Ch. 6: Chattering Children Presentation by: Chelsea Ulloa

Main questions:

How do children get started on learning to speak?

Is there a universal framework underlying early speech?

1 word utterances

1st theory- child is naming/labeling objects

2nd theory- Vygotsky’s chain complex Ex: Qua- original word: quack or duck in a pond)→ liquid element to milk→ duck to eagle in a quarter→ from quarter to any round coin-like object like a teddy bear’s eye

3rd theory - McNeill- holophrases (single words stand for whole sentences)- misuse of words shows evidence of grammatical relationships, which the child understands, but cannot yet express.

Ex: 1 year old child said HA whem something hot was in front of her. A month later she said HA to an empty coffee cup and a turned off stove. This example shows that the child is not just labeling objects that are hot, but object that could be hot (asserts property).

4th theory- Lois Bloom- one word utterances varies according to the age of the child ‘

Ex: (one study on Bloom’s daughter)

- 16 months: MUMMY means, ‘That’s Mummy.’

- 19 months: MUMMY means an interaction between Mummy and the surrounding environment

CONCLUSION: It is hard to determine what children are trying to do with one-word utterances because the variables are many. There are numerous possibilities.

discussion questions:

Which theory do you think best describes a child’s thought process or reasoning behind one-word utterances?

Do you think child language/utterances can ever be understood or defined into a universal rule applying to grammar?

2 word utterances

2 methods of analyzing two-word utterances

• Martian language method- study the language of children as if it were an unknown exotic language

• Let’s guess what they’re trying to say method - try to provide an interpretation of what the child is saying by using their knowledge of the language and by observing the situation in which the words were uttered.

- Martin Braine (1963) used the martian method & introduced the “Pivot grammar.” Combinations of 2 word utterances showed a pattern. There were two types of words:

1) Pivots (small collection of words where other words appeared to pivot round them like WANT, GET, THERE, IT (pivots in first position) , and DO (pivot in second position) and

2) Open class words (a set of words which can be added to indefinitely like BABY, CAR, MAMA, DADA, BALL, DOLL, BUNNY, HORSIE, etc. )

Braine concluded that a sentence can consists of either (P1 + O) or (O + P2)

Linguists thought they might have discovered a first universal first grammar, called the pivot grammar, however, a number of children did not fit into this simple pattern. Again, there are many variables in the way children speak for pivot grammar to be regarded as genuine ‘rule.'

Lois Bloom (1970,1991; Bloom et al. 1975) used the Let's guess what they're trying to say method

- In Bloom's study of child Gia, she noticed a deliberate sequence of juxtapositions.

For example, whenever Gia seemed to be expressing locating she put the object she was locating first, and the location second: FLY BANKET means 'The fly is on the blanket." Or FLY BLOCK means " The fly is on the block." etc.

When Gia referred to sibjects and object, she put the subject first and the object second: GIRL BALL means "The girl is bouncing the ball." GIRL FISH means "The girl is playing with a fish." etc.

In Conclusion, Gia was expressing the relationships of location, possession, and subject-object in the same order as they found in adult speech. Gia seemed to realize automatically that it was necessary to express relationships consistently. She seemed to expect language to consist of recurring patterns and to naturally look for regularities.

discussion question:

which method seems more practical to use when analyzing the language of children? the martian method? or Let's guess what they're trying to say method?

How do children set about acquiring early utterances? Do they discover how to express one concept at a time? Or do they deal with several simultaneously?

- Martin Braine (1976)- found that children cope with several concepts at the same time, but in a very restricted set of circumstances. Children could express possession, recurrence, and attribution with a narrow range of words (before their 2nd birthday).

EX: - Possession: mommy's shoe - Recurrence: more juice - Attribution: big dog

Conflict with braine's theory:

- Not all children learn singles words, then put them together

- Some learn whole sequences of sounds, then gradually break them down into words

- “There is no one way to learn language. Language learning poses a problem for the child, and, as with other complex problems, there is no single path to a solution.” (Nelson 1973: 114).

- No universal formula which all early utterances can be categorized.

- 2 word utterances simply express meaning relationships like actor-action, location and possession consistently→ but no grammatical relationships can be confirmed


- children are able to pluralize new and unfamiliar words by applying ‘rules’ they had worked out for themselves.

- Children can generalize patterns such as past tense rules. They have a strong tendency to look for and apply ‘rules’

EX: When children learn past tense for words such as HELPED, PLAYED, WALKED, WASHED they give up using the correct irregular form and start using the overgeneralized forms COMED, GOED, BREAKED


roger brown's stages of language development (1973)

Study was done on three children named Adam, Eve, and Sarah

- The children seemed to be devising hypotheses for the regularities in the speech they heard around them.

The Stages & development of negative sentences

- 1st stage: Put NO or NOT in front of the whole sentence

- 2nd stage: Put the negative after the first noun phrase and before the rest of the sentence

- 3rd stage: children realized CANT and DON’T contained two separate words. So the rule now was to place the negative in the third slot in the sentence after a noun and auxiliary or copula and before the rest of the sentence

- 4th stage: Children amended sentences such as YOU DIDN’T CAUGHT ME to YOU DIDN’T CATCH ME.


- Each phase can be seen as the children’s hypothesis for the rules of negation

- Language of children has its own systemacity→ sentences are not just an imperfect copy of those of an adult

- Production and comprehension of speech overlap and fluctuate


- children make mistakes

- selective attention→ children may choose to concentrate on one aspect of speech at a time

- it is a transitional stage→ a child has realized that her ‘old’ pattern is wrong or partially wrong, and has formulated a new one, but remains confused as to the precise instances in which she should abandon her older primitive rule (Cromer 1970)

- Moreover, children are constantly editing grammar rules based on the majority of what they hear around them.


- “The principle of contrast’ (Clark 1987)- children seem to expect different words to mean different things

- For example, when Sally heard someone say, DADDY BUILT THAT SNOWMAN, she may have realized that this was equivalent to her own DADDY BUILDEN THAT SNOWMAN. This may have led her to reevaluate her own ‘rule’ and then emend it.


- Children are not just copying adult utterances when they speak

- Children automatically ‘know’ that language is patterned

- Children seem to follow rules they devise themselves, which produce systematic divergences from the adult output

- Children’s hypothesis about language often applies only to small corners of language at a time.

- Children tend to express similar meaning relationships in a consistent way

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