Language in the Crib

Language in the Crib

Language in the Crib

Language in the Crib

Excerpt

This book deals with certain aspects of the language of a two-and-one-half year old child. The investigation focuses on language, both as a skill, that is, in its distinctive function, and as a means of communication, that is, in its significative function. The child's language is studied as a self-contained system under special circumstances, namely, just before he falls asleep at night, and his linguistic system at the time can be called his own "idiolect".

Since the child is learning the American English spoken in his surroundings, and since the child of course speaks at other times as well, some comparisons between the child's language of the pre-sleep monologues and his day language on the one hand, and the language of the adults around him will be made.

Modern linguistic science defines language as an arbitrary system of vocal symbols by which members of a speech community communicate and cooperate. It is this system, or "langue" as Ferdinand de Saussure has called it, which is being investigated here. While the individual speech acts, or Saussurian "parole", serve as a basis for the investigation, it is only their relationships within the English system of the child which are of primary concern.

In this context, phonetics, the science of speech sounds, is only auxiliary to phonemics, that is, the discipline of linguistics which deals with the distinctive sounds features characteristic of a given language. The phonemic principle is crucial to this study since one aspect of the investigation involves the phonemic contrasts utilized in the child's language on the one hand, and the phonetic variations used in different circumstances within the child's phonemic range, on the other. Language, in all its aspects, is a patterned structure. Hence, babbling, the young child's unstructured making of sounds, is of no relevance in the establishment of phonemic contrasts; however, some babbling occurs in our data and will be dealt with separately.

In addition to the establishment of the child's phonemes, their patterning is studied in terms of clusters occurring in his speech. However, since the phoneme is a bundle of simultaneous articulatory features which appear in combination with each other, it must be assumed that the child learns these important subphonemic elements so that his phonemes can be properly actualized. It is a relevant question to ask, which of these features have been learned well by the child, which ones are still unstable, or which ones he still ignores.

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