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Chapter 4

How do children learn language? We normally take it for granted that spoken language develops more or less by itself, whereas written language usually has to be learnt in a more formal manner at school. This supposition is true in part. Spoken language normally develops without any special effort on the part of the environment. On the other hand, we do not learn to read without receiving information of one kind or another about the relevant written language code. At the same time, this line of thought represents an oversimplification of the actual conditions. Children develop different spoken language skills depending to a great extent on their experiences: Some children become talented orators and can display great linguistic talent as narrators - in some cases in several languages. Others manage to use language in day-to-day communication, but never learn to raise their spoken language much above the level of here and now conversation. Some others become generally linguistically uncertain and use a limited vocabulary and simple syntax. In some cases, this verbal uncertainty is moderate; in others it is so dramatic it causes serious set-backs or irregularities. In yet other cases, for example, children with a multi-language background this uncertainty can affect both the first language (mother tongue) and the second language. We encounter all these types of children in all cultures, but some cultures or environments are over-represented in one or other of these categories. This shows that also spoken language acquisition is dependent on the environment and does not come automatically. On the other hand, not all children need formal education to learn to read and write. Children must have someone to ask for example, what the letters of the alphabet are called. But many children appear to be self-driven and require a minimum of formal schooling to develop advanced reading and writing skills. The main point of the emergent literacy tradition was to show that children could learn to read and write by means of play and everyday situations without formal schooling.

When verbal language acquisition appears to progress so effortlessly it must be seen in connection with the fact that spoken language is a biologically highly prioritized and vital skill. All children experience a great deal of spoken language stimulation. This is usually informal and often with

little consciousness on the part of the influencing party, but it is present in immense doses. Often for many hours every day. Written language stimulation has, on the other hand, traditionally been left to school teachers and they have more than lessons in reading and writing to deal with during the hours delegated. This provides a small amount of input per week to stimulate written language. In addition, teaching has often had an unnecessary formalistic quality with many missed opportunities to learn to read in informal situations. In the next chapter I will discuss conditions that promote (and hamper) spoken language acquisition. These conditions may be connected to biological capacity but can also largely be due to environmental effects. The stimulation strategy of the environment can be evident and obvious as in so-called provoked imitation where the child repeats what the other person says. It can also be included in daily tasks and be more or less impossible to see for an observer. The influencing factors can best be observed in comparative analyses of the interplay between child and environment in different cultures. Things in daily life that appear to be inherent elements in a typical educative strategy can in a comparative perspective appear as culturally conditioned effects, almost like indoctrination. Various acquisition strategies? In the major pattern of the special development traits discussed in the above chapter there are, as mentioned, a great number of variations both in speed and strategies. For example, significant differences have been registered in the number of words children of the same age understand and use. In a survey of acquisition of vocabulary of 1,800 American children, based on reports from the parents, children of 10 months understood an average of 67 words (Bates and others 1995). In addition, there were great differences in what can be described as normal variation, it varied from 10 to 144 words. At 16 months children understood an average of 191 words with a variation of 78 to 303 words. Correspondingly, children differed greatly as regards active vocabulary. At 10 months children produced an average of 10 words with a variation from 0 to 15 words and at 16 months the figures had increased to an average of 64 with a variation of from 0 to 150 words. As mentioned, there are methodical problems attached to evaluating the size of the vocabulary and the methodical problems become even greater when children get older and their vocabulary increases and becomes less clear. The tendency is, however, that differences in childrens linguistic skills increase as they become older. There are also considerable variations as regards qualitative differences in language acquisition. Some children learn language first and foremost by naming objects and people in the environment. They learn many nouns and their early vocabulary often refers to important things

and people. A strategy where the child mostly refers to elements in the environment has been described as referential (Nelson 1973). Other children use a more socially orientated strategy. They produce many long sentence-like intonations and phrases with a social content ( sleepnightnight, mummy come). This approach has been described as expressive (Nelson 1973). Children also vary when it comes to imitating adults. Some children often repeat the words and expressions they hear in the environment around them, whilst others seem to be more independent when they produce words. A few children produce words and utterances at an early stage. It seems that as soon as they begin to understand a word they test it out on the environment. Others, on the other hand, appear to be more cautious and have long periods where they understand many more words and expressions than they use actively. None of these strategies or styles can in themselves be said to be right or better than others but for various reasons it seems children use various strategies in learning language. Thus when focusing on the differences between children, attention is moved from the general pattern of development to subtle differences, special conditions and also to the factors that contribute to creating differences in development. This does not necessarily change a development description in the form of characteristic development tendencies described in the previous chapter. Some things are typical for two-year olds as compared to three-year olds and for three-year olds compared to four-year olds. But such general descriptions are broadly painted in a way that conceals significant variations in patterns of development. It can also obscure what the good or the not so good conditions are for learning language. Registration of qualitative differences between children prepares the way for viewing language acquisition in relation to environmental effects. That different children, for example, develop a primarily referential or expressive language acquisition can be due to social conditions, or, of course, can also be connected to the childs abilities. Maybe children receive more attention in middle class achievement directed environments when they name things than when they describe conditions in a social connection? Most likely, the difference in acquisition strategy is reflected in a combination of the childs prerequisites and in the environmen t. Factors that explain language acquisition The significance of heredity and the environment . There is substantial empirical support to claim that language is a product of both heredity and environment. Language acquisition takes place in a partially fixed biologically driven pattern with rapid development during the first five years, while the brain grows fastest. Development then flattens out somewhat towards puberty after which it follows a slightly downward curve (e.g. Hurford 1991; Lenneberg 1967).

