A view from developmental psychology

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In developing spoken language children integrate their ability to vocalize with the experience of meaning. Language typically begins with a period of at least several months where children express meanings with one word at a time. It is therefore not surprising that detailed analysis of children’s word production strategies has yielded the information that their production process, level of phonetic skill, and phonological development are organized at the word level. In this chapter I will first address the critical importance of template research. I then consider the relationship between research in early child phonology and more general studies of the first phase of language acquisition, and the approach to the integration of these diverse ideas that Marilyn Vihman and I have developed. Next is a section on use of the term “representation” and the manner in which mental representation and entry into language interact in development. I then briefly review a physiologically based theory regarding linguistic representation. Finally, I propose a dynamic systems view of the transition into language. The importance of the template research The early case studies exposing individual children’s “idiosyncratic” patterns of single word production (e.g., Priestly 1977; Macken 1978) did not immediately lead to the hypothesis that such personal shaping of word productions is a phase of typical development. That hypothesis must now be seriously entertained. From a developmental perspective the recognition that adopting one or more word production templates may be a typical step in the acquisition of language for most children (Vihman and Croft 2007) is a critical discovery because it potentially adds to the known developmental sequence of vocal behaviors characterizing the transition to language. There was a time when babbling was considered unrelated to speech (Jakobson, 1941/1968). Resolution of that issue has allowed researchers to recognize prelinguistic vocalizations as influential, and to use them as a resource in plotting the child’s path to language. Recognizing individual complex and consistent motor production patterns that are closely related across words for many children, yet differ by child, portends an even more radical turn in our approach to children’s transition to language than earlier recognition of the importance of babbling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Emergence of Phonology
Subtitle of host publicationWhole-Word Approaches and Cross-Linguistic Evidence
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780511980503
ISBN (Print)9780521762342
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)


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