Encountering the World: Toward an Ecological Psychology

By Edward S. Reed | Go to book overview

11
Entering the Linguistic Environment

The Two Phases of Language Development

All normal humans beings learn to understand and to use language. However, each individual primarily learns the language of his or her local environment, and therefore thousands of different languages (and many more distinctive dialects) have evolved. To become a person, one has to enter the world of language, but in becoming a proper person, one enters a specific speech community.

In this chapter I argue that human children do not, strictly speaking, learn something called language, but instead develop a repertoire of skills--cognitive and social as well as communicative--that enable them to become competent (junior) partners in their community. Given the social arrangements of modern humans, this community tends to exist in two distinct spheres and, therefore, language acquisition tends to proceed in two distinct phases.

The infant's social world is strongly demarcated between the family (meaning the small group of immediate caregivers) and the larger community, whatever that may be. It is a nearly universal fact of human upbringing that the child's encounters with the family are far more intense than encounters with others until at least 18 months. Sometime in the second or third year of life most children in most cultures begin to experience systematic, frequent, and meaningful encounters with people and social arrangements beyond the family.

The first phase of language development is thus largely within the confines of the family, and therefore tends to be idiosyncratic with respect to established patterns of the language community as a whole. I call this phase of language use indicational language because the functional communication skills manifest at this time of life revolve around the child's ability to select or indicate a topic (object, place, event, person) of interest to be shared with the interlocutor. Indicational language is marked by idiosyncrasies of communicative structure and content, as we shall see. However, as children are forced to adapt their language to an ever-larger circle of acquaintance, much of this idiosyncrasy becomes increasingly dysfunctional, and a remarkable reorganization of communicative structure begins to occur. In order to produce speech acts that function smoothly and are accepted as genuine by most members of the larger language community, children must discover how to control the key patterns deployed by that community: morphological, phonological, and syntactic transformations and invariants. I argue that the child's discovery of these complex patterns emerge within

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Encountering the World: Toward an Ecological Psychology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface and Acknowledgments v
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction: the Significance of the Psychological 3
  • 1 - Regulation Versus Construction 9
  • Conclusion: the Fundamental Hypothesis of Ecological Psychology 18
  • 2 - An Evolutionary Psychology 20
  • Conclusion 27
  • 3 - Affordances: A New Ecology for Psychology 29
  • Conclusion: the Evolution of Behavior Among the Affordances of the Environment 45
  • 4 - The Importance of Information 47
  • Conclusion 67
  • 5 - Functional Systems and the Mechanisms of Behavior 68
  • Conclusion 82
  • 6: Varieties of Action Systems 83
  • 7 - The Effort After Value and Meaning 96
  • Conclusion 110
  • 8 - The Human Environment 111
  • Conclusion 125
  • 9 - Becoming a Person 126
  • Conclusion: Becoming A Person and Entering into A Culture 138
  • 10 - The Daily Life of the Mind 140
  • Conclusion 151
  • 11 - Entering the Linguistic Environment 153
  • Conclusion 167
  • 12 - Streams of Thought 169
  • Conclusion 183
  • Epilogue: The Significance of Ecological Psychology 184
  • Conclusion 189
  • References 191
  • Index 207
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