Nowadays, we are more cautious in talking about critical periods in language acquisition than we were earlier, among other things, because a number of early damage has proved to be repairable by means of later initiatives. Therefore, special stimulation at a specific early period of a childs life is not to the same degree as previously presumed crucial in ensuring favourable development. Anyway, in the case of certain conditions of an emotional, intellectual and linguistic character it is correct to speak of sensitive periods, that is, periods when children are especially receptive to a certain type of stimulation (Atkinson and others 1993; Smith 1996). Among other things, it has proved easier to repair damage to the language areas of the brain after an accident if the child is very young than if the child is older. It seems in a young brain other areas take over the tasks of the damaged language area. An older brain is less plastic and the damage has a tendency to be more permanent. It is also normally more difficult to construct a language and learn a foreign language without an accent after puberty (Lenneberg 1967). Biology thus sets the framework and boundaries for how far the social effects can reach, but within the broad framework the possibility for these effects is considerable. We see this also when children learn both two or three different languages with minimum conscious stimulation from the environment. There is also much evidence that the ability of older children and adults to learn a foreign language is considerably better than previously assumed (Marinova-Todd and others 2000). At the same time as biology sets the limits, the environment is of extreme importance in normal language acquisition and an environment with no active communication with the child presents a serious risk factor. Children who experience little or no early stimulation and a lack of emotional attachment during their first year will be in great danger of acquiring inadequate language. (Bowlby 1973; Culp and others 1991). For example, about 15-20% of children who are born blind, but without any other disabilities, develop other problems similar to autism which cause poor ability to participate in dialogue-like interplay (Tetzschner and others 1993).This should be viewed in connection with lack of visual experience and the fact that parents of blind children can easily develop a passive communication style when interplay is not reinforced by eye contact with the child or other responses (Junefelt 1997). The environment also has a modifying effect in the case of early lack of care especially if schemes are started at an early stage. This is shown in studies of children who have been in institutions with poor stimulation whilst they were babies and then come into a stimulating environment when adopted. There rate of development usually changed in a positive direction emotionally, intellectually and linguistically (e.g. Tizard and Tizard 1974). Finally, a stimulating environment is a prerequisite for development of more advanced linguistic skills. Childrens ability to communicate more subtly, to use language to solve problems and independent of the situation (de-contextualized) appears to be affected by the environment (e.g. Hagtvet 1996a). This use of language is particularly relevant in written language competencies.

How good should an environment be to be good enough as regards stimulating the language of small children? Even children who grow up in a poorly stimulating environment seem to develop a functional spoken language in day-to-day use. As did the canal boat children in England, for example, though they lived on houseboats on the English canals and received a minimum of schooling. They reached the mile posts in langua ge acquisition at about the same time as other children. But normally they did not raise themselves above day-to-day language and their linguistic reasoning abilities were poor. There were also more canal boat children who did not develop normal language than those found in comparative groups among other English children (Rutter 1981). The relative stress placed on the environment and the individuals own contribution to development varies, among other things, according to the theory one uses as a basis for understanding and explaining language acquisition. The theoretical explanatory models will on their part vary according to period of time and professional tradition. Theoretical explanatory models Before 1960, language acquisition was described very simply and one-dimensionally. Differences in development were a result of differences in speed but, in principle, language acquisition took place in the same way for all children (Shore 1995). In the 1960s, this theoretical explanation was divided into two directions that placed varying stress on the relative importance of hereditary potentials and the significance of the environment. Nativists regarded language acquisition as being driven forward by hereditary factors (N.Chomsky 1957; Lenneberg 1967). Children are born into the world with special prerequisites for learning language (a hereditary Language Acquisition Device). They are almost pre -programmed to acquire language and this development is, first and foremost, a result of biological maturing. The mile posts in language acquisition for example, production of the first words, combining words to two-word utterances, production of complex utterances are reached at the same age in all cultures and have therefore a universal stamp. These mile posts also apply in other areas of development, for example, motor function development. Empiricists stressed the importance of the environment and were affected by the behaviorism explanatory models (Skinner 1957). Children learn language on the basis of the same rules that steer other learning, first and foremost, by means of imitation and reward. They learn new words and structures by imitating language models in the environment and by correct utterances being rewarded. Focus on individual differences in development was that attention was directed to groups of children who received roughly the same influences (e.g. sex, social class, etc.). The differences in speed of acquisition were then discussed. Qualitative differences in development received little focus.

Later, child language researchers have questioned both the one-dimensional method of describing development and the extreme viewpoints of the heredity-environment dimension. The childs own efforts to explore, discover and construct language gradually received more attention. From the 1970s and 80s it became normal to see the child as a little linguist who creatively constructed the language he or she heard in the surrounding environment (e.g. Bloom 1970). In addition, children use different strategies, and they use words and expressions they have never heard (cf. goed grammatical mistakes). It was claimed that such differences could not be explained by the fact that all children follow the same biologically determined path of development. Nowadays, the theory of rule-controlled development is challenged by the idea that children learn connections between the elements of language rather than rules. It may be that children learn connections between, for example, the past tense ending ed and phonetic qualities of verbs that are related to ed? Other connections are thus formed between past tense endings and the phonetic qualities of verbs that are related to this conjugation (Rumelhart and McClellan 1986). Within this so-called connectionist research, learning language is considered to be the acquisition of implicit knowledge of relations between patterns: among others, between grammatical elements and sound patterns. Such knowledge is to a great extent established by learning by connection. Appropriation of past tense endings can, however, not always be explained by connections between phonetic qualities and conjugations. Language seems, therefore, to be acquired by means of a combination of connection and rules. Maybe these two doorways to learning have varying importance at different periods of development. During this process, children are creative and productive, but need to be in dialogue with adults or more competent children to manage it. It also looks as if the dialogue should be anchored in emotional contact. Studies of children who do not acquire normal language show this. For example, it has been proved that hearing children of deaf parents do not learn language just by watching TV or by means of casual meetings with hearing adults (Sachs and others 1981). Care failure can, as mentioned, also lead to a delay in language acquisition. Dutch children who see German speaking TV on a daily basis do not learn to speak German just by watching German speaking TV programmes (Snow and others 1976). The theory that underlines the importance of the interplay between individual and environment in language acquisition is often described as socially interactionistic. Children learn language both because they are social beings with a desire to understand and make themselves understood and because they are surrounded by adults who include them in meaningful dialogues (Ratner and Bruner 1978). The adults use various strategies for communication and the transfer of knowledge which children then make their own (internalization/appropriation) (Vygotsky 1971; Wertsch 1979). By giving the childrens actions meaning and intention, adults influence the children in specific directions. At the same time, children also help to create their own environment by temperament, initiatives, social competency etc. (cf. the transaction model, Sameroff 1987).

