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Children Language Acquisition.

Introduction

Language in all its aspects is one of the most significant topics of study in linguistics. Scholars of this science dedicate their lives to exploring the emergence, development and modern stage of existence of the language. It can be explained by the fact that language is one of the main features that distinguish human beings from all other species of animals and influences greatly the development of the mankind.

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It goes without saying that different nations and ethnic groups have different languages, as well as the different social classes and groups. In this case, languages do not differ in their essence but are different in some aspects like use of certain words and specific meanings attributed to them. These groups of languages are sometimes called slang, other people call the jargon or argot depending on the occupation or class belonging of people who speak them (Reschke, 2000, p. 4).

But there is a special kind of language that can not be referred to any of the above mentioned groups, because it does not display any features of any particular kind and can be examined as the language combining all features of other kinds of languages. This special language is the so-called “motherese”, or caregiver language, which is used in talks with small kids and infants (Fergusson, 1975, pp. 209 – 235).

In this paper I am going to consider the motherese in order to see its essence and examine its influence upon the language acquisition in small children. I am going to examine all terms used to define this very language so that to determine the most fitting one for the language used by adults in their communication with small children. Another aspect of this work will be the influence of foreign caretakers upon the language acquisition of children. Thus, the caretaker language will be considered in this paper in all its aspects that will allow getting the full picture of linguistic phenomenon.

Background

The very essence of the motherese, or caretaker language, lies in the fact that it uses specific structures and lexical units so that to make the communication with children more useful and understandable for those children and infants. According to Shore (1997) infants and small children perceive the baby-talk better than the usual speech and develop better language skills when they grow up if talked to in motherese in the early childhood. This language is characterized by unusual in ordinary speech pitch variations that are higher, use of shorter and simpler sentences, diminutive suffixes and shortenings, and pronounced in the so-called “cooing” tone of speech (Fernald, 1987, pp. 279 – 293). The examples of lexical units typical of the child-directed language can be as follows:

  • baba (can mean a blanket or a bottle);
  • boo-boo (wound or bruise);
  • nana (grandmother);
  • tummy (stomach);
  • yucky (disgusting).

Needless to say, that the terms used to define the language considered in this paper are various and numerous and their use depends upon the major aspect which is singled out in the speech by this or that scholar (Schuller, 2007, pp. 2253-56).

Terminology

Terminology in the question of language spoken during communication with infants is rather various. Some scholars use the term motherese which is not absolutely adequate to the essence of the language. It is spoken not only by mothers to their children, but by numerous groups of other people including fathers, other relatives, caretakers, etc. Moreover, this term is criticized by supporters of gender equality because it reflects only the belonging of the term to one sex (Snow, 1977, pp. 1 – 22). Also, child development professionals do not support the usage of the term due to the above mentioned reasons.

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However, the term “motherese” can also be properly used if it is implemented to define the communication that takes place only between a child and his or her mother. In this case, the term acquires specific meaning and becomes a kind of the child-directed speech which is much wider in its scope. In this very case, motherese is the language that consists of verbal and non-verbal means and is used in the closest communicative acts ever – between mothers and children only (Lindon, 2005, pp. 5 – 8).

Another variation of this term “parentese” does not reflect the very essence of the language due to the same reasons. At the same time, the term “caregiver language” is biased in favor of caregivers and it can not be considered adequate because it presupposes only caregivers as the users of the language and excludes parents and relatives from their number (Shore, 1997, p. 34).

As a neutral term the word combination “baby talk” was coined. This term is also not absolutely adequate as it does not reflect the users of the language. From this term one can understand this language as the one spoken by children but actually it is the language used to address infants who have not yet formed their language skills. To solve this problem, the scholars in the field of children development invented the term that has different direction and seems to reflect accurately the essence of the language itself. This term is “child-directed speech” or CDS. From the term, one can understand that the language is used by adults, is directed at children and can be used by various groups of people because otherwise is not stipulated in the term (Reschke, 2002, p. 23).

