child language acquisition

Extract 1:
C: who did you go with

A: um with Richard and a (.) those (.) and um (.) we have a nice time with Richard and Sa um no Sarah there

C: were they

A: no Sarah there

C: was she

A: no

v Interestingly, C elicits all the questions and this is a common feature of mother/parent/caretakerese. The structure of question, answer, question, answer… teaches the child the initial and important rules of turn taking.
v The child, A, uses several non-fluency features such as the filler, ‘um’. This both allows the child time to think but is also a common feature of speech.
v The child creates a very simple negation structure by using, ‘no’ before the subject, ‘Sarah’.

Extract 2:
C: did you go to the beach

A: yes

C: yes (.) what was it like

A: um cloudy [unclear]

C: was it cloudy

A: no cold

C: ah cold

v Similar to above C asks all the questions, which affirms the motherese theories.
v The caretaker repeats and reinforces the child’s correct assertions for example the repetition of both, ‘yes’ and the adjective, ‘cloudy’ as if to cement it in the child’s mind and also encourage the child. Skinner’s theory of repetition and reinforcement backs up this idea and suggests that parents will use language for these functions.
v It is also evident that the parent speaks in complete sentences, whereas in contrast the child answers in monosyllabic utterances. Perhaps the child is at the one word or even telegraphic stage and so in an attempt to help elevate their child through the stages the parent speaks to the child with full and grammatical sentences in hope that like Skinner’s theory of imitation suggests, the child will eventually imitate their perfected grammatically sound sentences.
v From the age of two years old, the child will often use a negative at the beginning of a two word sentence, e.g. in, ‘no cold.’ This form of negation is typical of the telegraphic stage as it is missing smaller verbs and stative subject verbs like, ‘it was/is…’

Extract 3:
C: what do you do if it’s too hot

A: blow it

C: you blow it

A: wake up Danny up

C: go on then…

v The parent uses imperatives such as, ‘blow it’ and, ‘go on’ to instruct the child clearly and without any ambiguity.
v In the prepositional phrase, ‘wake up Danny’, the child makes a virtuous error by repeating the preposition, ‘up’ at the end of the sentence.
v According to Halliday’s theory of language functions, the child is using language in a heuristic way. Heuristic means, ‘allowing to discover’ and the child uses the language as a way to discover things about the world, or in this case, how to cool something down.

Extract 4:
C: where’s Lucie today then…she’s up the pub

A: not pup…no (.) Lu is at work today Lucie
where Lucie is

C: is what

A: Lucie Lucie a work

v The use of a negative in the middle of a sentence, e.g. ‘no’ is a feature normally attributed to children of about three years upwards.
v The child has a phonological difficulty with the alveolar sound, resulting in a dropped final consonant, ‘t’ in, ‘at’. This form of deletion simplifies the word and so makes it easier to say.
v The syntax reveals a virtuous error, with the repetition of, ‘Lucie where Lucie is…’ The repetition of Lucie shows the incorrect word order.

S: You take your bissies

F: I’ve eaten them.

S: Me want more bissies.

F: No, you’ve had one of mine.

S: Me want nother bissie.

F: Well you’ll have one later.

S: No. Mary come me. Only little bit.

F: Not today cos it’s Wednesday.

S: Why? Jack come.

F: No. They came yesterday.

S: [5 syllable indecipherable utterance]

F: Where did you put it?

S: Over there. No.

F: Would you like to tidy up the doll’s house?

S: Where [1 syllable] go? Where’s the doll’s house?
F: Here on the floor. Shall we put this away?

S: No.

v The child has a phonological difficulty with the consonant cluster in, ‘biscuits’ and so renames them with something she finds easier to say, ‘bissies’.
v The child is at the telegraphic stage where small verbs are omitted. The overall message though still remains intact and is expressed, despite an incapability to use smaller verb units.
v The extract is interchangeably constructed by imperative sentence, declarative sentence, imperative and so on… Until the subject of the conversation switches from demanding a biscuit to inquiring about visitors. Therefore at this conversation switch, the new structure is as follows, the child elicits questions in interrogative sentences, and the mother answers them with declarative sentences.
v The child’s more complex grasp of interrogative questioning is shown by her usage of question words such as, ‘ where’s’ and, ‘why?’ as opposed to merely using a raise in intonation. The grammatical structures are becoming more complex.
v Another feature of motherese is a sympathetic listener who will endeavour to understand and correct subtly, usually through repetition of the error but in its corrected form. The parent in this exchange is the sympathetic listener who can understand the pragmatics and meanings of their child.
v According to Halliday’s theories about children’s functions of language, Sophie’s initial function is instrumental in the sense that she uses language to indicate a need, e.g. ‘me want nother bissie’.
v The child also makes the common virtuous error of repeating the subject form, ‘me’ in place of the object form. For example, in, ‘me want more bissies’, the child has used the subject form, ‘me’ instead of what should have been the object form, ‘I’ according to grammatical structures.