The significance of imitation It has long been assumed that imitation plays a central role in language acquisition, especially in behaviorism models and the Vygotsky tradition (cf. chapter 2). But we also know that imitation differs in different cultures and imitation is, therefore, just one of the mechanisms that steer language acquisition. This is clear from all the expressions children produce that they have never heard any adult say, for example lay bed sleep gonight and me not eat more. Provoked imitation of the type say after me., which drives and strengthens much learning does not seem to play a significant part in basic language acquisition either. This is certainly normal language stimulation strategy in a number of cultures, especially in cultures with great stress on ritual conventions. But in Western middle class culture children develop a normal language without great use of provoked imitation. Most adults in Western cultures are more occupied with communicating with their children than correcting the proper form and pronunciation. And when they do make corrections it often has little effect: Child: Mother: Child: Mother: Child: Nobody dont like me No, say nobody likes me Nobody dont like me No, now listen carefully, say nobody likes me Oh! Nobody dont LIKES me (McNeill 1967-69).

The problem with provoked imitation as we see it demonstrated in the above example is that it is directed toward specific utterances. Children do not seem to learn grammatical structures and conjugations solely by stimuli-response-sequences. They learn several typical, general principles which are like rules and then they try their hypotheses about language rules out on the environment. If they work, they keep them, if not, they reconstruct the rules, then develop and test new hypotheses (Atkinson and others 1993). A typical example is the previously named goed grammatical error, for example, goed, drinked, sleeped where the child generalizes too much in a rule-controlled manner. On the basis of this, provoked imitation at a specific level meets the child more or less at the wrong level, at any rate at a level that does not have the childs attention. Likewise, we see that children imitate adults and seem to learn from their own repetitions but preferably when it is done on their own initiative. Vygotsky claims that imitation is an activity that promotes learning when done within the childs closest zone of development. It is possible that the poor effect of the mothers efforts for provoked imitation in the above example is just because she stimulated outside the childs closest learning zone.

Child language researchers of the Vygotsky tradition will claim that when a child repeats utterances within its own zone of development he or she breaks down the framework for the limitations set by their own linguistic skills (e.g. Pine and Lieven 1993). This can, among other things, be seen in childrens games that can often be described as delayed imitation of adult actions, utterances or gestures. We can also see this in conversations where children repeat themselves and one another. Aukrust (1997a) studied two-year olds repetitions in dialogue with other children and this shows that repetitions (imitations) seem to have different functions in the development of childrens communication. They served as significant communicative functions by filling out dialogues where replies from the partner were missing or lacking. They also served as thought structuring functions by supporting and structuring play. Furthermore, they could have a metacommunicative function by defining the theme of the game. And they could serve narrative functions by being included as utterances in monologues. Quite often monologues were entirely one great repetition consisting of self-repetitions or imitations of an adult or of a another child. Aukrusts study reveals some key tendencies in the verbal communicative development of small children. Firstly, it shows that repetitions are important elements in dialogues with children. Secondly, it shows that monologues are rooted in dialogues and repetitions are an important element in these roots. Vygotskys claim that imitations are of major importance in development are thus confirmed. But in this case imitation is not considered as mimicking at a specific level. It is more a question of imitation with modifications where the child is both attentive and creatively present and more or less presses its zone for further development via imitations that protect communication, are thought structuring and have narrative functions. Aukrust (1997a) describes, among other things, some dialogues between two boys, Dag and Tor, while they play a game they call the powder game, an expression they often repeat. Both boys are in the first half of their third year. The repetitions play a major role in the dialogue - the children repeat themselves, one anothers words and the powder game itself. The following example shows that Dag repeats himself when Tor signals he has not understood (Aukrust 1997a:201). Tor Dag: Tor: Dag: Tor: (2:1 years): yes, you may, yes you may (2:2 years): hn? make powder, (takes a piece of railway track up) make powder hn? make powder, make powder, make powder

Aukrust claims that Tors repetitions of own words have a pragmatic function here: To create a link and a common course of action before he has the linguistic prerequisites to do it any other way. In the absence of supportive dialogue from Dag,Tor takes greater responsibility for communication and the link between his own remarks and the remarks and action are self-repetitive. By means of self-repetition Tor thus highlights the theme of the game as a common activity that joins the two communicating partners together in a basic linguistic togetherness. Self- repetitions build a bridge at two levels the utterance level: between utterances, and the thematic meta-level: We are doing something together. Gradually, the children began to repeat themselves. Repetition of the partners utterances maintain the dialogue at the same time as they confirm the partners contribution. Quite often repetitions included modified remarks which both confirmed and expanded the partners utterances. It is now quite obvious, Aukrust claims with reference to Vygotsky (1971), that the boys repetitions have an action and thought structuring function in addition to being pragmatic. The meaning of the game often changes in the wake of the repetitions. This can appear as if the repetitions give structure to action and problem solving before the child has the linguistic prerequisites to formulate directive speech creatively. The verbal repetitions thus mediate the action as the meaning of the game. Gradually, the repetitions took on the character of a monologue or narrative. In the following example, Tor has made a short story about a simultaneous event which Aukrust calls a monologic narrative about action (cf. event casting Frame 9), and every utterance he has previously heard himself, Dag or an adult say (Aukrust 1997a:203): Tor (2:4 years): And now we make powder And no we roll fine Show me powder Make powder and hit with Here Tor recounts what making powder is he puts words to the actual action the powder game. The story has an introduction (and now we make powder) and a series of active elements (roll, hit). Basically connecting elements (and now) show a time series and give the monologue the character of a narrative. By using statements he has heard someone use before, Tors monologue confirms Vygotskys theory that the monologue has a dialogica l starting point. Child-adapted speech What is child-adapted speech?

