The Capability of the child
The immense capability of the child in acquiring the complex system of her first language is one of the greatest wonders of the world. Even before a child learns how to count, she can join simple sentences, ask questions, express disapproval and can use the phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic rules of her first language without being aware of the intricacies of the grammatical rules which govern her language use. Language seems to unfold its bounties to a child in a very unobtrusive manner and the child starts navigating in the ocean of her first language without any deliberate support of her parents or caregivers. But, though the child’s ability to acquire her first language is spontaneous, it is not unwieldy, it follows a particular pattern which is a topic of an inquiry for the linguists, child psychologists and the language teachers. There’s a method in the madness, with an apology to Shakespeare.
The capabilities of the child indicate that she is ‘equipped from birth with the necessary neural prerequisites for language and language use’ (Fromkin and Rodman,1978:243). But, it has to be remembered that the child’s language acquisition and language use are not isolated phenomena. As language is ‘a defining feature of the human species’ (Goodwin,1997:1), it is related to human cognitive faculty and social entity.
Though the degree of correlation between cognitive and linguistic abilities of the child is still a controversial one, any discussion on the linguistic development of the child should take into account her cognitive development as both the developments are interrelated. How does a child respond to her immediate environment? How does her language acquisition build on her cognitive development? When the child starts acquiring her first language, she builds on what she knows from her acquaintance with immediate objects and experiences. The conceptual experience triggers her linguistic experience. “In the first 12 months, infants start to organize what they know about entities and events before they gain access to the representational properties of language. ( Clark,2004:472).
The child’s sensitivity to her immediate neighbourhood adds to her cognitive as well as social development. The child uses her mother tongue and the other languages of her surrounding for various purposes. She communicates with herself and with the others. She depicts the understanding of social relationships. She knows how and what to talk about to people around her. When a child is busy in an activity, she talks to herself; she explains what she is doing and what she would do next. She discovers new language games, imagines a whole new world of stories, creates stories, dramatizes, plans, strategizes, personifies inanimate objects and thinks beyond here and now. All these activities require cognitive and social abilities along with the linguistic ability and the child has the innate ability to adapt the input she receives to her emerging cognitive, social and linguistic abilities.
It is interesting to note that the child has the ability to develop her own strategies for learning whatever she finds relevant to learn around her. She is often more resourceful, resilient and creative than adults are ready to give her credit for it. She has the ability to find the right ways to make language work for her and she loves to experiment with her limited linguistic resources. She has the ability to replace difficult sounds with sounds that are easier for her to articulate. Sometimes she does not hesitate to drop difficult sounds altogether.
The language spoken in her immediate neighbourhood enables a child to adjust herself with the adult world by internalizing adult values and norms. She is a curious observer of the adult drama being unfolded before her day by day and she tries to equip herself with the required linguistic and cognitive abilities with the help of the resources available to her. The urge for socialization prompts a child to become a linguistic adult even in her childhood. Aren’t children more social than adults? He/She who is more social learns a new language more quickly than a person who is not very social? You know what I mean if you are an adult learner of a new language!
PS. I acknowledge my indebtedness to the following sources.
Fromkin, V and Rodman, R. 1978. An Introduction to Language, NewYork, Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Goodwin, M.H. 1997. ‘Children’s linguistic and Social Worlds’ in Anthropology Newsletter, Vol.38, N0.3 retrieved from http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/anthro/faculty/goodwin/97anews.pdf
Halliday, M.A.K. 1978. Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning, London, Edward Arnold.
Hymes, D.H. 1972. ‘On Communicative Competence’ in Pride, J.B. and Holmes, J. (eds) Sociolinguistics: Selected Readings, Harmondswoth, Penguin.
Clark, E.V, 2004. How language acquisition builds on cognitive development, Trends in Cognitive Sciences Vol.8, No.10, pp. 472-478 retrieved from http://dingo.sbs.arizona.edu/~charleslin/indv101/review_reading/clark.pdf