K: We do Jason again shall we?

M: What draw another picture of Jason?

K: Yeh

M: Mmm yeh, we could do…what else could we do a picture of? Ooh! That’s a good one. Is that the head?

K: Now I’ll do Jason.

M: Mmhu.

K: I’ll do his head first. He’s at de top of the circle.

M: Uhuh.

K: Dere he is.

M: Oh that’s very good.

K: Dat’s his head.

M: Uhuh. Where’s his body?

K: [makes noise] Dere’s his legs, touching his mouf.

M: Touching his mouth? Do your legs touch your mouth?

K: No they don’t.

M: What comes in between? (1) What’s in between your mouth and the tops of your legs?

K: Yeh.

M: What’s this bit?

K: I dunno.

M: You do. It’s the rest of your body, isn’t it? Your chest and…[pats stomach]

K: Tummy.

M: Yes.

v Through the process of substitution, the child changes the word, ‘the’ to ‘de’, with which she has less phonological difficulties.
v However a phonological difficulty with the, ‘th’ sound is apparent with the virtuous error, ‘mouf’.
v Through the process of motherese and Skinner’s imitation and reinforcement theories, the parent verbally encourages the child with praise, ‘that’s a good one/that’s very good’. The child is also reassured and their progress reinforced by the motherese which appears in the abundance of interrogative sentences which force the child to think and produce language, thus practising their developing skills.
v The child is also rewarded with the affirmative, ‘yes’ when she has answered correctly. This coincides with Skinner’s imitation, e.g. the correct answer, and reinforcement, the ‘yes’.
v The parent gives a visual prompt, by patting their stomach, this is another feature of motherese, with the focus on helping, nurturing and educating the child.

Stage I
Adam home. Adam go hill.
Like Adam book shelf. Pick Adam up.

Child uses ‘go’ instead of ‘goes’- verb shortened to a non-finite form. The child has understood the application of the verb in terms of meaning, but not how to apply a tense- feature of the telegraphic stage.The personal pronoun ‘I’ is replaced by his name- the third person- ‘Adam’. This backs up Skinner’s ‘repetition’ theory, as the child is likely to have heard himself referred to in the third person more often.An imperative is used; ‘pick Adam up’.Word order is reversed in ‘like Adam book shelf’, suggesting that the formation of a ‘correct’ adult syntax is not yet understood. Stage II
I like drink it. I Adam driving. I making coffee.
Wake me up. Why hitting me?
What me doing? Why me spilled it?
These sentences have a telegraphic quality as deletion occurs- no finite stative verbs are used, eg ‘am’ or ‘was’ in the first line. Stative verbs are neglected from the sentence ‘why hitting me’- eg ‘why are you hitting me?’ or ‘why is she hitting me?’ The question is, however, formed ‘correctly’- by starting the utterance with a ‘question word’, ‘why’. This could be an example of an observed habit, as the simplest way to form a question, or evidence of Chomsky’s theory that children are hard-wired to be able to pick up usages like this. The object ‘I’ should be used instead of subject ‘me’ in the final two utterances. This shows that the difference between subject and object- both ostensibly used to the same effect as far as a child can see before learning grammar- is not yet understood. Skinner would argue that this is because the child has heard both used and has little experience of using them his/herself.Stage III
That what I do. Can I put them on.
You want me? You watch me.
The stative verb ‘is’ is left out, as it is not necessary to the sense of the sentence. Similarly, the inflectional verb endings are often missed out, probably because they are also unnecessary to the sense of the sentence, so those the child observes speaking will not emphasise them, and may not pronounce them at all. This is another example of an utterance from the telegraphic stage of language learning- here an imperative is formed, but the sentence could sound more ‘correct’ using ‘little words’- prepositions, etc. Yes/No
Stage 1 [2-3 words]
See hole?
Sit chair?
Jamie water?
Stage II [3-4 words]
See my doggie?
That black too?
I have it?
You can’t fix it?
Using a normal declarative syntactic structure followed by an HRT (high-rise terminal), or rising intonation, is the easiest way to form a question, and usually the first a child learns. These utterances could almost be considered holophrastic; ‘Jamie water?’ as they contain only simple verbs- labelling. Word order is not yet changed- a feature of more sophisticated questions in speech, but emphasis has changed.Yes/No
Stage III [4 words +]
Does lions walk?
Can’t you work this thing?
Oh, did I caught it?
Changing word order is an essential feature of forming questions. The use of ‘does’ and ‘caught’, although considered incorrect by prescriptive grammatists, could be considered a virtuous error- or an example of a child applying something he/she has observed incorrectly.WH-
What that? Where Mama? What doing? Who that?
‘Wh-‘ words are another essential feature in forming questions- often the second stage in question formation after declarative + rising intonation.Where my spoon goed?An example of a virtuous error; the child has correctly observed the regular formation of past tenses in English- infinitive + ‘ed’, and made a mistake. The child is applying observed/innate rules to language, but has not yet learned- by trial and error, as in this example- for to form utterances using irregular verb forms.Typical Examples of Two Word Utterances:

