Language Play and Language Development (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Oct 25, 2010

Types of Language Play

Children play with all four aspects of the human language system (Kuczaj, 1982, 1985). In fact, Garvey (1977, 1984) suggested that there are four different types of language play, roughly corresponding to the different aspects of language discussed above. These are (1) play with sounds and noises, (2) play with linguistic systems, such as those involving word meanings or grammatical constructions, (3) play with rhymes and words, and (4) play with the conventions of speech.

Play with Sounds

As an example of play with sounds and noises, take the spontaneous babbling of the infant in the first year (Athey, 1984; Garvey, 1977); it is an intrinsically motivated and freely chosen activity that lacks external goals, and it appears, at least to an adult eye, to afford the child a good deal of pleasure. How might the sound and noise play of infancy aid in the child's intellectual development? Such play seems to be an important element in the development of language. Even though psychologists no longer believe that adults train children to speak by the use of reinforcements, it is likely that social reinforcement does occur in response to infant babbles. Therefore, parents may unintentionally influence their child to make sounds appropriate to the language they speak. "Da-Da" is more likely to gain a favorable adult reaction than is "Ga-Ga." In that sense, the sound play of the infant may ultimately result in advances in sound production (Athey, 1984). By the end of the first year, infants will produce a variety of playful sounds with their mouths—humming, smacking their lips, bubble blowing, and so forth. Indeed, play with the sounds of language occurs not only during the first two years but can also be round among older children. For example, children at about the age of three or four become fascinated with songs, chants, and rhymes and enjoy producing nonsensical rhyming patterns. And play of this type in older children is related to language development: The ability to rhyme is highly correlated with early reading achievement in children (Athey, 1984). Certain words or sounds may strike preschoolers as being particularly amusing, and they may repeat them until eventually they lose their comic effect. Preschoolers also play with sound by "talking funny" (Garvey, 1977): They distort their voices, attempting to speak in a high-pitched squeak, in a throaty rasping sound, or in the flat monotone of a favorite robot character.

Play with Grammatical Constructions

During the second year of life, when the child is producing one-word utterances and, by 21 months of age, two-word phrases, there is even greater evidence of play with language (Athey, 1984). Toddlers continue to play with sounds and noises, but now they also experiment in their solitary play with the syntactic and semantic elements of language, such as word order and the uses of different parts of speech. For example, they repeat sentences, each time substituting a new word of the same grammatical category: A child might say, "Daddy go out," "Mommy go out," "Baby go out"; again, "Doggie fall down," Kitty fall down," "Baby fall down" (Weir, 1962). They build up and break down sentences (e.g., "Give it to me," "Give the cup to me"), and in doing so they isolate sentence components and come to a better understanding of their functions (Garvey, 1977). They ask questions and then provide the answer themselves. They recite lists of words, numbers, or letters. They engage themselves in conversation. They comment on their own behaviors. It has been suggested that solitary experimental play with the rules of word order may form the basis for the development of the grammatical structures of language (Bruner, 1974; Garvey, 1977, 1984; Ratner & Bruner, 1978). As Garvey (1977, 1984) noted, the private language of the solitary monologue gives children a perfect opportunity to experiment with the elements of speech; the language of social interaction, on the other hand, is goal directed and lacks the element of playfulness found in the solitary monologue. In language play, children can take apart and put together the building blocks of speech in ways that they will not be able to do consciously until the early years of elementary school.

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