Languages Purposes

The main purpose of the child-directed language is to communicate with infants who have not yet formed their language and communicative skills. Thus, parents, caregivers, etc. try to use the structures similar to those used by infants in their communicative acts. Despite the fact that such structures, as babble for instance, bear little meaning but they aid in establishing contacts between the adults and infants and in showing the bidirectional nature of communication (Fergusson, 1977, pp. 209 – 235).

Drawing from this, child-directed language is a useful means of development of language and communication skills in infants and small children. Moreover, scientists tend to consider the child-directed speech to be a useful means of mental and cognitive development of children. With the help of this language, children learn initial information about the phenomena of the surrounding world and learn how to communicate with others, although yet without any particular structures to use (Reschke, 2002, pp. 21 – 48).

Possible Spheres of Usage

Infant Communication

The most common situation in which the child-directed language is commonly used is the communication with infants and small children. The communication usually takes place between an infant and an adult who can be a parent of the infant, his or her relative, a caregiver or other person. In this situation, child-directed speech is used in order to establish the contact with the child. Adults usually use diminutive suffixes, shortenings and word-reduplications in their speech and their main purpose is not to convey information but to show the bidirectional nature of communication. The examples of the words and word-combinations used in these situations are as follows:

  • icky (disgusting);
  • didee (diaper);
  • oopsie daisy (small accident);
  • poo-poo (defecation);
  • sleepy-bye (to go to bed) (Snow, 1977, pp. 1 – 22).

However, the usage of baby talk with infants is not accepted world wide. In certain countries and regions it is admitted that children should be spoken to like adults in order to make their mental and cognitive development faster and more effective (Peters, 1986, pp. 80 – 96). This is a typical feature of the conservative societies constructed on the basis of discipline and obedience. For instance, it is usual practice in Asian countries and in the states of the Muslim world where children are considered to be grown ups at a rather early age. Furthermore, in certain African countries where the tribal customs and traditions are still rather strong, for instance in Samoa, it is a typical practice not to talk to children at all until they reach the age when they are able to communicate with adults (Ochs, 1982, pp. 77 – 104).

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Baby Talk in Adult Communication

It goes without saying that the baby talk can be used in other situations and spheres. Among them the most common spheres of its use are non-infant communication and communication of adults and children with pets. In all these situations the lexical and pragmatic meanings of the language will be different. If while talking to a child a person aims at establishing contacts with him or her, the baby talk used while talking to a grown-up shows either strong affection to that person, or flirting intentions, or joke or even trying to make somebody be afraid of something (Adrien, 1991, p. 44).

For example, when a communication between two adults is carried out by means of the child-directed speech, the purposes of such a communicative act differ from those of communication with children. The most common example of adult communication with the help of baby talk is the communication between partners who want to express their tender feelings and affection towards each other. In this case, the partners can choose either the role of a child or a parent or both children and develop their relations by means of such a role game (Snow, 1977, pp. 1 – 22). The examples of the lexical units used in such situation include:

  • honey (a beloved person);
  • kitty (the same);
  • baby (tender address to the beloved person).

Moreover, child-directed speech can be used by adults in the situation when one wants to express his or her patronizing or derogatory intentions. Besides, the situation when a person is bullying another one is also often characterized by the use of baby talk. When patronizing tone is intended, people use child-directed speech to show their superiority over their communication partners whom they want to infantilize and present as children in need of help.

When a derogatory intention is the reason for the use of baby talk, it usually sounds in the situations when a person is dependant upon another person and can not get the necessary result without playing the role of a child. Furthermore, the most unusual situation of usage of child-directed speech by adults is when a person is bullying another one and uses the words from baby talk to verbally abuse and offend his communication partner. Also, baby talk is used by adults and children when communicating to their pets. In this case, the lexical units and their meanings acquire different meanings. All this situations demonstrate the possible spheres of usage of the child-directed speech in the human communication, but nevertheless, the most important realization of this kind of speech lies in the help with children language acquisition (Fergusson, 1977, p. 209).

Results and Possible Effects

The main result of the usage of child-directed speech by parent and caregivers while communicating with infants and small children is the development of children’s communication skills and language acquisition. The main means of developing the communication skills of infants are talks with them during which parents and caregivers resort to use of verbal and non-verbal means of communication. This is explained by the fact that infants are yet unable to perceive the complicated lexical and grammatical structures of the language and need simplified patterns of communication to be involved in it (Ochs, 1984, pp. 276 – 320).