1. ‘Baby bed.’
2. ‘There teddy.’
3. ‘Baby table.’
4. ‘Mummy gone.’
5. ‘Silly hat.’
6. ‘Baby like.’
7. ‘Mummy drink.’
8. ‘Gone milk.’
9. ‘Mummy car.’
10. ‘She silly.’
11. ‘Dolly there.’
12. ‘Where Mummy?’
13. ‘Toy gone.’
14. ‘My doggie.’
15. ‘Funny pussy.’
16. ‘Baby cry.’
17. ‘Comb hair.’
18 ‘Daddy pen.’
19. ‘Milk cup.’

1. The first words children tend to use/say are nouns, especially proper nouns (e.g. ‘Mummy’) and concrete nouns (e.g. ‘pen’). This is because nouns are the most familiar and useful to them, as they represent the most important things to children (‘Labelling’ – Aitchison, 1987).
2. The above phrases show the stage in which children make the transition form using holophrastic (i.e. one word) sentences to telegraphic (i.e. using up to four words) sentences, due to their increase in vocabulary and understanding of how language works.
3. In most of the utterances, the words are in the correct order (i.e. the child is now beginning to grasp the concept of language and so use the correct syntax for what he/she is trying to say).
4. At this stage, children begin to use possession words (e.g. ‘My’) and personal pronouns (e.g. ‘She’) due to their increase in grammatical knowledge, vocabulary and ability to recognise relationships between people and objects/feelings/descriptive words (e.g. ‘silly’).
5. Children tend to omit/delete non-lexical words (such as the conjunction ‘and’, the stative verb ‘is’ (such as in e.g.s 10 and 12 above), and, the definite article ‘the’) from their speech, either because they don’t understand the grammatical importance of the words in the sentence, or because they don’t feel the need to include them since the phrase can be understood without them in most cases.
6. Children also tend to omit bound morphemes from their speech (such as ‘-ing’ from e.g. 16, as it should be ‘Baby crying’), which may be due to the difficulties in understanding why they are used and distinguishing which ones should be used.
7. Example 12 above shows that children at this stage understand that questions can be formed by the use of ‘wh-‘ words, which can be further emphasised by the rise in the child’s intonation (which isn’t shown).
8. Children now begin to use a more varied combination of words in their utterances, as follows:
· A person performs an action (such as e.g.s 7 and 17 above)
· A person or object is described (such as e.g.s 5 and 10 above)
· An action affects and object (e.g. ‘toy fall’)
· An object is located (such as e.g. 2)
· An object is given a possessor (such as e.g.s 1, 9 and 18)
9. Pivot words (i.e. actions words that can be used widely/over-extensively) appear repeatedly and are usually in the same position (e.g. the verb ‘gone’ in e.g.s 4 and 13 above).


B: Daddy, daddy king, daddy king (0.5), k…k … daddy king.
F: Daddy king?
B: Daddy shing, ching, daddy k… key…king.
F: I like kings? He’s got a beard, so he might…might be a king. I don’t know but he’s certainly wearing very funny clothes.
B: Daddy king, daddy king, daddy king.


