Interactional Contributions to Language Development

Interactional Contributions to Language Development

Interactional Contributions to Language Development

Interactional Contributions to Language Development

Excerpt

Dwight Bolinger protested the reductionist approach to linguistics that prevailed in the mid 1970s, proclaiming that anthropologist Levi-Strauss should be sent back to his wickiup for his too-influential work on kinship terms. Early child language research was characterized by similar reductionism, as investigators attempted to determine just what children were learning and in what order they learned it. It is a sign of the maturity of the field of child language research that current investigators have moved away from this reductionism, while retaining its useful analytic methodology; they are willing to take more complex approaches to their areas of study, attempting to explain as well as describe the content and timetable of language acquisition.

The nine chapters in this volume exemplify this state of the art. Taken singly, but especially together, they provide a picture of a whole child, with emotions as well as perceptual, cognitive, linguistic, and motor abilities, actively and selectively engaging with the environment to learn language (as well as drawing, painting, music, and arithmetic). The picture is a dynamic one in several ways, including the child's selective, active use of input, but also illustrating that different factors emerge as important depending on the current state of the child's knowlege in various domains.

The dominant theme of the volume is how the child's socioculturally influenced participation in discourse contributes in specific ways to learning language (with some parallels shown in other domains, such as art). Other themes are the effect of language typology on learning, interactions among different linguistic levels (such as pragmatics, semantics, and syntax, or phonology and morphology), and the interdependence of all language domains and cognition. These themes are played out in enquiries concerning first words, noun morphology, modal verbs, agentive and nonagentive subjects, and complex-sentence syntax. They are explored in a variety of languages, with an emphasis on Romance languages: Spanish (from several countries), French, Catalan, Basque (Euskal), English, German, and Zulu. The three final chapters take a broad view of language development, explicating different but highly compatible theories that predict much about learning . . .

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