Observation of the interplay between carer (often the mother) and child show that mothers often adapt their speech to the childs linguistic stage of development when they speak with their children and this is especially typical in Western middle class culture (Newport and others 1971; Snow and Ferguson 1977). At the beginning the carer often puts meaning into the childs words and utterances. Yes, that is light!, says the mother for example as a reaction to the childs inaccurate ite, and the mother is thus co-creator of the meaning of the word. By means of adult over- interpretation of childrens often poor attempts to express themselves linguistic competence develops and becomes more subtle. Gradually, a Western middle class good mother starts to expect greater communicative contributions from the child. If the child expresses itself unclearly, she questions the remark, for example, by asking the child to repeat it and explain more precisely. She thus directs the childs attention to the language itself and the child gradually becomes more conscious of the linguistic expression. At the same time, the mother is the model for how one is an active listener, that is a listener who asks questions when there is something she or he does not understand. She also shows what information she needs as a listener for the child to be understood and the child learns to see things from another persons perspective (decentralizing). When carers adapts their language to the linguistic level of development of the child it is called child-directed speech or motherese. Most studies of child-directed speech/motherese cover the period up to three to four years of age and this child-directed speech is described as being particularly acoustically clear often in a light tone of voice (specially to babies). Thus the child can filter the speech directed to him or her from all other speech in the environment . Child-directed speech is also simplified as regards syntax. The sentences are often short, well formed with a simple syntax. The words refer to things and actions in the childs close context so the meaning is obvious. In addition, the adult asks many questions and repeats the childs utterances often combined with an expansion. If the child, for example, says trove car the adult will often repeat this and expand it with Did dad drive the car? The adult thus confirms the content of the expression at the same time as she or he give s it a more correct grammatical form. In Frame 14 we see an example of how a mother adapts in a different way to her son when he is two than when he is three. Hkansson (1998:103-104) gives examples of two dialogues between Niklas and his mother when Niklas is 2:3 and 3:0 years, respectively. These dialogues show how the mother draws on Niklas language in a way that is adapted to his stage of development. In the first dialogue the mother knows the content and more or less interviews Niklas about a reality they both know. In effect it is like a typical school dialogue, in which the teacher asks about something he already knows the answer to. The other dialogue is more authentic in this case it is Niklas who has the solution. Niklas 2:3 years: Mother: Have you been on holiday, Niklas?

Niklas: Mother: Niklas: Mother: Niklas: Mother: Niklas: Mother:

Yes Where were you, what did you see? There What did you travel on? I sailed boat. Yes, you sailed on a boat. Boat You sailed on a motor boat. And you saw lots of fishing boats and sailing boats and other motor boats. And what did Dad do? The motor boat Yes, Dad also sailed on a motor boat.

Niklas: Mother:

Niklas: 3:0 years: Niklas: Moter: Niklas: Mother: Niklas: Mother: Niklas: Mother: Niklas: Mother: Niklas: Mother: See I drawed a large. A large what? Large elephant. Whow Large chicken Is that a large chicken Mother chicken Mmm. Do you mean its a hen? No It isnt? Just a mother chicken. Do you mean its a mother chicken or its mothers chicken?

Niklas: Mother: Niklas: Mother: Niklas: Mother: Niklas: Mother: Niklas:

M.. What is it? Mothers chicken. A chicken for me? No So it is a hen. There. That chickens mum? M..

The connection between child-adapted speech and childrens language acquisition Research shows that childrens speech development is affected by how much language they hear and the quality of this language. Children who come from environments where they talk a lot, learn more words than children who come from environments where they do not talk much. Small children learn new words fast, often 12-15 words per day between the age of three and school start (Snow 1995), and the speed of this varies according to how much talk there is in the environment surrounding the child. A good predictor of early language acquisition is the density of the mothers conversation with the child, that is, how many words the child typically hears in the course of a week (Huttenlocker and others 1991). As regards development promoting qualities in the language of the adult environment we know that an abstract and varied vocabulary used by parents in conversations at mealtimes is connected to a correspondingly sophisticated vocabulary in children (Beals and Tabors 1995). This is particularly the case when the adults talk about something or explain something that has a special theme that they use somewhat more advanced language (Beals 1997). It is interesting that correlation between vocabulary and syntax is often high. Parents who use concrete and plain language often have both a smaller vocabulary and a simpler syntax than parents who use a more subtle language. This can point to there being the same forces behind the scenes that play a part in the development of vocabulary and syntax. Both the extent and quality of childrens vocabulary in American studies also reflects the level of the parents education and socio-economic status (Hart and Risley 1995).

