The Transition from Prelinguistic to Linguistic Communication

The Transition from Prelinguistic to Linguistic Communication

The Transition from Prelinguistic to Linguistic Communication

The Transition from Prelinguistic to Linguistic Communication

Excerpt

Much research in the area of language acquisition, as in most areas of developmental psychology, begins with cross-sectional descriptions of phenomena. Be it metamemory, conservation, or the use of plural forms, the phenomenon and its apparent developmental course is charted and a complex of related skills is identified through correlations with performance on other tasks. At this point, developmental researchers begin to ask about transitions. Although the first round of research established that skill levels A, B, and C of the phenomenon exist, subsequent research focuses on how the child moves from A to B and then to C. In other words, developmental psychologists begin to ask "how" questions? How is it that B emerged from A? What processes mediate such transitions? How do various environments facilitate or impede the appearance of B? "How" questions are obviously among the more difficult ones to answer because they focus on dynamic interpretations of developmental change and not on "snapshot" descriptions of some capability at different points in time. Developmental change cannot be directly observed but only inferred when the child reveals new competencies.

The last 20 years, the Chomskyan era, has witnessed tremendous growth in the study of the phenomenon of early language production and comprehension (seeGolinkoff &Gordon, this volume). Subsequently researchers turned to the prelanguage period of the first year of life, probing the communicative precursors of language acquisition. What is missing in the literature is a focus on how the child moves from prelanguage communication to language. How are prelinguistic gestural and vocal means of communication gradually transformed into linguistic means of communication? How do species-specific capabilities interact . . .

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