to use; the child is also using Halliday’s “interactional function? as such a response is a part of a sequence that invites a second turn from the carer.

CT: A story? If I tell you Goldilocks then you’ve got to say it then, ok Mammy say it first is it? How does it start? 

C: She went on the swings, yeah? Goed home and she goned in the house

A Possible Response

Here the child responds once again using fluent and clear language choices in her first main clause. Her use of “yeah? could be showing a development of pragmatic ability as this is a cultural usage that involves an awareness of shared values and the informal context. The second and third clauses are less fluent and suggest a developing speaker not yet aware of the past tense morphology required by standard English. Her over-extension of the –ed bound morpheme to create her two past tense forms (‘Goed’ and ‘goned’) is typical of a child emerging from the telegraphic stage and using over-regularisation. This signifies progress in the sense that she is aware how verbs can represent time of action, but is a kind of ‘backwards progress’ in the sense of over-regularisation. Bruner might suggest that the adult is providing a ‘language acquisition support system’ or LASS here by guiding the child to speak and thus to improve in linguistic ability.

CT: Yeah

C: She had to go to the toilet and then

A Possible Response

This turn in the adjacency pair suggests a high level of language acquisition as the child responds to the carer’s invitation to take the floor promptly and, as Grice would note, co-operatively; she use a standard past tense form created using an auxiliary (‘had’), the full ‘to’ form of the infinitive (‘to go’) and then two connectives (‘and then’) fluently. Her suggestion that Goldilocks ‘had to go to the toilet’ could be interpreted in several ways. This could be an example of humour, which would suggest pragmatic development and awareness; it could be seen as supporting Skinner’s behaviourist theory, too, as she could be repeating what she had heard or said before – and the humour of the previous situation might have acted as a positive reinforcement of her language choices.