Language Terminology

Aspects of the language that children must master:

1) phonemes/phonlogy/sounds -- the smallest units of sounds that are used in a particular language (e.g., the sound of each letter in the alphabet);

2) syntax -- the rules that govern how words are organized into sentences and phrases;

3) semantics -- the meaning of words; what the words stand for.

a) receptive vocabulary -- words the child can understand when someone else uses the words;

b) expressive or productive vocabulary -- the words that the child can use when speaking;

4) pragmatics -- the practical use of language in varied contexts; the ability to convey what the speaker intends to convey, and to convey it in ways that are considered appropriate.

Other terms

holophrase -- The term holophrase is used to refer an infant's style of communicating an entire thought through the use of a single word. While children are learning the words of a language, they are also learning intonation. Through the use of intonation, a single word can express many ideas. Take for example the word "Mama". Mama can be used to declare, "There is Mama." If an infant hears a car pull into the garage, he may use Mama as a question. "Is that Mama?" When Mama walks through the door, the baby may use Mama as an imperative. "Mama I want you to pick me up now." So one word is essentially substituted for a declarative sentence, an interrogative sentence, and an imperative.

telegraphic speech -- When you send a telegram, you pay for each word, and therefore only use the most important in the message. Articles like "a" and "the" are left out as are other nonessential words. Two-year-olds communicate in much the same way. "Juice please" means that I want some juice, please. "No bed" means that I do not want to go to bed yet. "All gone" is another telegraphic phrase that you are likely to hear from a two-year-old.


Language Errors

Commons errors in children's use of language during the preschool years include the following:

errors of underextension -- occurs when a word is used correctly but in too restricted a way. If a child is given a toy truck and told that this is a truck, and subsequently used the word truck only to refer to toy trucks that would be an error of underextension.

errors of overextension -- this is the opposite error in which the child does not have a sufficiently restricted definition of a certain word. For example using the word truck for any vehicle with wheels. Using the word kitty to stand for all furry animals would be another example.

overregularization -- involves applying the usual rules of language to exceptional cases. For example, to make something plural we add s to the word. Dog to dogs. But we don't use that rule when talking about men or deer or mice. Adding the suffix "ed" to a verb is how we usually indicate past tense. But if we apply that rule to exceptional verbs like do (doed rather than did) or go (goed rather than went), that would be an example of overregularizations.

segmentation errors -- A segmentation error is a mistake toddlers often make regarding "boundaries," that is where one word ends and the next begins. For example, "Readit the book."

pronunciation errors -- children sometime makes errors in their productive phonology. They may understand the meaning of the word, but may not be able to pronounce it correctly. For example, the letter l may come out sounding like the letter w. Weesa for Lisa.

errors in syntax -- putting words in the wrong order would be an example of an error in syntax. "Me potty go."


Using language for humor

Child A: (Laughing) You're a booger face.

Child B: (Laughs) No you're a booger face.


Q. Where do sheep get their hair cut?

A. At a baa baa shop.


Q. Why did the chicken cross the road?

A. Because he's a booger face.

Q. What did the egg do when he saw the raccoon?

A. He scrambled.


Child A: (Laughing) You're a booger face.

Child B: (Laughs) No you're a booger face.



Who's there?


Duane who?

Duane the tub . . . I'm drowning.


Q. What time is it when an elephant sits on the fence?

A. Time to get a new fence.


Q. Why can't you hide something in a potato field?

A. Because there are too many eyes.

Vygotsky's Private Speech


While preschool children go about their business, they are often observed talking to themselves.

For example, a child working on a puzzle may say to himself, "Where's the red piece? I need the red one. Now, a blue one. No, it doesn't fit. Try it here."

Vygotsky referred to this as private speech, that is, self-directed speech that children use to plan and guide their own behavior.

Children use more private speech when tasks are difficult after they make errors, or when they are confused about how to proceed.

Private speech is internalized as children get older.

Source: (Berk. L. (2000). Child Development  (5th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Pearson Education Company. pp.260-261.

Telegraphic speech refers to the two word utterances that many toddlers use.


agent + action: Mommy come; daddy sit

action + object: drive car; eat grape

agent + object: mommy sock; baby book

action + location: go park; sit chair

entity + location: cup table; toy floor

possessor + possession: my teddy; mommy dress

entity + attribute: box shiny; crayon big

Source: Gleason, J. B. (1997), The development of language (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon. (p. 172)

Emergent Literacy

Writing letters, words, and numbers

-- writing name

-- writing initials

-- writing what is on a picture (e.g., My family)

-- writing random letters of the alphabet

-- writing a number or numbers

-- copying a word or number

Reading and Pre-reading skills

-- actually recognizing words

-- "reading" a book that has been memorized

-- recognizing letters of the alphabet such as your initials

-- showing knowledge of reading left to right

-- the book is turned right side up

-- turn pages left to right

- move fingers along the words while "reading"

Asking Questions/Interrogative Sentences

Robert Siegler in the book Children's Thinking notes that early questions are often simple modifications of declarative sentences.

In declarative sentences, the sentence is constructed:


If a child hears someone say "Billy hates Mary," he may ask "Why Billy hates Mary?"

The auxiliary verb, does, is missing.

When the child adds the auxiliary verb, they may add it in the wrong place. "Why Billy does hate Mary?"

Other times they produce forms with the auxiliary verb in the right place but the s is not removed from the verb. "Why does Billy hates Mary?"

Not until roughly age 5 do children ask questions consistently correctly.