1. It is unclear what the child is trying to say to the father, which shows that, although the child is using the words he/she thinks are the most important (i.e. nouns) to convey what is being said, it is not always easy to understand what children say at this age (about 2 yrs old). This is because children’s knowledge has not developed enough to allow them to speak in greater detail about what they are trying to say.
2. If the child is calling the king ‘daddy king’, then this shows that the child is making an ‘error’ in his/her language use as the proper noun ‘Daddy’ is being over-extended to include all men, rather then just the child’s father.
3. If the child is meaning to say ‘Look Daddy, a king’ then it shows that the child is omitting the grammatical words that should be present in order to make the sentence understandable. The child may do this as the longer phrase is more difficult for him/her to pronounce.
4. When the father doesn’t understand what the child is trying to say, the child changes his/her pronunciation of the word ‘king’ to ‘shing’ and then ‘ching’. This shows that the child understands that some sounds are easier to pronounce and understands than others, and so is trying to make it easier for the father to understand. However, the child may have also altered his/her pronunciation of the word as he/she may have started to think that the way they pronounced it was wrong, since the father was unable to understand what was being said.
5. The child repeats/reduplicates the phrase ‘daddy king’ and the sentence that it is used in to emphasise what he/she is trying to say, in order to make the father understand what the child is trying to say.
6. The fact that the child initiates the conversation shows that he/she now understands the principles of conversation and turn-taking, and of how to include the other person in the conversation (as the child is speaking directly to the father).

The following data was collected by giving children a model sentence to copy. The responses are from different children of different ages:

Model: 25 months: 28 months: 35 months:
1. I showed you the I show book I show book show you the book
2. I am very tall My tall I very tall I very tall
3. I do not want an apple I do apple I do a apple I don’t want apple
4. I am drawing a dog drawing dog I draw dog I am drawing a dog
5. I will read the book read book I will read book I will read the book


1. From their ability to respond with up to 4 words, we can see that the children are all at the telegraphic stage (2-2 ½ years).
2. For 1, the children aged 25 and 28 months omitted/deleted the definite article ‘the’ from the sentence, as it can still be understood with out it.
3. For 1, the child aged 35 months was able to understand and use the second person pronoun ‘you’, due to their faster understanding of language and better memory of what was said.
4. All of the children are unable to form the correct tenses (e.g. for 1) which shows that these are learnt at an older age, due to the difficulty in distinguishing the tense which is needed for the sentence.
5. For 2, the child aged 25 months used the first person possessive pronoun ‘My’ instead of the first person pronoun ‘I’. This shows that the child understands the subject being spoken about and the meaning and use of pronouns, but that he/she can’t distinguish between the different types of pronouns, so uses them in the incorrect sense.
6. For 2, all three of the children also omit the verb ‘to be’ from their answers, which shows that they don’t seem to understand the use of stative verbs yet (as not even the oldest child of the three used it in his/her answer). This is probably because stative verbs are less relevant to children (as dynamic verbs e.g. ‘bash’ are more familiar and useful to them) and also because the child can still be understood without using them.

Brown and Fraser found the following percentages of correctly imitated words in various classes:

· Inflections (‘-ed’, ‘-s’) = 44 %
· Pronouns (‘us’, ‘you’) = 72%
· Articles (‘a’, ‘the’) = 39%
· Modal Auxiliary (‘can’, ‘might’) = 56%
· ‘to be’ = 33%
· Nouns = 100%
· Main verbs = 85%
· Adjectives = 92%

So, in order from easiest to hardest:
easiest: nouns
modal auxiliary
hardest: ‘to be’

· Nouns are the first words children learn and use, as they are the most relevant, familiar and useful words for them, as nouns express what children want (e.g. ‘milk!’) and are also used for labelling (e.g. ‘Mummy’) (Aitchison, 1987). This is why they were correctly imitated.
· Verbs (mainly dynamic verbs) were also imitated correctly most of the time, as they are also among the first words children learn, as they express actions and things which interest the child (e.g. ‘Bash!’) and so are, again, relevant to them.
· Inflections, articles and the verb ‘to be’ were the least correctly imitated. This is probably because they are among the last words that children understand and learn to use, for several reasons. For example, it is difficult for children to understand the importance of inflections at the end of words and also which inflections are needed with which words can also be very confusing for them. Articles, on-the-other-hand, may be understood by children, but are purposely omitted, as they are not considered relevant, as what they are saying can usually be understood without them.

