Language Development — Part Prewired, Part Learned
Language may not seem like an important part of psychology, but some psychologists see language as what sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Language is also something that psychologists continue to learn more and more about.
A behavioral psychologist, like B. F. Skinner, would say that language is learned because children get positive reinforcement for speaking the correct words. Parents will hug, kiss, and smile when a child says “mommy” or “daddy” for the first time, prompting the child to do so again.
Children will rarely make huge grammatical errors such as saying “ball my” instead of “my ball” even though they have not yet learned the proper subject, verb, and object rules. This knowledge suggests that Chomsky is right in thinking humans are predisposed to language.
Psychologist and linguist Noam Chomsky looked at language from a biological standpoint. His claim is that humans are biologically born to speak, prewired for language. Chomsky noticed that all languages share common characteristics (such as the fact that the most commonly used words are generally the shortest) and said that languages developed this way because humans are predisposed to these characteristics.
Development of Language
Children from different cultures seem to follow, in general, the same development of language. At around four months, children will look in the same direction as parents when parents begin to point and label things. At around age one, children usually start to speak, saying variations of words like mom or dad.” It is at this stage in their development that children make the mistake of overextension. An example of overextension is when a child refers to all males as “dad.” A child also uses holophrastic speech around the twelve-month mark. Holophrastic speech is the use of a single word to express a complete idea. For example, a one-year-old may say “car” when she really wants to go for a ride.
What is overregularization?
Overregularization is when a child overapplies the rules of grammar. For example, a child might say, “I holded the puppy” and find nothing grammatically incorrect in that statement because the child is overapplying the rules of past tense that he has learned.
At eighteen to twenty-four months, children develop telegraphic, or twoword, speech. In this stage, children delete the nonessential words, speaking in a very Tarzan-like way. For example a child wanting to say “Hand me the cup” would merely say, “Give cup.” After twenty-four months, a child's language develops rapidly. Once a child learns grammatical rules, however, it is common for her to make the mistake of overregularization. As children enter the preschool years, what is commonly referred to as a language explosion occurs. During this time, children suddenly begin learning and producing an astonishing vocabulary of words and sentences.