A study by Snow and his staff (1995), shows that mothers who only spoke a little to their children and also used a simple language had children who developed a smaller vocabulary and simpler syntax than their age average. At the age of five they had, for example, an average utterance length of 5.6 words a score that corresponds to the average for a three-year old. Temple and Beals (1991) made similar registrations of syntax development on the basis of parentchild conversations in book reading situations. They found that children between the ages of three and four who experienced many questions and many conversations that expanded the theme of the book in addition to its text and picture content had a particularly favourable syntax development in past, future and imagined worlds. At the age of five they were better at recounting cohesively and with a more complex syntax. In several examples we see documentation for the development promotion potentials that lie in adult dialogue with three- to four-year olds using a situation independent there and here?? language together with the fact that they also often meta-reflect over words and events. This also confirms the studies of Robinson and Robinson (1981) that showed that children became more meta-linguistically aware and better to communicate in demanding communication situations when, between the ages of three and four, they had mothers who often asked them to expand and explain words and utterances which the children used with imprecise meaning. Children who are regularly challenged to speak about language also became better to explain words and to speak about communication. Mothers took the children seriously and thus contributed to expanding their input of dialogue. Association to the activity that has the childs attention is moreover a quality that is underlined in several studies (McCabe and Peterson 1991). Nouns are, for example, learnt easier if the mother names the objects the child sees or manipulates (Tomasello and Todd 1983). Correspondingly, verbs are learnt easier if the mother names the activity the child is at present engaged in (Tomasello and Kruger 1992). If we put a negative sign on the analyses of the area of research we see that children who are brief and who narrate with weak text cohesion often have parents who do not listen to their input. They fail, for example, to offer an associating response that could contribute to increased text cohesion and reflection on a there and that level, or they ask questions about details the child is talking about that divert from the theme as in the case of five-year old Tine in the following example. Tine is out shopping with Mum and Dad. The adults are planning todays food shopping. Tine wants to tell them something, she tries several times to attract the adults attention and finally succeeds, but only partially. Tine: We had a birthday at kindergarten today.

Mother: Tine: Father:

Give me your hand so you dont get lost. Martha was six. Come here, so you can have your own basket to shop with.

Most children experience many examples of such theme diverting comments from adults. Much in childrens lives is about competing for attention and luckily most children are quite robust and have great tolerance for the many activities and considerations that steer adults attention. But here as is so often the case it is a balancing act and childrens linguistic development does not profit by repeated dialogues that are so inconsistent as that which Tine experienced in the supermarket. But with the busy timetables most people have today at home as well as in kindergarten it is worth underlining the fact that child language research actually documents a connection between language acquisition and the adults ability to communicate on the basis of what the child is focused on. The significance of emotional sensitivity Adults who enter into the childs world and converse on the topics the child is occupied with increase the semantic content in the childs words and utterances. The ability and will of carers to tune in on the childs area of focus and to speak about what interests the child are thus important adult skills in the stimulation of language acquisition. But the ability for sensitivity is not only of value as regards language. From a psychological point of view, adults who talk about what the child thinks is important enlarge the child. Bae (1988) thus sees acknowledging communication in connection with forming identity and development of a picture of self. The positive and self-reinforcing circle of linguistic and emotional confirmation children thus experience can have greater importance for the childs language acquisition than child language researchers have traditionally realized. Language stimulation that is anchored in I or I confirmation is the true core in suggestions for the written language stimulation schemes that are in focus in Part II of this book. Presumably the importance of child-adapted language varies greatly from child to child. Some children are for various reasons less robust and therefore need extra conscious adults around them. This is the case, for example, with children with delayed or deviating language acquisition, or children who come from homes where the parents are mostly mentally absent and seldom attach themselves thematically and emotionally to what the child is engaged in. In such cases, the ability of the kindergarten staff to meet the childs linguistic input with physical nearness on the childs terms becomes vital for successful linguistic and emotional development. The importance of having a wall to play ball up against

Children do not necessarily profit best by solely being surrounding by people who are all empathetic with a strong tendency for child adaptation. Studies of father-child and sibling-child conversations seem to indicate that secondary carers who are less tuned in to the childs level of development than mothers often are, are also important in promoting development (Mannle and Tomasello 1987: Barton and Tomasello 1994). Secondary carers generally react less supportively to a childs immature linguistic input, they adapt to a lesser degree to the childs theme, they rarely expand on a theme the child has brought up and they more frequently use a vocabulary which is more seldom and more difficult for the child. The immediate effect of such poor sensitivity is that communication breaks down. But, this can precisely represent a wall the child can play ball against, thus giving them an opportunity to learn to communicate with more distanced and lesser known persons without the contextual support they normally get from their mother or other major carers. Children learn hereby to express themselves differently, speak to people who know a little about the content of the matter, ask for more information, etc. This kind of ability for more subtle communication normally develops first after the age of three (Snow 1995). In many cultures, for example on Samoa (Ochs 1986, 1988), on Papua New Guinea (Schieffelin 1986) and in the coloured working class in Carolina, USA (Heath 1983) adults speak more about children than to them and they do not expand the childs imprecise or ungrammatical utterances. Often in these cultures it is the siblings who are responsible for the small children and it is they who talk to them about what is happening. There is little that indicates that children in these cultures develop more inferior spoken language compared to children in the West. They develop a different spoken language. Among other things, it appears that the Western middle classes more frequent use of a situation independent language makes it easier for children to cope with school and written language (Bernstein 1971; Heath 1982). Cross-cultural research reminds us, therefore, that language can develop by many kinds of social and linguistic means at the same time as it shows that certain linguistic conditions are stimulated more effectively in some language environments than in others. The importance of routine situations In addition to carers using child-adapted language, active verbal dialogue within the framework of fixed routines and everyday situations has a significant effect on promoting development (e.g. Ratner and Bruner 1978; Rogoff and others 1984). The strength of linguistic interplay in routine situations is partly evident in the fact that there are many daily situations in a childs life and daily drips result in a massive effect over time. But it must also be seen in connection with certain important qualities in day-today-situations. Known frameworks and predictable events give meaning to words and utterances as well as experience with the conventions of dialogue the rules for how one takes ones turn to speak and how one turns it over again, how one makes

