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Language Acquisition or Acquisition of Language

Updated on May 14, 2015
Language Acquisition
Language Acquisition

Definition of Language Acquisition

Every aspect of language is extremely complicated and complex, yet very young children before the age of five already know most of the intricate system i.e., grammar of a language system. Before they can add 2+2, children try to make sentences, ask questions, negate sentences, select appropriate pronouns, form various relative clauses and use syntactic, phonological, morphological and semantic rules of grammar.

A normal human being can go through life without learning to read and write. He can interact and discuss abstract and complex ideas with others without having any difficulty like literate persons. Similarly, millions of people grow to maturity and never learn a language. Still, they can perfectly speak their language and interact with other people. They never require any teacher to teach them their mother tongue. They can be taught other skills and systems like mathematics, physics or computer, but they don’t have to be taught to walk and talk. We can define language acquisition in the following words:

Language Acquisition is the process, wherein a normal human being acquires a language naturally and without reading and writing.”

"There is a huge difference between learning and acquiring a language. Learning involves extensive reading, writing, listening and practice, while acquisition is a natural process, wherein a normal human being acquires a language naturally without reading or writing."

Language Acquisition: A Natural Process

Language acquisition is based on natural phenomena of learning a language. Children don’t learn a language by storing all the words with all the sentences in some giant Mental Dictionary. The list of words is limited, while the number of sentences is unlimited and there is no dictionary to accommodate all the sentences in just one volume. Children learn to construct sentences, most of which they have never produced before. Children learn to understand sentences they have never heard before. They cannot match the heard utterance with some stored sentences.

Children must, therefore, construct the rules that permit them to use language creatively. No one teaches them these rules. Their parents don’t know the phonological, syntactic & semantic rules their children are mastering. In addition to acquiring complex rules of grammar, children also learn complicated rules of appropriate social use of language. This sort of competence is called Communicative Competence. These rules include greetings, taboo words, polite forms of address and various styles, which are appropriate in different situations and so forth.

Stages of Language Acquisition

Language acquisition is a slow and gradual process. It requires years to master a language. It develops by stages and it is suggested that each successive stage is more closely approximate to the grammar of the adult language. Studies have proved that these stages are similar and possibly universal. The stages of language acquisition can be divided into:

  • Pre Linguistic Stage
  • Linguistic Stage

Most of the scholars agree that the earliest cries, whispers and cooing voices of a newborn baby can’t be considered as early language. Such voices are completely stimulus control. They are the child’s involuntary responses to hunger, discomfort, and the desire to be cradled on the feeling of well-being. A major difference between human language and a communication system of other species is that language is creative in the sense of being free from either external or internal stimuli. The child’s first voices are, however, simply responses to the stimuli. During the earliest period, the voices produced by infants in all language communication sounds the same.


Which of the following can help a child to acquire a language?

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Babbling & Language Acquisition

Babbling is the first stage in language acquisition. In the first months usually around the sixth month, the infant begin to babble. The sound produced in this period seems to include a large variety of sounds, many of which don’t occur in the language of the household. One view suggests that is during this period that children are learning to distinguish between the sounds of their language and the sounds, which are not part of the language. During the babbling period, children learn to maintain the right sounds and suppress the wrong ones. Babbling, however, doesn’t seem to be a pre-requisite for language acquisition.

Infants, who are unable to produce any sound at this early stage due to physical motor problems, begin to talk properly once the disability has been corrected after some time. Children begin to use the same sounds repeatedly to mean the same thing. They learn that sounds are related to meanings and they are producing their first words. Most children seem to go through one word-one sentence stage. These sentences are called holophrastic sentences.

Two Words Stage in Language Acquisition

During this stage of language acquisition, children begin to learn two word utterances around the time of their 2nd birthday. At first these utterances appear to be strings of the child’s earlier holophrastic utterances, but after some time, children begin to form actual two-word sentences with clear syntactic and semantic relations. The intonation contour of the two words extends over the whole utterance rather than being repeated by a pause between the two words. During the 2nd word utterance stage, there are no morphological or syntactic markers i.e., no inflection for number, person, tense and so on. Pronouns are rare, although many children use “me” to refer to themselves and some children use other pronouns as well.

Language Acquisition

Telegraph to Infinity Stage in Language Acquisition

There doesn’t seem to be any 3 word sentence stage in language acquisition. When a child starts combining more than two words together, the utterance may be 2, 3, 4, or 4 words or longer. The first utterances of children are longer than 2 words have special characteristics. The small functional words (the, can, is, as, am, are the, in, etc.) are missing in this stage. Only the words that carry the main message are used in this stage by children. That is why; such like sentences are called telegraphic speech. These sentences are incomplete grammatically, but children can convey their message to their parents.

Advanced Stage in Language Acquisition

In this stage, the children are able to join various words and construct sentences of their choice. It requires about 3-4 years for gaining such type of competency in language. Children can freely convey their message without any help from others. This is the stage, wherein the children become fluent speaker of their mother tongue. Now, they can form more than two word sentences, which are grammatically correct and precise.

© 2014 Muhammad Rafiq


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    • Rafiq23 profile image

      Muhammad Rafiq 3 years ago from Pakistan

      Thanks BillyBuc for your comments. Have a nice time!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      An excellent tutorial and very sound thoughts about language. Sadly, I only speak one....well, I know Latin if that counts for anything. :)