Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

Theories and Approaches to Acquisition of Word Meaning in First Language Acquisition

Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

Theories and Approaches to Acquisition of Word Meaning in First Language Acquisition

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

A crucial issue in language acquisition is how children come to understand and produce a wealth of words. Acquisition of semantics in children is a highly complicated process encompassing many factors. The learning mechanisms put forth by researchers all display the sophistication children encounter in discovering the cues they employ while building upon their lexical learning. However, Acquiring semantics by children involves the interaction between cognitive concepts and the linguistically coded meanings. It is evident that meanings are not provided by the environment but created by children who are continuously in the process of acquiring semantic dimension throughout life (Lust, 2006).The first words uttered by children appear around age one when they first learn words at a slow rate then, they experience a sudden vocabulary spurt in which time they add more words to their mental lexicon. Children significantly comprehend more words than they produce between between ages one or two. They pick up words readily during the course of conversation and interaction with adults where they work out the meanings of unfamiliar words from the contexts in which they are used by adults (Bavin, 2009).The information available in the context as well as the joint attention contribute substantially to children's lexical acquisition. In addition, they need to take in a variety of uses of words in the context employed by adults and relate them to the words of the same semantic fields. From the onset, children learn how to combine words to build larger utterances and specific collocations. As they learn more shades of meanings of the words, they use a broader range of combinations to communicate the meanings they intend (Clark & Kelly 2006, Tomasello, 2003). Many theories have been constructed to explain the nature of semantic acquisition, some of which postulate that children primarily draw on perception while others view them as engaged in constructing meaning through pragmatic and social cues. In what follows, the main theories of word meaning acquisition together with their shortcomings are delineated.

2. Bootstrapping approaches in acquisition of word meaning

Bootstrapping approaches refer to the mechanisms contributing to the child to initiate the process of language learning and fall under two types.

2.1.Semantic Bootstrapping Hypothesis

Initially, children do not have access to language form, but do have access to extra-linguistic forms of meaning. On the basis of these meanings, children bootstrap to formal knowledge of language, i.e., to its forms and its units (Lust, 2006).

According to this hypothesis, children observe the real world situations and then based on their observations formulate word meanings and aspects of grammatical structure. To put it differently, semantic bootstrapping triggers a semantic-syntax association (Höhle B., 2009). Pinker (1984) maintains that children construct semantic representations with the help of the context as well as the universal linking rules. However, semantic bootstrapping failed to account for the acquisition of word meanings on the following fronts:

a. There is an infinite set of possible meanings in any context. This indicates that meanings can't be assigned by children before knowing the language.

b. Reference is inscrutable; this inevitably means that meaning is indeterminable.

c. Children do not rely on ostensive contexts for early word acquisition. They also learn new words by overhearing them (Akhtar et al. 2001)

d. Children's lack of direct dependence on ostensive contexts as well as the indirect relation between language, meaning and referential context contribute to blind infant learning word meaning.

The corollary which is made in respect of the above evidence is that, though meaning is indispensable, it cannot be regarded as a separate initial step, independent of linguistic knowledge to resolve the issue of language acquisition for children in the initial state (Lust, 2006) . …

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