contact, etc. In other words, routine situations act in most homes probably as the most important scaffolding in a childs language acquisition. (cf. Chapter 2). Routine situations scaffolding for linguistic interplay Games of the peek-a-boo kind are particularly tightly framed. The course of events here is very predictable and recognizable and such communication games are thought to play a central part in development of early communication skills such as establishing contact and taking turns (e.g.Ninio and Snow 1996). Everyday routines where the child has to be comforted, fed, bathed and put to bed have a somewhat looser structure than communication games but they are predictable in a broader sense. It gives the dialogue a known focus where the intention of the communication lies in the routines. (Such frameworks for events have also been called scripts (Schrank and Abelson 1977) and formats (Bruner 1981). Known frameworks give good contextual support to linguistic interpretation. As the scaffolding supports the building, routine situations support verbal interplay. Among other things, it provides the security needed to explore and take new verbal skills into use. The predictable course of events also make it easier for parents to connect their utterances thematically to the utterances the child produces (Snow and others 1987). Both a high degree of contextual support and the adults thematic adaptation to the childs utterances promote development, as mentioned. (Ninio and Snow 1996; Snow 1995). Finally, routine situations with their fixed and predictable course of events prepare the way for using language about what has happened and what is about to happen, for example, by reconstructing what took place recently or by using a planned type of language. Interestingly enough it seems that adults either consciously or unconsciously use the special potentials that lie in routine situations when it is a question of preparing for there and that conversations. This is shown, among others, in a study Aukrust (1996) made in which the focus was on the dialogue between the pedagogues and Norwegian two-year olds during a rest period in a kindergarten. Naturally many dialogues were about here and now about nappies, pants and socks that are taken off or put on. But gradually, as children got older, the adults stimulated the children more frequently by talking about there and that by following themes that included future or expected events. In shifting childrens attention from here and now to there and that the adults could use subtle tools. They repressed, for example, conversations about here and now by ignoring or not hearing the childs comments to things and events that were part of the present situation (which were the dominating focus of attention for earlier communication at one-year old). Thus they adapted to the childs level of development at the same time as the child experienced what it was not necessary to talk about, and what could be taken for granted (Aukrust 1996).

A much used routine situation in the kindergarten is assembly time. As a pedagogic starting point it is perhaps somewhat overrated because it does not provide an opportunity for the dynamics in the childrens group necessary for active learning. It has, however, more important qualities as an arena for experiencing group cooperation and exchange of information. In this situation routine question-answer sequences are the most normal form of interplay. This format has its obvious weaknesses but it is also a format that can be useful for small children to be familiar with, among others, because it has likenesses to the type of interplay they will meet later, especially in school, but also in clubs and at meetings, etc. Feilberg (1985) studied four-year olds talking to a pedagogue during assembly at a kindergarten. She found that 35% of the adults utterances were questions whilst only 14% of the childrens utterances were. The pedagogue seemed, in other words, to control the dialogue and keep the conversation going by means of questions. It also transpired that over half of the adult questions were yes-no questions, whereas only a third of the childrens questions were. The adults posed questions requiring simpler and shorter answers more frequently than the children. Feilberg mentions that there can be good reasons for this extensive use of yes-no questions. Yesno questions can help children participate in the dialogue. They feel they contribute to creating cohesion in the dialogue and in the joint effort even though they do not say much. Some children are also socially unsure and yes-no questions make less demands on verbal participation than other types of questions. Use of yes-no questions can from this point of view be considered childadapted in the actual assembly situation where they primarily have the function of keeping the dialogue going. Yes-no questions, however, provide a limited form for verbal stimulus. If you want the children to use their creativity and brains in reflective and language stimulating conversations it is better to use interrogatives such as how and why. And if you want a fact-orientated and knowledge developing conversation what and who questions together with the two other interrogatives can be useful. Questioning on this basis can both be good or bad. Its value in a stimulation context depends on how well it is adapted to the aim of the communication, the childrens language level and dialogue development together with the childrens social and emotional needs. In our project with six-year olds it was a pedagogic aim that the children should be aware of the narrative structure in a fairy-tale (Hagtvet and Palsdttir 1992). Part of the year we worked specially with fairy-tales making the children aware of the structure in the fairy-tale. When the children retold the fairy tale for the group the adults therefore asked questions directed at drawing the childrens attention to its structure. Reflective use of interrogative pronouns thus became a central part of the stimulation. For example, we used where/when /who questions to direct the childrens attention to the introduction, what questions focused on the actual story, why questions on the motive etc.

During the sequences of retelling a story the adults sat in the audience and posed interested questions to the children when they got stuck while telling the story, information was obviously missing or there was a break in the story. Thus the fairy-tale was created in an interplay between the narrator, the adult listeners who posed the necessary filling-in questions and the other children who increasingly copied the adults. With interest they asked: Who was he with when he went to the king, Why did the witch have such a long nose etc. The use of interrogatives should also been see in relation to childrens verbal and cognitive level of development. Why questions are more suitable, for example, for the older kindergarten children and school children than for the younger kindergarten children. But it is also a question as to which why questions are being used. Many of the three-year olds who participated in the standardization of Reynells questionnaire replied for example thirst to the question Why do you think he drinks from the glass?, when they saw a picture of a boy drinking from a glass (Hagtvet and Lillestlen 1985). But even school children can have problems in explaining why marathon runners must drink while they run, or explain why Jeppe drinks can be a challenge for even the most intelligent adult. On the basis of the above, the value of the routine situations in language acquisition lies in the manner in which they are used. The communication games of babies introduce the small child to the rules of the dialogue, but only if the adults organize the mutual exchange of sound and feelings that awake and activate the child as a communication partner. Everyday routine situations with their predictability can raise the child over here and now conversations, but only if the adults speak about past, future and imagined incidents. The assembly situation only gives age relevant experience with the question-answer-format to the degree the adults consciously choose theme and form of questioning that is adapted to the situation and the childrens age. Research shows that different families, different social classes and different cultures make differing use of these situations. One of the most studied routine situations is mealtime conversation. Studies of conversation around the dining room table in various cultures have uncovered some of the most subtle mechanisms that occur in such daily situations. An important socialization arena: Mealtime conversation The mealtime is, in most homes, a situation where verbal interplay is particularly active. In many homes particularly middle class homes in the Western world mealtime conversation is the social culmination of the day and a power house for the development of verbal and social competence. Mealtime conversation has, therefore, been one of the main areas for studies of how children learn language and of cultural and social variations in communication patterns in families, for example, ways of telling stories, rules and turn-taking, use of polite phrases, etc. (Aukrust and Snow 1998; Blum-Kulka 1994; Blum-Kulka nd Snow 1992: Junefelt and Tulviste 1997).

