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Child Language Acquisition - Tackling The Exam Transcript Using Frameworks

Steve Campsall | Tuesday July 02, 2019

Categories: Archived Resources, KS5 Archive, AQA A Level, AQA A Level Pre-2015 Resources, AQA A Level English Language B, ENGB3, Hot Entries, Language and Linguistic Analysis, Child Language Acquisition, An Introduction to Child Language Acquisition, CLA Exam Revision


Your task when presented with any text is to dig out its subtleties. This guide offers a way to dig deep, one that can help to reveal a text’s subtlest aspects; and subtlety is what gains most marks, every time.

Analysing Children’s Language

  • Whenever you analyse a text, your first job is to work out its ‘big-picture’. After all, the words you’ll find on the exam paper will be a pretty poor representation of the original ideas, thoughts and feelings that led to them.
  • In important ways, it can be useful for you to burn into your consciousness a key maxim: context is all – for it is context that led to the ideas, thoughts and feelings that you see represented as words and grammar in the transcript in front of you. You will do yourself a major favour if you use the transcript to guide you back to a mental recreation of the original context and its participants.
  • It’s worth repeating this: you are not analysing the transcript itself. The transcript is your key to a mental recreation of the original discourse. This discourse is one that once involved a child and perhaps other participants; and a key aspect of it was the context that caused the child to react and develop the ideas, thoughts and feelings that end up as the words and grammar (and paralinguistic and prosodic features) you see in front of you. The transcript is a mere shadow of this original interaction. You need to flesh out the scene and imagine yourself as ‘being there’, even trying to enter the minds of each participant. Use your imagination – it can reap far more rewards than all of the theories you’ll have tried so hard to learn! Dig deep.
  • Start your answer by giving a brief overview. This means mentioning briefly the key ‘discourse’ aspects of the interaction. These will include the stage of acquisition the child has reached along with any contextual aspects that have an impact on this kind of discourse (such as the place it occurred, the participants involved and so on).
  • To transmit our thoughts accurately, we need to choose our language with care; and this on top of thinking about how to deal with the requirements of genre, context, audience and purpose (G-CAP) – and, in conversation, the added complications of co-operative and politeness strategies. This is tough even for an adult, so just imagine the difficulties for a child. The difficulties are represented there in front of you, in the transcript. Dig them out. Discuss them.
  • There’s more to consider. Children can’t think in ways that are sophisticated; and neither can they choose sophisticated language or grammar. But we know that they can think in ways that are more complex than they can put words and grammar to. Thus a child’s language choices are reduced.
  • In other ways, however, a child’s language choices are increased. Children are unaware of many of constraints on language that an adult has to deal with: a child will happily shout out in a supermarket, ‘Mummy, you smell!’

A Six-Point Plan

1. Consider the child’s 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.

Using The ‘Language Methods’ or Frameworks’ - Questions to Ask of the Transcript


  • What kind of words are being chosen and used? Are there any Latinate choices?
  • How formal is the word choice?
  • What kind of words seem to be being understood?
  • How concrete or abstract are the utterances?
  • How subtle are references to place, time, manner and causation?
  • Are there obvious uses of over- and under-extension?
  • Are compound words used or being created through over-extension?
  • Is affixation being used fluently and accurately?
  • What kinds of words are being used? Are they mainly labelling, describing action or are they more subtly modifying (look for adjective and prepositional phrases, for example).
  • Are deictic words used and if so is their referent clear within the context?


  • Look at the child’s MLU and syntax – which stage is the child at?
  • How effective is the use of auxiliaries?
  • Is there use of any modal auxiliaries?
  • Are inflexional morphemes present (-ing, -ed, -s, -’s, etc)
  • Are pronouns being used correctly or effectively? Is their referent clear?
  • Are utterances one-word, two word, ‘telegraphic’, ‘holophrastic’ language?
  • Are verb tenses used to show time aspects (past or present) – look for –ed / -t inflection?
  • Are interrogatives used effectively and correctly? Consider uses of auxiliaries (e.g. ‘Do’), rising intonation, Wh- question words, subject-verb inversion.
  • Is negation used effectively and correctly, e.g. the use of ‘no’, ‘not’ and auxiliaries, e.g. ‘don’t’.
  • Are tag questions used – how and why, e.g. ‘…is it?’
  • Are irregular forms used correctly, e.g. caught, bought, brought, etc.
  • Are plurals formed correctly?
  • Is there any use of passive voice?
  • Are discourse and sentence connectives used?


  • Is there any consistent use of a relevant semantic field, i.e. can the child show an understanding of meaning relationships?
  • How clear are the lexical choices in terms of the meanings they create?
  • How subtle are the meanings created?
  • Is there any use of figurative language such as similes, metaphors or idioms?
  • How ‘semantically’ dense or simple are the utterances?
  • Is there any understanding of hypernyms or hyponyms?


  • Is there any ‘reduplication’?
  • Is there evidence of deletion?
  • Is there evidence of voiced openings and unvoiced endings?
  • Is intonation and stress adding to meaning?
  • Is there substitution of learned sounds with a yet-to-be-learned sound?
  • Is intonation used effectively?
  • Is there transposition of letters, syllables or sounds?


This requires a section to itself – and books have been written on this very topic. Pragmatics means being aware of what the social context itself allows or requires in terms of language choices. Children take a lot longer to develop “pragmatic language? for obvious reasons.

Look out for:

  • Use of / understanding indirect requests
  • Use of politeness features
  • Use of adjacency pairs
  • Taking / accepting the ‘floor’
  • Use of greetings
  • Use of Halliday’s ‘Conversational Functions’ (see the separate EnglishEdu Guide to CLA).