M: That’s an animal called an iguana. Don’t you like that?
C: Cover he’s face.
M: Oh why? Don’t you like it?
C: no he’s-
M: He’s a rather friendly iguana
C: What are guanas?
M: Guanas. It’s a sort of lizard-animal-green animal

M: Oh gosh. This is a long story
C: How d’you know?
M: About Zozo. Zozo the monkey
C: Can you read it to me?
M: I’ll read some of it.

C: I got a headache
M: Oh darling. have you?
C: mmmm. Can we have some cucumber
M:Cucumber? yeah if you want to
C: cuz i need some. I need a cool bit.
M: you need some cucumber do you?
C: cuz i need the cool bit to spread on my face and it goes away.
M: Oh Sophie.
C: Cuz it does mummy
M: yes. but who on earth have you seen putting cucumber on their face?
C: what?
M: who ahve you seen putting cucumber on their face?
C: Griselda.

C: um-um-he-he had his own room. and-he he had a pointy thing. and a machine. you see
M: a machine
C: and- and- he heard he say. if you push that button again. and the man did. and you see. and-um-he-and he-and all the paper flied out inside.
M: oh because. it was a wind machine
C: yes

C: when is daddy going to come back?
M: quite soon. i think love.
C: at eight o’ clock?
M: no. I hope he’ll be back at one o’ clock.
C: Mummy, he’s going to be back at eight o’clock
M: is he?

Grammatical Point:
1. The child repeatedly makes the same virtuous errors of mistaking the object of “him” for the subject “he’s” showing his understanding of gender at this point but not when to use the determiner.

2. The child often delets the unstressed syllable or vowel sounds at the begginning of words such as saying “guanas” instead of “iguanas” and “cuz” instead of “because”. This shows that he is speaking through the use of phonetic sounds which he is hearing.

3. The child doesnt understand the idiom “who on earth” suggesting that he is still taking things for their literal meaning.

4. Chomsky’s Innateness Theory is applied when the verb “flied” is used suggesting that that child understands that to make a past tense you as “-ed” to the verb. This is also known as generalisation as the child does not yet know the abnormalities which sometimes occur such as with “flied”, istead of adding “-ed” he should add ” w”.

5. The Stative phrase “he’s going to back back at eight o’clock” is used. This is underextension as the child doesn’t understand that there could be any other time when his father could return. This also shows that the child can form the future tense and has started to use imperative and declarative phrases.

6. He misses out the key verb ” to have” in “i got a headache” showing that he is deleting unnecessary words.

7. The child can correctly form a grammatical question compiled of a subject, object and verb such as “how d’you know?” and ” can we have some cucumber for lunch?” also showing his gradual understanding of turn taking.

8. The use of the filler “um” shows that he is not quite confoident in forming more complex phrases such as “um-um-he- he had his own room. and- he- he had a pointy thing. and a machine”.

9. The child begins to use “wh” words such as “when” and “who” suggesting that childs age and ability to form questions.

10. The use of longer nouns such as “cucumber” also show the childs age as a yotunger child, say 18 months would not be able to pronounce the word or know what it means.
However, he does under extend the noun “cucumber” and thinks that it is only a beauty product to put on your face to get rid of headaches, instead of a vegetable.

11. There are many elements of child directed speech in the transcript where the parents are asking questions to spur on the converstaion such as “don’t you like that?” and “you need some cucumber do you?”. This is known as motherese.
The parents also use repetition in order to enforce what they have said: C: Can we have some cucumber for lunch?” M: “cucumber?”

Age 1;10. Hannah and Gayle are in Gayle’s Bedroom

C: a yittle yady (sees a porcelain statue of a man)
A: a little lady?
C: yeah
A: it’s a man. who is it on that picture? (shows Hannah a photograph)
C: Dohn
A: John?
C: Dohn
A: It’s not. Gayle
C: It’s Gay. he got a suit on (looking at the statue again)
A: yeah
C: dis back up. (puts photograph on window sill)


  • The child finds it difficult to pronounce some words so she uses substituton, as she swaps some sounds for others that are similar but easier to say. The velar consonant ‘l’ is subtituted for ‘y’ (“yittle yady”) and she says “Dohn” instead of “John”.
  • There is evidence of the child attempting to imitate what she has heard, but due to phonological difficulties she is not successful. eg. “yittle yady”.
  • The child uses overextension as she thinks that ‘Gayle’ is ‘John’. This demonstrates that she has broadened the meaning of a man and is referring to men in general as ‘John’ who she may have close relations with.
  • The child has simplfied pronunciation by deleting the final consonants off the proper noun ‘Gayle’ to make it “Gay”.
  • She misses out the the auxiliary verb “has” in “he got a suit on”. The sentence can be understood without the “has” so she omits it.