Blum-Kulka (1994) studied mealtime conversation in various environments in Israel and USA and broadly speaking found there were about three themes themes connected with the meal, family matters in general and more peripheral events. These are themes that have also been found in other studies of mealtime conversation. Blum-Kulkas studies showed that about 20% of the conversations in all families, independent of culture, were about things connected with the actual meal. The language was contextualized (dependent on situation) and rich in deistic elements (Will you give me the little one there? about a potato). Orders were also given (Eat your potatoes, too), correcting (Dont eat with your fingers), offers (Do you want a bit more meat?), requests (Please pass me one more) and compliments (That tasted really good). Themes about close family matters were normally not anchored in here and now. In the same way, the participants could take a lot for granted from things that were unsaid because they knew about each others lives. The days news from the individual family member from kindergarten, school and place of work was told at varying length ranging from short questionanswer sequences to long monologues. Quite often the parents had the task of being chairman at the dinner table. They encouraged and often interviewed the not very communicative children, typically with the key question How was school? The children did not always receive this as well-meant interest. It could also be experienced as invasive curiosity and control that could hamper communication and the joy of telling a story. However, commitment to telling a story could also be great and the chairman had to organize turn-taking so all the children had a say. In Blum-Kuklas study the families spent 35% of the time sharing their experiences and incidents with one another. More peripheral incidents that were brought into the conversations varied greatly both in content and form, among others things, depending on how intimate the individual member was with the subject and how far removed the subject was in time and space and the age of the family members. The subject matter was considerable and choice of subject was often made with a clear goal. Cultural experiences were shared by means of educative and discussion type dialogues and monologues (cinema, TV programs, books). The presence of a guest could lead to the use of family history (stories of earlier experiences told over and over again to a new audience). Telling a joke could also give the right to speak to a pre-school child who did not make his or her mark well in the rest of the conversation. Among others things, because the themes varied in how close they were to the situation, mealtime conversation offers verbal experience at different levels. This makes it possible for all members of the family to participate. In here and now communication the words make sense in the situational context and even the youngest member of the family can participate in a verbal cooperation. At the same time, the children are drawn into there and that conversations about near family matters as well as more peripheral themes. Now, more situation independent

expressions and the ability to decentralize are needed to understand and speak on the basis of the others communication principles. Such manners of speech often have an explanatory and narrative character, where deistic (designated) language elements should be used reflexively to make a connection. In these conversations, older siblings and parents thus became models who made the language and behaviour important to this culture apparent. They also support the younger children by guided participation and by joint narrating about incidents and experiences. Mealtime conversations are, therefore, an arena for daily and routine stimulation of a wide register of verbal skills, also such skills that society outside the dinner table sets great store by: The ability to precisely and briefly in an entertaining way recount experiences, initiate interesting subjects, keep a conversation going, among other things, by posing communication promoting and interesting follow-up questions, etc. By means of conversations around the dinner table children become both socialized to use language and socialized by using the language (Ochs 1986). At its best, mealtime conversation is distinctly social and positive with a fixed agenda where all contributions are met with goodwill and respect. In a comparative study of mealtime conversations in Norwegian and American families, Aukrust directed the spotlight on two main qualities of mealtime conversations - stories and explanations (Aukrust 1997b; Aukrust and Snow 1998). Stories are conversations that combine at least two events along a time scale, while explanations are about doing something familiar and comprehensible when there are indications in the dialogue that something is not understood. These are qualities of spoken language that directly point toward two of the pedagogical key areas dealt with in Part II, Situation independent language and Language awareness. Aukrust studied mealtime conversations in 22 Norwegian and 22 American middle class homes with a three-year old child (average in Norway 3:3 years and in USA 3:6 years). One of the main findings was that there was generally more storytelling in Norwegian homes than in American homes (cf. Frame 15, where the mother inspires daughter Hanne to narrate). In the American homes, however, there is more explanation than in the Norwegian homes. American children ask for an explanation, offer or suggest an explanation or reply with an explanation two to three times more often than Norwegian children. Aukrust sees the registered differences between Norwegian and American mealtime conversations in connection with the differences in socio-cultural status in the two countries. Both Norway and USA are often considered to be individualistic societies, but the Norwegian individualism has been described as being more egalitarian than the American (Eriksen 1993). In the light of this it seems reasonable that Norwegian parents encourage their children to tell stories more than American parents. Storytelling is a subject that presupposes a kind of equality. It is not instructive and adults who encourage children to narrate, give their own speaking time away. On

the other hand, an explanation includes a hierarchic order in which a novice gets help or advice from someone who is more experienced. An example of how adults in Norway gave their three-year olds space in an egalitarian way can be seen in the following excerpt where the mother encourages Hanne to narrate (Aukrust 1997b:1002). Mother: Hanne: Mother: Hanne Mother: Hanne: Mother: Mother: Hanne: Mother: well, Hanne was there assembly at kindergarten today? assembly, what did you do? we had Karius and Baktus (story about brushing ones teeth) did someone read it then? no tell us then? did you celebrate Mariuss birthday? mmm did you all have ice cream?