Moreover, adults demonstrate the basic principles of communication and its question-answer or mutual nature. By means of this, not only communicative development, but also mental and cognitive development of infants is facilitated. Thus, the main use of the child-directed speech lies in its ability to contribute to all aspects of the development of personality. Moreover, absence of child-directed speech in the early childhood or small amount of communication by its means, can result in serious negative consequences for the children (Steinberg, 1993, p. 21).

Numerous scholars stress the vital importance of child-directed speech for the further development of personalities of children. Their main arguments are found in the specific data about the mental and health problems of the children who were not talked to in child-directed speech in the infant age. Besides, the language spoken by a caregiver can also affect negatively the language acquisition development.

To develop the above mentioned points, the following arguments can be presented. First of all, the lack of communication in the infant age can often result in autism of the children. The research by Adrien (1991) examines this topic and conducts interviews with the families of autistic children. The results were shocking as far as over 75% of the families interviewed proved to have autism cases as the results of lack of attention to the child-directed speech as one of the most important factors in language acquisition of children (Adrien, 1991, pp. 43 – 49). Another negative effect may be the confusion that can result from the caregiver who speaks two or more languages.

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Their usage in the communication with children can cause the confusion and lack of knowledge of both languages. But, if these languages are used separately, they may even bring opposite results, and children may acquire knowledge of both languages (Steinberg, 1993, pp. 23 – 25).

Conclusion

The so-called “motherese”, or also known as child-directed speech, baby talk or caregiver language, is a rather significant means of aiding in children development and language acquisition. The scholars have not yet invented the uniform term for the language, but its essence remains the same – it introduces the fundamental principles of communication to the infants and prepares them for the further personal development.

The main usefulness of the child-directed speech lies in its being helpful to children. At the same time, absence of child-directed speech in the methods of upbringing can often results in mental and physical problems in the development of the child and lead to such irresistible consequences as autism. To conclude, I can state that child-directed speech is of vital importance for further personality development of children.

References

A Dictionary of Psychology. (2001). Oxford University Press: New York.

Adrien, J. L., Faure, M., Perrot, A., Hameury, L., Garreau, B., Barthelemy, C., Sauvage, D., 1991. Autism and family home movies: preliminary findings. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 21(1), 43-9.

Ferguson, C. (1977) ‘Baby talk as a simplified register’ In C. Snow & C. Ferguson (eds.) Talking to children: language input and acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 209-35.

Fernald, A., Kuhl, P., 1987. Acoustic determinants of infant preference for Motherese speech. Infant Behavior and Development, 10, 279-293.

Kathy L. Reschke, Ph.D. (2002), Ohio State University, “Baby Talk”.

Lindon, J (2005) Understanding Child Development – Linking Theory and Practice, Hodder Arnold, London. Added by S M Burnett, Scotland.

Ochs, E (1982) ‘Talking to children in Western Samoa.’ Language in Society 11:77-104.

Ochs, Elinor and Bambi Schieffelin. (1984). “Language acquisition and socialization: Three developmental stories.” Culture Theory Eds. R. Shweder and R. LeVine. 276-320.

Peters, A.M. & S.T. Boggs (1986) ‘Interactional routines as cultural influences upon language acquisition.’ In B.B. Schieffelin & E Ochs Language socialization across cultures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 80-96.

Schuller, B., Batliner, A., Seppi, D., Steidl, S., Vogt, T., Wagner, J., Devillers, L., Vidrascu, L., Amir, N., Kessous, L., Aharonson, V., 2007. The relevance of feature type for the automatic classification of emotional user states: low level descriptors and functionals. Proceedings of Interspeech, pp. 2253-2256.

Shore, Rima. (1997). Rethinking the brain: New insights into early development. New York: Families and Work Institute.

Snow, C. (1977) ‘The development of conversation between mothers and babies.’ Journal of Child Language. 4:1-22.

Steinberg, D.D. (1993) An introduction to psycholinguistics. London: Longman.

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