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Chapter 9: Language Development

Theoretical Perspectives of Language Development
Although modeling, reinforcement, and feedback almost certainly play some role in language development,
early theories based on such processes could not adequately account for the fact that most children
acquire a very complex language system in a very short period, and with only limited guidance from adults.
Several more recent theoretical perspectives have emerged, each focusing on somewhat different aspects
of language development. Nativists propose that young children have certain "prewired" knowledge and
skills that facilitate language acquisition. Information processing theorists apply general principles of
cognition (e.g., the importance of attention, the process of automatization) to explain how some aspects of
language may develop. Sociocultural theorists emphasize the role that social interactions play in language
learning. Functionalists propose that children develop language primarily because it enhances children's
effectiveness in social groups and increases their ability to satisfy their own needs. Many theorists draw
from elements of two or more of these perspectives when explaining how language develops.
Nevertheless, some areas of incompatibility among the theories (e.g., whether children inherit some
"preprogramming" that helps them learn language) remain unresolved.
Trends in Language Development
Children and adolescents continue to develop their linguistic knowledge and skills throughout the preschool
and school years. For instance, school-age children add several thousand new words to their vocabulary
each year. Over time, they rely less on word order and more on syntax to interpret other people's
messages, and they can comprehend and produce sentences with increasingly complex syntactic
structures. Their conversations with others increase in length, they become better able to adapt the content
of their speech to the characteristics of their listeners, and they become more aware of the unspoken social
conventions that govern verbal interactions in their culture. They also acquire a growing understanding of
the nature of language as an entity in and of itself.
Development of a Second Language
Although research findings are mixed with regard to the "best" time to learn a second language, they
consistently indicate that knowing two or more languages enhances achievement in reading and other
language arts, promotes greater metalinguistic awareness, and fosters multicultural sensitivity. An
immersion approach to teaching a second language is effective only when children have ample opportunity
to continue developing their native language outside of school. In other situations, bilingual education is
usually preferable.
Diversity in Language Development
Subtle qualitative differences have been observed in the conversational styles of males and females.
Children from higher-SES backgrounds tend to have larger vocabularies, probably because they are likely
to be exposed to a wider variety of words. Different ethnic groups may show differences in sociolinguistic
behaviors, storytelling traditions, use of figurative language, and dialects.

Exceptionalities in Language Development

Some children have disabilities that affect their language development. Speech and communication
disorders include abnormalities in articulation, fluency, syntax, receptive language, or other aspects of
language that significantly interfere with children's performance and accomplishments in and out of school.
Children with hearing impairments and (to a lesser extent) those with visual impairments may have more
limited language proficiency because of reduced exposure to language or reduced awareness of the
meaningful contexts in which it is used.
1. Donald is a twelve-year-old boy who suffered traumatic brain injury. Although David can understand
spoken language, he is unable to speak himself. David most likely suffered damage to which part
of his brain?
Broca's area
2. Which of the following scenarios is most likely to occur, according to functionalism?
A child who has just begun preschool begins telling his baby sister "we have to share."
3. Kappi is a fourth grader who is able to write fluent, detailed stories in her English class. In reading
class, however, Kappi has difficulty comprehending a story that has been read aloud. Kappi most
likely exhibits difficulty with what type of language?
4. Owen has approximately 500 words in his lexicon. Approximately how old is Owen?
3 years old
5. While on a trip to the zoo, two-year-old Cody called out to his mother, "Monkey run tree!" In this
example, what is Cody using?
Lexical words
6. According to researchers in the area of semantic development, which of the following would not be
an effective way to help children learn word meanings?
Using a very limited vocabulary of easily understood words when speaking to infants.
7. Which of the following sentences would probably be easiest for a preschooler to interpret correctly?
Mommy went shopping because we needed food.
8. Two-year-old Evan says to his mother, "I sayed I wanted apple juice." This is an example of what?
9. Luisa is learning syntax. Which of the following would not be an appropriate method to foster her
syntactic development?
Luisa's mother employs overregularization.
10. Mr. Wong tells his class that the principal is "fit to be tied" about behavior in the cafeteria. The
students understand that this means that the principal is angry. What grade does Mr. Wong most
likely teach?
Eighth Grade
11. Which of the following teachers is most effectively promoting listening comprehension among their
second graders?
Ms. Reyes has her students draw pictures demonstrating something they learned from a

12. Why is it that you are more likely to hear a 14-year-old rather than a 9-year-old say, "That cool
movie was radical!"
Because a 9-year-old is less likely to have learned language in the context of a particular
peer group.
13. A child who continually interrupts other people when they are speaking has not yet mastered what?
Sociolinguistic behaviors
14. Mr. James asks, "How many thirds make up a whole?" Mary Ellen responds, "Two." Mr. James
responds, "Not quite." This is an example of what?
IRE cycle
15. Which of the following is not an example of cultural differences in sociolinguistic behavior?
Jason, who moved to the United States from Mexico, has trouble understanding the stories
read aloud in his third grade class.