Language and Communication

By George A. Miller | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
THE VERBAL BEHAVIOR OF CHILDREN

He that attentively considers the state of a child at his first coming into the world, will have little reason to think him stored with plenty of ideas.

-- JOHN LOCKE

The world's 1500 languages give noisy testimony to the fact that speech is learned, not instinctive. Nevertheless, the successive stages in the development of verbal behavior are much the same in all children, regardless of their parents' language. The agreement between German, French, and American studies indicates that the development of speech depends upon the prior development of the child's anatomical and neuromuscular systems. In the early stages of development there is relatively random vocalization. Control of these vocalizations awaits the slow process of physical growth.

The old argument about the relative importance of heredity and environment is still unsettled, but now the debaters know that the process of development is too complex and baffling to yield its secrets either to a list of hereditary instincts or to a list of conditioned reflexes. Growth and learning complement one another in normal development. Growth is not limited to certain activities nor to certain times of life. The most we can say is that there seem to be critical periods in the growth of an organism when it is most susceptible to certain kinds of stimulation from the environment. The critical period for one activity may occur at an entirely different time from the critical period for another activity.

The role of maturation in the development of speech can be seen in many ways. For example, the area in the brain that controls speech ( Broca's area) develops later than the other motor centers ( de Crinis, 1932). Not until 17 months after birth does it reach that degree of anatomical differentiation that can be observed in the other motor centers by the eleventh month. Changes in the structure of the speech apparatus also play a role; the resonating cavities change in size and shape. Everyone is familiar with the embarrassing change in the pitch of the male voice that accompanies a sudden lengthening of the vocal folds at adolescence.

If identical twins are given different opportunities to learn to speak, the differences that result must be due to the effects of these environmental influences. One study used twins just on the threshold of speaking at the age of eighty-four weeks of age ( Strayer, 1930). Beginning with the eighty-fourth

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Language and Communication
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Preface to Revised Edition vi
  • Preface vi
  • Contents ix
  • Foreword to the Teacher xi
  • Chapter 1 - By Way of Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Phonetic Approach 10
  • Selected References 46
  • Chapter 3 - The Perception of Speech 47
  • Selected References 79
  • Chapter 4- The Statistical Approach 80
  • Selected References 99
  • Chapter 5 - Rules for Using Symbols 100
  • Selected References 118
  • Chapter 6 - Individual Differences 119
  • Selected References 139
  • Chapter 7 - The Verbal Behavior of Children 140
  • Selected References 158
  • Chapter 8 - The Role of Learning 159
  • Selected References 173
  • Chapter 9 - Verbal Habits 174
  • Selected References 198
  • Chapter 10 - Some Effects of Verbal Habits 199
  • Selected References 222
  • Chapter 11 - Words, Sets, and Thoughts 223
  • Selected References 248
  • Chapter 12 - The Social Approach 275
  • Bibliography 276
  • Index 287
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