A: Where’s the frog? (a frog figurine)
C: Dere
A: there
C: what’s dat one?
A: what’s that? it’s a frog C: yeah. its a hoyabul one
A: is it? why?
C: it’s a hoyabul one
A: is it naughty?
C: yeah. naughty froggie. he nice.
A: nice?
C: (looks at woollen ball on the top of a toy’s hat) goodie.
dat not a pider
A: it’s not a spider. it’s his hat.

  • The child cannot pronounce the fricative sound ‘th’ so she substitutes easiers sounds for the harder ones to simplify the pronunciation. eg. (there –> “dere”) ( that –> “dat”)
  • Substitution is also demonstrated when she pronounces “hoyabul” instead of ‘horrible’
  • The child has limited vocabulary at this age, which is why she cannot answer the adult’s question. Instead, the child just repeats herself “its a hoyabul one”.
  • She uses childish words like “froggie” and “goodie”
  • The child has simplified pronunciation by reducing the consonant clusters eg. (spider –> “pider”)
  • The final consonant of ‘S’ has been dropped from “dat” or the stative verb ‘is’ has been ommited from the sentence “dat not a spider”.

C: (sees a toy mouse) dat a hoyabul mouse.
A: do you not like that one?
C: (points to different objects) I yike dat one. I yike dat one. I yike dat one.
A: which one? do you like that little mousie?
C: yeah

  • The child cannot pronounce the velar consonant ‘l’ so she substitutes it for an easier sound she can pronounce “yike”.
  • The adult uses motherese to interact with the child, using words like “mousie” so it is easier for her to understand.

C: (hears Gayle’s mother in the hall) yat you mum.
gonna wash bafroom
A: she’s going to wash the bathroom. you’re a clever girl aren’t you?
C: (later) you go out. (points to bedroom door)
A: why?
C: go and clean you bafroom.

  • The child cannot pronounce the fricative sound ‘th’ in ‘that’ so substitutes it for “yat” which is easier for her to say. Also, she says “bafroom” instead of ‘bathroom’.
  • She doesn’t completely understand pronouns at this age as she says “clean you bafroom” instead of using the possessive pronoun ‘your’.
  • Holophrases are used “you go out” as a command with use of hand gestures “(points to bedroom door)” so she is understood by others without saying a full sentence.
  • The child uses a contraction when saying “gonna” instead of ‘going to’ because it is easier to say.

‘Up’ – The baby raises his arms whilst sitting in his high chair.
‘Up’ – Mother is sitting down, baby standing in front of her.
‘Milk’ – A glass of milk has been upset.
‘No’ – A spoonful of mashed carrot is hovering in front of the baby.
‘Mummy’ – Mummy has entered the room.
‘Mummy’ – Mummy is listening to ‘The Archers’ on the radio.
‘Birdie’ – Daddy has said, ‘Who gave you that then?’
‘Birdie’ – Daddy is making the toy bird fly across the room.
‘Uh oh’ – Teletubbies on the television.
‘Uh oh’ – A glass of milk has been upset.


– All the utterances in these examples are holophrases, indicating the child is at the holophrastic stage and is therefore about 1-2 years old.
– The child uses all different types of words e.g. ‘up’ – order/ action word, ‘milk,’ ‘Mummy’ and ‘birdie’ – naming, and ‘no’ – personal/ social word.
– In the first example of the child using the word ‘up,’ they also support it with body language reinforcing what the child wants putting the word in a kind of context.
– In the first example of the child using the noun ‘birdie,’ it shows how the child has overextended its meaning, a common error in children’s speech.
– The child imitates the sounds heard on the television in the first example of ‘Uh oh,’ which could be seen as supporting Skinner’s theory of imitation and response.
– Another example of imitation is the second ‘Uh oh’ which shows the imitation and application of a phrase the child has heard in a specific situation i.e. in this case, an accident.
– The second example of the noun ‘birdie’ shows the child labelling the object correctly, however using a childish word rather than the proper name i.e. ‘bird’. This type of ‘child talk’ could have been obtained through imitation of motherese.____________________Word Referents
Stage 1
Bow-wow Dog(s)
Stage 2
Bow-wow Dogs, cows, horses, sheep, cats
Stage 3
Bow-wow Dogs, cats, horses, sheep
Moo Cows
Stage 4
Bow-wow Dogs, cats, sheep
Moo Cows
Gee-gee Horses
Stage 5
Bow-wow/ doggie Cats, dogs
Moo Cows
Gee-gee Horses
Baa Sheep
Stage 6
Doggie Dogs
Moo Cows
Gee-gee/ horsie Horses
Baa lamb Sheep
Kitty Cats


