Language creation

Discuss various aspects of natural language.

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Re: Language creation

#141  Postby Agrippina » Mar 13, 2010 5:11 am

OK having read what Mr S had to say, and as someone who has been around children for most of my life I want to say something about the way they learn language.

At first it's just babbling, making sounds in response to the sounds they hear us make. To babies all the talking we do around them sounds like babbling, in the same way that when you enter a room full people speaking a foreign language, you hear a babble. The sound the baby picks up most of the time is the 'b' sound, and through being conditioned that the 'b' sound is usually directed at them, and it is an easy sound to replicate, most babies start with 'baba' the parents react and the behavioiur is conditioned as positive i.e. the kid gets a positive response from the parents so it makes the sound again. The kid then figures out that making sounds at the parents gets them smiling and laughing and repeating the sounds so the kid tries others that it finds easy to say 'mama' 'dada' or 'papa' (unless you're one of mine and you simply refuse to say anything until you're two years old and you come out with "hello mommy'). It was very interesting to see one child I knew, who was badly abused by his parents and who lived in the shadow of an older, healthier and outgoing brother, who got his parents' attention only when he mispronounced words.

The parents mostly ignored the baby who was always sick, except to fight about the expense of having a sick child and when he cried, which he did a lot of, beat him. When his speech started to develop, they ignored it, mostly because the older brother was doing something more interesting, so he babbled. This got their attention, he would grossly mispronounce words so that the parents would spend time with him trying to get him to 'speak right' and then they took him to speech therapists and psychologists who all said that there was nothing wrong with him and that it was baby-talk and he would 'grow out of it' because of course they didn't report the beating and the attention-seeking. I knew something of the background but not as much as I learned later when I saw the family interacting and I realised that the kid was using it as an attention-seeking mechanism but by this time he was old enough to go to school (he did the babble thing with me too because the parents were always present). When the mother took him on the first day, she had to leave him alone with a stranger for the very first time and at the end of the day went to school to fetch him. She asked the teacher about his speech, she replied, that there was nothing wrong with his speech and that he spoke clearly and his language usage was fine. Needless to say he got beaten again for messing with them.

This person has grown into a very successful adult who in his teenage years went through depression and sexual identity issues eventually seeking help to overcome these. Now he runs a successful business, has studied psychology himself to help him raise his own family which he is doing very successfully and openly speaks of the abuse and how it caused him to 'mess with' his parents in the way that he did.

To get back to why babies use words the way they do, like 'thinked' instead of 'thought' they do this simply because even though they hear their parents using correct language, they don't quite make the connections, and naturally parents correct them when they do make mistakes. I love the way babies mess up the language and they also play with it using sounds to sometimes make up new words or ideas that become family 'sayings' for instance one of mine couldn't say 'strawberry jam' understandable in a little one, so he coined the word "jawjam" when I put it on his bread to tell me that he didn't like it and didn't want to eat it. We still refer to sticky, yucky food as 'jawjam' in our family. He also used to say "baby can't like" and today we also still say that we "can't like' something as family shorthand, someone will say "how do you like that car" and rather than say "no I don't like it at all" we say "can't like" meaning extreme distaste, like for instance I "can't like" sushi. Yuck!
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Re: Language creation

#142  Postby Wezentrommel » Mar 13, 2010 12:02 pm

Agrippina wrote:
To get back to why babies use words the way they do, like 'thinked' instead of 'thought' they do this simply because even though they hear their parents using correct language, they don't quite make the connections, and naturally parents correct them when they do make mistakes.


Have you had any instruction in this subject Agrippina?
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Re: Language creation

#143  Postby Agrippina » Mar 13, 2010 1:04 pm

Wezentrommel wrote:
Agrippina wrote:
To get back to why babies use words the way they do, like 'thinked' instead of 'thought' they do this simply because even though they hear their parents using correct language, they don't quite make the connections, and naturally parents correct them when they do make mistakes.


Have you had any instruction in this subject Agrippina?


Pscyhology degree and four children of my own and a huge family and almost 40 years of children visiting and paediatric nursing, so yes.
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Re: Language creation

#144  Postby Tim Danaher » Mar 13, 2010 4:45 pm

Wezentrommel wrote:
Agrippina wrote:
To get back to why babies use words the way they do, like 'thinked' instead of 'thought' they do this simply because even though they hear their parents using correct language, they don't quite make the connections, and naturally parents correct them when they do make mistakes.


Have you had any instruction in this subject Agrippina?


I think it's in Words and Rules where Pinker says that children start off using the correct, irregular forms, but then the rule-based system starts kicking in strongly, causing them to 'hyper-apply' it, producing non-standard forms like 'thinked', 'buyed' etc. After a while, they settle back into the standard pattern.

I remember asking my 2-1/2 yr-old nephew what he had done, and he replied (looking at me somewhat mischievously) " I broke the telly."
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Re: Language creation

#145  Postby Agrippina » Mar 13, 2010 5:54 pm

Tim Danaher wrote:
Wezentrommel wrote:
Agrippina wrote:
To get back to why babies use words the way they do, like 'thinked' instead of 'thought' they do this simply because even though they hear their parents using correct language, they don't quite make the connections, and naturally parents correct them when they do make mistakes.


Have you had any instruction in this subject Agrippina?


I think it's in Words and Rules where Pinker says that children start off using the correct, irregular forms, but then the rule-based system starts kicking in strongly, causing them to 'hyper-apply' it, producing non-standard forms like 'thinked', 'buyed' etc. After a while, they settle back into the standard pattern.

I remember asking my 2-1/2 yr-old nephew what he had done, and he replied (looking at me somewhat mischievously) " I broke the telly."


Also playing with words can be a sign of linguistic ability. If a child starts making complex sentences early but messes around with the words, it could simply be that he is able to understand how to use language for fun and plays with the words because they are amusing. A good one to test it with is animal sounds and nursery rhymes, kids who enjoy using language learn things like "the lamb says baa" "the cow says moo" and so on and will play the game, whereas a kid who isn't language oriented will speak only to be understood and will play with other things that do interest, like say numbers and learn those at an early age. You can't generalise with kids and also you have to take the family's use of language into account, in a family where the parents use complex language and have good vocabularies and who don't use 'baby words' kids also learn more words a lot sooner than families that don't use advanced language skills.

It's interesting to watch family dynamics. My extended family is great for watching this sort of thing. Considering that all my sisters went to the same convent and had the same elocution teacher. The older ones married men from different backgrounds to the men my youngest sister and I married and over the years their language changed to fit their own family's speaking patterns. They now have extended families with children and grandchildren and to see all the accents, language usage and language dynamics among all the grandchildren is fascinating. One thing I observed this week, and possibly as a result of this thread, my second son and my eldest nephew have exactly the same voice, and they use the same expressions although they have never spent much time together, being 12/13 years apart in age so it's not through learning. His son sounds like his grandfather even though his grandfather's been dead for 10 years and he was 10 when his grandfather died. And a really weird thing is my youngest sister has lived in Canada for 20 years and she still sounds like a South African, no Canadian accent, yet 10 minutes into a conversation with someone with a different accent to mine, and I pick it up and imitate it without intention, it's like a reflex. Very funny.
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