Syntactic Development of Children Essay

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Syntactic Development of Children

Language development—phonology, semantics, syntax and pragmatics—plays a key role in child development; whereas it acts as an indicator for the important facets of child progression, its’ more important function is that it facilitates the child’s course of learning in terms of linguistics and cognitive abilities.

 The pattern and capacity of the child learner for language development—the acknowledgement of morphemes and the use of syntax—-is normally referred to as “First Language Acquistion.” Chomsky (1975), one of the major proponents of Nature’s role in acquisition, contended that there exist a universal grammar and that the child-learners (/infants/growing child) have innate, language-specific abilities that facilitate and constrain language learning. Children are said to develop an almost innate or automatic synaptic rules without explicit instruction from their surroundings/environment.

The generative language and the transformation adopts a minimalist approach wherein there is economy in terms of derivation and representation in grammar and syntax.  Chomsky (1959;65) suggested the Bare Phase Structure wherein sentence building is derivational, not pre-conceived, binarily-branched, and no recognizable head and terminal parts. Up to now, such notion is vague and problematic.

Basically, language development starts from two-word utterances during the early stage of the child’s life to a rule-governed system of language at ages three to four. Past four years old, the child starts to explore and learn morphology ‘creatively’. Concomitant to this is the development of Mean Length Utterances (MLUs) from simple telegraphic morphemes to grammatical morphemes. Grammatical morphemes refer to the inflection of content (e.g. number and tenses) and function of words (e.g. preposition and articles) (Brown 1973).

Acquisition of grammatical morphemes follows a certain order which is dependent on the complexity of the (set of) words. Prepositions, plural forms and present progressive tenses are easily acquired compared to contractible copula and auxiliary forms of the words. Such order is determined by semantic and syntactic complexity. Learners from pre-school and first grade have the capacity to correctly apply grammatical morphemes to novel words.

Dulay and Burt (1978;82) constructed the acquisition hierarchy for 13 English grammatical morphemes for Spanish-speaking- and Cantonese-speaking children which is summarily describes as follows: Group 1 (Nominative/Accusative: simple declarative sentences), Group II (singular copula, s/p auxiliary, progressive), Group III (Past Irregular, possessive, 3rd person singular, conditional auxiliary, long plural) and Group IV (perfect auxiliary and past participle). The problem with such assumption on interlanguage is that the theory is too reduced or oversimplified.

While it is true that syntactic development follows a process, the major problems involved are the different comparison groups used for the study, the progression is not systematically defined, and of course, there exist the language variation. Such language variation is real and must be accepted as a challenge for future research on the subject. To fully understand interlanguage, future researchers should consider a wider scope in cognitive and linguistic aspects correlated to early learning.

Works Cited

Brown, R. A First Language: The Early Stages. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP,1973.

Chomsky, N. Reflections on Language. NY: Pantheon Books, 1975.

Chomsky, Noam. 1959. Review of Verbal Behavior by B.F. Skinner. Language 35, 26-58. Chomsky, Noam. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1965

Dulay, H., and M. Burt.. Errors and strategies in child second language acquisition. TESOL Quaterley 1974, 8, 129-136.

Dulay, H., and M. Burt. Some remarks on creativity in language acquisition. In William C. Ritchie (ed.). Second Language Acquisition Research, NY: Academic Press, 1978.

Dulay, H.,M.Burt, and S. D. Krashen. Language Two. New York: Oxford UP, 1982.

Dulay, H., E. Hernandez-Chavez, and M. Burt. The process of becoming bilingual. In S. Singh and J. Lynch (ed). Diagnostic Procedures in Hearing, Speech and Language. Baltimore: University Park Press, 1978, 251-303.

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