Introduction to Linguistics at Universität Frankfurt am Main

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How necessary is child-directed speech

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Imitation Theory:

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How Adults Talk to Young Children

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Active construction of a Grammar Theory:

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Connectionist Theory:

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Social Interaction Theory

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Reinforcement Theory:

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How adults get children to pay attention

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What adults say to young children

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How adults talk to children

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The Innateness Hypothesis:

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auditory phonetics

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Introduction to Linguistics

How necessary is child-directed speech

• not the case

Introduction to Linguistics

Imitation Theory:

• children learn language by listening to speech around them & reproducing it
• consists of memorizing words and sentences
• children cannot guess meaning since it's mostly arbitrary


• fails to acknowledge internal mental grammar children seem to have
• cannot account for how children and adults understand and produce new sentences

Introduction to Linguistics

How Adults Talk to Young Children

infant-directed speech/ child-directed speech


• adults have to make sure child realizes that an utterance is directed at them
○ by using a name
○ speaking in a high-pitched voice
○ touching the child
• choose a concept that maximizes the child's chance of understanding what is being said

Introduction to Linguistics

Active construction of a Grammar Theory:

• most influential theory
• children invents rules by themselves
○ based on heard speech
○ think they discovered a pattern --> hypothesize a rule for it
○ modify rule or add another to produce additional forms
○ edit and create till it matches adult's grammar
• child has grammar before it is adultlike

Introduction to Linguistics

Connectionist Theory:

• learn language by creating neural connections in the brain
• all connections become child's representation of meaning and form of word
• strength of connection depends on input frequency
•assumes that child merely exploits statistical information about forming past tenses
○if this would be true child would be accepted to sometimes produce irregular form (since exposed to words like sing, ring, bring)

Introduction to Linguistics

Social Interaction Theory

• acquire language through social interaction
• speech to children (child-directed speech)
○ slower
○ high-pitched
○ more repetitions
○ simplified syntax
○ exaggerated intonation
○ simple and concrete vocabulary
• unclear how long a child has to be exposed to it
• types of social interaction may be invaluable to language acquisition

Introduction to Linguistics

Reinforcement Theory:

• children learn language because they are
○ praised, rewarded --> when using the right form
○ corrected --> when using the wrong form
○neither explains where children's rules came from nor why child seems impervious to
correction

Introduction to Linguistics

How adults get children to pay attention

• attention gatters --> to tell children which utterances are addressed to them
• attention holders --> when adults want to say multiple things
--> not all attention gatters or holders are linguistic
○ can be gestures as well

Introduction to Linguistics

What adults say to young children

make what they say relevant
○ seems to have the most relevance to what their child might want to talk about
○ leave out function words and words endings --> think it simplifies
• talk about the "here and now"
○ whatever is under the children's eyes
○ very selective about words
○"baby talk" words --> appropriate in talking only to very young children
○include kinship terms and nicknames; bodily functions and routines; names of animals,
games and toys; few general qualities 

• children make their contribution
 conversational turns
▪ everything infant does seen as a turn
▪when start to use one or two-word utterances --> adults provide both implicit and
explicit information about conversational turns


- truth of contribution more important than grammatical correctness

Introduction to Linguistics

How adults talk to children

• speak slow
• use short simple sentences
• higher-pitched voice
• repeat themselves frequently
--> children understand shorter sentences better
--> need to have beginning and end of sentence clearly identified

Introduction to Linguistics

The Innateness Hypothesis:

• children born with some language knowledge
○ language has patterns
○ ability to find and seek out those patterns
○ some core characteristics common to all languages
basic features shared by all languages --> linguistic universals
theoretically inborn set of structural characteristics shared by all languages --> universal grammar
--> language is a behaviour like walking --> emerges before children have to fend for themselves
• child does not need a special external stimulus to begin process of language acquisition
• children master linguistic skills in a certain order
• innate behaviours have a critical period
○ from birth --> onset of puberty
• evidence supporting the innates and the critical period

○ found in deaf children

○ teenagers and adults --> harder time learning languages

○ critical period for L2 acquisition controversial

▪ rather a steady decline in how well second language can be learned

--> may exist for certain aspects of language

Introduction to Linguistics

auditory phonetics

• how humans process sound / perceive pronunciation


when words run together (e.g. phrases/sentences)
→ running speech / continuous speech

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