Acquisition of Language
can start to speak of children's syntax when they reach the duose (two-word)
stage. When two words are put together, we can speak of the interaction between
them being syntactic. However, the context, intonation and gesture are needed to
clarify meaning, since an utterance such as ball
here could be declarative, interrogative or imperative.
the duose stage, children seem to be able to put words together in constructions
that look like subject+verb, e.g. baby play and verb+object, e.g.
in the duose stage, words-endings are missed off, for example the -ed past tense ending is omitted, and this may continue throughout
and beyond the duose stage. As the telegraphic stage is reached, children may
oversimplify (or overgeneralise) the use of inflectional morphemes, e.g. foots
for feet, winned for won.
children start to put together more than two words, they enter the telegraphic
stage, and gradually the mean length of utterance increases. At first, function
words such as articles and prepositions are missed out, as are many verbs,
especially auxiliaries (hence the name 'telegraphic').
By the age of about three, most children will be using these grammatical
categories reasonably fluently.
development of questions.
the holophrastic stage and in some cases at the duose stage, the child uses
intonation rather than syntactic structure to indicate a question. During the
second year, the child starts to use the interrogative words what
and where, followed by the acquisition
of why, how and who.
At this intermediate stage the article will be missing, e.g. where
ball? and the word order will be the same as for a declarative, e.g. ball's
here? It is with the acquisition of the verb to
be and the development beyond the telegraphic stage that the normal word
order for questions can be used, e.g. where
is the ball? Is the ball here? Most children have mastered this by the age
of about three.
development of negatives.
first stage is where the child puts no
or not at the beginning of the utterance, e.g. No play, followed by a stage where the negative morpheme is put
within the sentence, e.g. Me not play.
It is with the acquisition of auxiliaries that adult word order becomes
possible, e.g. I won't play. Most
children have reached this last stage by their fourth year.
about the age of three, children start linking clauses together. The
co-ordinating conjunction and,
subordinating conjunctions such as because
and prepositions such as before are
commonly heard during the fourth year.
towards adult syntax.
the ages of about three and half and about four and a half, children start to
master irregular verbs and plurals, and such forms as foots
and drawed gradually disappear.
Correct forms of pronouns will also start to be used regularly, and forms such
as me or him cease to be used as the subject of the verb.
the age of five, most children use speech which for the most part conforms to
the norms of adult syntax, although certain more complex structures both within
and between sentences will continue to evolve for perhaps another eight or ten
© C D Selwyn-Jones 2003