The mother more or less interviews Hanne to get a story out of her about an event about which Hanne and not her mother have first-hand knowledge. The mother is thus an authentic and interested information seeker talking to an equal communication partner. In a comparative study of mealtime conversations in USA, Sweden and Estonia Junefelt and Tulviste (1997) registered a similar reflection of a more individualistic attitude to bringing up children in USA than in the two other more collective and egalitarian orientated countries. Among other things, they found that American mothers gave their children many more individual choices in the course of a meal than the more collective orientated Swedish and Estonian mothers did. In Blum-Kulkas comparison of mealtime conversations in Jewish families in Israel and in USA there was a greater focus on collectivism in Israel than in the USA. For example, the narratives in Israel often included co-narrators, while children in the USA were more conscious of the speakers right to have the right to speak (Blum-Kulka 1993). A remark here from a brother or sister was more an invasive interruption than a supportive contribution to a common product. Such analyses of mealtime conversations show how even small differences in cultural priorities (cf. degree of egalitarian thought) settle in the communication patterns the adults transfer to the children and this is then reflected in the childrens own use of language. They show how children

make adult communication patterns their own, how they appropriate adult societys form of discourse in Wertsch (195) and Bakhtins (1986) words. From a pedagogical point of view it gives food for thought that adults presumably are only vaguely aware of their own style of communication in day-to-day situations such as mealtime conversations not only in their homes but also at many mealtime conversations in the kindergarten. A multi-cultural society, however, opens up for increased consciousness about such communication and socialization mechanisms, as well as the differences in background experience children at the same table in a kindergarten have with them from their homes. A relevant concept in this connection is Bordieus (1991) Habitus concept. This involves unconscious, unsaid and culturally conditioned almost habit-like dispositions and prerequisites for the actions and forms of communication members of a culture use. These are often obtained as early as at pre-school age. In a Norwegian context Rommetveit (1972) has contributed considerably to underlining the importance such culturally-conditioned prerequisites have for verbal communication. They constitute more major contracts as to what can be taken for granted of unsaid prerequisites in what is said (cf. meta contracts, Chapter 3). Bootstrapping In recent years, childrens own coordination of the effects from the environment have received renewed attention. It seems that children to a certain degree draw their language forward by means of a kind of inner strength. This is by no means a new way of seeing things (cf. the expression the little linguist, and also Piagets adaption concept). However, we have in a great deal of recent child language research been engaged in more precise forms of self -driven and self-strengthening development, where the child uses existing knowledge or information to develop new routines and skills, which at the next stage lead to the whole system being used in a more advanced manner. This phenomenon has been called bootstrapping after the name of the strap at the back of a boot whereby one can pull the boot on single-handed. (Reber 1985). This principle is suitable in explaining apparently qualitative leaps in the childs development, and there are many of these leaps. Children begin, for example, to speak in two-word utterances (syntax) when they have a vocabulary of a certain size (approx. 30-50 words). They begin to add endings to words (morphology) after they have begun to use two-word utterances and they become able to take a meta-perspective of the language (language consciousness) after they have developed a certain control of use of the language (functional spoken language). Such observations can point to the fact that the child first has to master one skill with some degree of certainty before being able to master and use this in exploration and integration of new skills (Frost 2000; Gombert 1992). Recollections in level of function can look like qualitative leaps but are actually about control and precision in use of language in an area that provides for expansion and variation of the old knowledge and integration of new knowledge. Thus a leap does not become discontinuous even

though it might look that way, but it consists of much inner activity where the child reconstructs old knowledge so it appears in a new disguise (jf Karmiloff -Smith 1986) (jf. Frame 17). Bootstrapping is a metaphor for such redefining processes or, to use Snows (1997) illustrative analogy: Bootstrapping is a question of children standing with dry feet on a hummock before they can drain the rest of the bog and stand on safe ground. The expression bootstrapping has been used with somewhat differing meanings in different traditions, but generally the word is used in child language research and cognitive psychology when new skills are lifted up (are bootstrapped) by means of other more established skills. Thus , the entire language system comes to work in a new and more powerful way. This expression thus gives a dynamic input to the studies of language acquisition underlining the fact that linguistic skills are partly driven forward via self-developed mechanisms (Share and Stanovich 1995) where the individual more or less lifts itself by its own bootstraps. The bootstrapping phenomenon can be described as an upside down U-turn (Karmiloff-Smith 1986): First the child develops a skill at a reasonably stable level of competency. The competency is then improved and abstracted, for example, by becoming more rule-controlled. The old knowledge gains new meaning and new functions and the child s competency during this period will often appear to be less advanced than previously. Often a regular recession will be recorded (e.g. the good grammatical errors as drinked instead of drank). The recession is, however, only superficial and temporary. When the child has integrated the new knowledge with the old he or she then masters skills at a more advanced level of competency (cf. Piagets description of adaption processes) (Piaget 1929). It can be claimed that the metaphor bootstrapping, as it is presented above, has a narrow individual psychological perspective because it does not include the significance the surroundings have for development (see Snow 1998). It can be said that no child lifts itself up without impulses from others. For me this is more a question of what angle one puts on the phenomenon rather than the right or wrong perspective. Bootstrapping gives a dynamic picture of how new routines and strategies evolve out of other competencies, which are then mastered by control and precision. This underlines the potential for self-development and self-driven exploration that lies in mastering something with control, for example, extended experience and many repetitions. If such an effect did not exist all acquisition would be dependent on outer stimulus and we know that this is not the case. Children also learn while they sit alone and think and act. In Vygotsky terminology the metaphor can be considered to be an amplified description of part of the process that takes place when socially transferred knowledge is internalized or appropriated by the individual themselves. When questioning the processes that are part of the actual internalization process bootstrapping represents a supplement to socio-culturally based models for how children learn language.

One can, however, also see the expression from a social psychological angle such as Snow (1997) does. He bases this on the fact that a small child is basically a social entity and it is the childs communicative abilities that cause the child to lift itself into a language. Snow underlines here the importance interplay with others has for bootstrapping. A child is never entirely alone even when it stands on a hummock in a bog and drains new land. This makes it impossible to see bootstrapping as a purely individual psychological concept. Used in this way, the expression is a very general metaphor for how development is driven forward in competency leaps, where knowledge that is consolidated gives a surplus of energy to explore and integrate new areas of competency., On the basis of this, one can say that a child learns language through social and individually conditioned mechanisms. Variations in environmental effects combined with individual prerequisites create differences in verbal development. These differences are the focus point in the next chapter.