Language Development in the Young Child (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

A different position with respect to language development is that of Piaget and his colleagues. According to this view, language development is regulated by intellectual development. The child's language limitations always reflect her cognitive limitations. In one study, preoperational and concrete operational children were asked to describe three blocks of different sizes. Preoperational children often described them in nonquantitative ways, such as lithe baby block, the mommy block, and the daddy block." Concrete operational children, in contrast, described the blocks in quantitative terms: "This one is taller and wider. That one is shorter and thinner."

Sometimes children's failures on the conservation tasks are attributed to verbal misunderstanding. A child who says that six pennies in a line next to one another is less than six pennies spaced apart simply does not understand the term less. Piaget's reply is that "verbal misunderstanding" begs the question. The real question that must be asked is why the preschool child does not understand the term less in the accepted sense while the older child does. The answer, according to Piaget, is that the older child now has the requisite mental abilities to understand the term while the young child does not.

A third position with respect to language development is that of Russian psychologists Lev Vygotsky. In his view, thought is determined by language—and not language by thought, as Piaget contends. According to Vygotsky, language is progressively internalized, and whispering is a stage along the way. When language is completely internalized, it is the tool of our thinking. Inasmuch as language is, in part at least, learned, so too must be our thinking, and because language varies from society to society, thought must vary from society to society as well.

Evidence for the language determination of mental development comes from observations of how children use language when they go about their everyday activities. Children often talk out loud as they are engaged in building or in making something. At such times, their language seems to be a necessary guide to their action. This directive use of language has been called verbal mediation. Children often use verbal mediation as a memory strategy. If, for example, something is hidden in front of them, they may say "It is under the blue cup" as a way of remembering where the hidden object is until they are permitted to actually look for it.

Language development is so complex that no one of these theories can encompass it all. In fact, there seems to be a little truth in all three. Language structure does seem to follow its own course, quite independent of experience. On the other hand, the use of conceptual terms does seem to be related to conceptual development. Finally, language does sometimes enable young children to bridge delays and regulate their actions. In fact we all use language in this way. If we are doing something very delicate, we may walk ourselves through the task: "Okay, now just move this lever a little to the left." Language is directed by thought, but thought is also directed by language.

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