H G response to mock Child Language Acquisition exam question with teacher comments

8 June 2009

Read the following extract, and using your knowledge of Skinner, Chomsky, Piaget and Bruner, analyse the interaction between child and mother discussing The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. M is mother, K is Katherine, 2 year old.M: So what’s this book about?
K: Snowman
M: Mmm. What’s the snowman doing?
K: ‘S flying.
M: Mmm. Who’s he flying with?
K: James.
M: James. Yes.
K: Making he body.
M: He’s making his body, yes. And what’s he putting on there? (1) On the top of the body he’s the…?
K: indecipherable.
M: The what?
K: Head.
M: The head, yes.
K: Hair, hair.
M: He hasn’t got any hair, has he. Poor snowman hasn’t got any hair but he;s got a hat, hasn’t he.
K: He’s got there hat. Dat one’s sleeping.
M: Mmhuh.
K: indecipherable.
M: What’s James made his nose out of?
K: Uh, orange nose.
M: Orange. Yes, it’s an orange nose.
K: Yeh.
M: Let’s have a look. What’s he doing? Ho, ho, ho, ho! He’s coming into the house. And what’s he doing there? He’s trying all different noses. What’s he trying there?
K: Pinenose.
M: Pineapple nose, yes.
K: He’s got no nose.
M: Yes, he’s got a pineapple nose and there he’s got no nose.
K: He’s got it. (indecipherable) on back again. He’s got it on back again.
M: He’s got it on back again, yes, yes. He’s got his orange back on again. Mmm.

This transcript shows direct evidence of the theory of Bruner. The Mother in this context is clearly acting as a support system in the way that she is encouraging the language development of the child. Firstly, GOOD USE OF CONNECTIVE HERE she uses interrogatives for both gaining the child’s attention and for acting as queries to promote independent thought, and to encourage turn-taking patterns in conversation. For example, EXCELLENT CONNECTIVE AGAIN she builds on the statements and observations of the child and builds on this by asking questions that demand a direct response such as ‘He’s making his body, yes. And what’s he putting on there?’ Furthermore GOOD CONNECTIVE, she includes the child and draws the child to what is going on in the pictures by using exclamations such as ‘let’s have a look’, therefore she is encouraging her to have an idea, then look at a picture and then develop the idea further.
There is very little evidence of the mother directly labelling objects for the child, as she clearly follows some of Piaget’s ideas (that independent thought is better because language development is dependent on cognitive development). Instead, the key feature of this conversation is the use of feedback, which is parallel to the positive and negative reinforcement ideas of Skinner in the behaviourist theory. YES I AGREE WITH YOU The mother constantly responds to the child’s utterances, whilst allowing her to have time to speak, she constantly reassures her (positive reinforcement) and also corrects her without putting her down or highlighting a mistake (negative reinforcement). This is perhaps because there have been studies that show that although negative reinforcement can be extremely damaging, and less effective, it is also necessary to avoid recurring mistakes (overgeneralization and overextension) CAN YOU REFER TO THOSE STUDIES IN MORE DETAIL?. The main method of giving feedback in this conversation is to respond with utterances such as ‘yes’ and ‘that’s right’, even if the child uses non-standard speech constructions and to then say the correction, as if imitating what the child has said. In this way, the child is exposed to the ‘correct’ EXCELLENT TO PUT THIS IN SPEECH MARKS sentence and still gains a sense of reward for having been imaginative and cooperative.
A key and controversial section in this transcript is when the child says ‘He’s got it on back again’ and the parent responds by imitating this and then saying ‘he’s got his orange back on again’. To some extent, GOOD CONNECTIVE as Chomsky would say, this shows that the child has a clear idea of fundamental grammar. She has perhaps subconsciously identified the need for a subject (he) an object (it) and an adverbial time phrase (back again) to emphasise that it is an action that has occurred before. EXCELLENT A GRADE COMMENT HIGHLIGHTING KEY GRAMMATICAL AREA Indeed the fact that she has used non-standard syntax proves this even further, because it is evident that she has used a phrase that we assume she has not copied from her role models, and that she has used her own personal knowledge of grammatical rules to construct this unique sentence. This therefore GOOD CONNECTIVE suggests the presence of the LAD (Language Acquisition Device) that has helped the child to piece it together, and also that perhaps it is not always that effective because the child cannot adapt the grammar to fit the sentence she needs, so there is a syntactical anomaly.
However GOOD CONNECTIVE, I believe that this sentence could also prove PERHAPS THIS IS A LITTLE STRONG ENDORSE? Piaget’s theory, which states that we are not born with grammar, but that our acquisition of language is dependent upon cognitive development. The child has used the pictures she has seen to identify the key concepts of what she wants to say in the form of images – she has seen the snowman, and the orange which she recalls from a previous picture. She therefore CONNECTIVE knows that the snowman has repeated a previous action, hence the use of ‘again’ and that he has actively put the orange on: ‘he’s got it on’. One could deduce that using these concepts she was able to find the words to express the thoughts in her mind. Perhaps at a later stage of cognitive development she would be able to make a more standard and eloquent observation because her intellect would allow it. The things that the child says are very much based on visual aspects, and she constantly comments on colour, appearance, and objects that she has seen. The whole conversation is therefore using language to express thoughts, to label, to learn about the environment (although fictional), just as Piaget hypothesised. The child is using egocentric speech to help herself, with the prompting of the parent who is helping her to develop a thought pattern by questioning her.
Nevertheless, there are problems with Piaget’s theory. He doesn’t take into account the importance of the social aspect of speech, which is prominent in this transcript. Bruner’s ideas are stronger here than Piaget’s because the mother is acting as a LASS (Language Acquisition Support System), and although they share the common idea that language is used to fulfil a need, Bruner emphasises the importance of learning from a role model, whereas Piaget believes in the importance of ‘self’. This transcript shows that the social element of speech is very important because it demonstrates that we need other people to provoke and help us during this difficult time of language acquisition. NEEDS MORE EVIDENCE FROM TRANSCRIPT HERE It is not something we can do alone, as even the theory of Chomsky might suggest, because research shows that those who are constantly exposed to language and the speech of others respond better and develop more quickly linguistically.
There are grey areas associated with all of the language acquisition theories, but I think that overall, Bruner wins through. It is after all, a more modern and speculative theory and he has taken aspects from both Skinner and Piaget. Almost every sentence shows examples of feedback, which appears to be one of the most essential things in encouraging the child’s linguistic development, and the mother here is so much more than someone for the child to imitate – she constantly encourages her and also lets her express herself independently.

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