Language Development in the Young Child
Language growth is very rapid during the preschool years. From a vocabulary of no words at about one year of age, the two-year-old may have a vocabulary of two or three hundred words and can even form two- or three-word sentences. By the age of five, children can construct simple sentences and may use past and future as well as present tenses correctly. By this age, children also demonstrate considerable mastery of possessives and of definite and indefinite articles and may have an active vocabulary of about 2,500 words. Their passive vocabulary—the words they can hear and understand but do not usually use—is much higher and may be as large as 14,000 words. Averaged over the child's lifetime, she has acquired nine words a day since birth!
Although language growth is relatively easy to describe, it is more difficult to explain. Indeed, there are at least three different types of explanation of language growth, and there is some evidence to support each one.
One explanation of language development starts from the assumption that the language system is present from birth and follows its own path of development quite independent of the development of thought. This is the position of famed linguist Noam Chomsky. Those who look at language development from this perspective try to map the progress of the child's linguistic structures in relation to the child's experience and point to the fact that experience cannot account for the observed achievements in the evolution of language.
Young children's earliest words are often holophrases, or single-word utterances that are meant to convey as much meaning as a full sentence. A child who says "car" may mean, "I see a car," or "I want to be in the car," or "Where is the car?" As children become more proficient they may use telegraphic speech in which they evidence their understanding of word order by the ways in which they combine two or more words, such as "All gone," "Baby up," and "Daddy go bye-bye." Since children do not learn these combinations directly from adults, it is argued that they are evidence of an independently emerging language system.
© ______ 1994, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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