– In the first stages children imitate and use the sounds of animals as nouns, rather than using their names. This could be due to motherese or it may just be that they find it easier to say the animal noise than the true noun.
– Over extension shows a difficulty in the child’s paradigmatic understanding, and to improve this packaging needs to be understood.
– At stage 5 the introduction of the noun occurs rather than the animal noise.
– Some of the nouns used in stage 6 are very ‘childish’ i.e. ‘kitty’ and ‘baa lamb’ and have probably been learnt through motherese or caregiver’s speech.
– No plurals are used in these stages, indicating that, as yet, the child does not have sufficient knowledge of the plural rule to apply it.
– Monosyllables are duplicated, as in ‘gee-gee,’ a common occurrence in young children’s speech.

In her study of eighteen children’s first words, Katherine Nelson (1973) classified the words in our list like this:

Naming things (N)


Personal/ Social (S)


Actions/ Events (A)


Modifying things (M)



– All these words are adaptable, as they can be used by the child as holophrases, or strung with other words to create more complex sentences, as in the two-word and telegraphic stages.
– Naming things will be popular utterances to a child, as the objects they describe will be more familiar, and can be seen, by the child.
– The personal/ social words tend to be simple social interaction words, which would be in every day use for the child.
– ‘Hello’ is shortened to ‘Hi’ to make the words simpler and easier for the child to remember and say.
– The action and event words can easily describe what a child wants to convey without saying the full sentence and using them as holophrases.
– ‘Allgone’ is an example of a virtuous error the child has used a phrase that is two words long and merged them into one, a holophrase; however it is still clear what the child wants to convey.



A: what can you hear? where’s your mum,hannah?
C: gone uh walk.
A: gone for a walk?
C: (Hannah sees a tape recorder and its buttons) pess. pess. pess. (‘press’)
A: don’t press.
C: pess.
A: no
C: pess
A: no
C: pess. nat (‘that’) one. dere (‘there’). nat one.

C: (wants to see her father) see dad.
A: see dad?
C: yeah.
A: he’s at home.
C: yeah.
A:your dad’s at home
C: (pointing to ceiling) he up where.
A: where’s your mum? C: gone uh work

C: it not heavy. (picking up a cushion)
A: it’s not heavy.
C: yeah.
A: oh.
C: heavy. it heavy. (placing suchion on chair)
C: (later the cushion falls off) come off. dat (‘that’) one go sit nere (‘there’). it go sit nere.

A: are you tired?
C: i tired.
A: ah. go to sleep then baby. (tickles hannah’s feet)
C: top (‘stop’) it. top it. A: why? why? C: no like it.

A: where’s your drink?
C: dere (‘there’), pointing to tape recored)
A: that’s not your drink. what’s that? tape recorder.
C: teep corder

6: (looking out the window, Hannah sees an elderly lady and birds in the front garden)
C: dere Nana. (Hannah’s name for her grandmother birdie.
A: the birdie?
C: yeah.
A: where?
C: baby. (picking up a doll)

A: what ya havin’ for dinner?
C: chicken. A: chicken?
C: yeah. A: and what else?
C: pot-potat-
A: potatoes?
C: potatoes.

C: come on.
A: where?
C: uptairs (‘upstairs’)
A: where’s Jayne and Helen? (Hannah’s sisters)
C: gone uh school.
A: what’s that? (Hannah picked up a toy duck)
C: duck. A: what does a duck do?
C: (makes pig noises)
A: what does a duck do? quack quack.
C: cack cack.
C: (later) duck cying. (‘crying’)
A: what? is he crying?
C: yeah.
A: ah. give him a love then. is he better now?
C: yeah.
A: (later) put your duckie to sleep on the settee.
C: fall off. gain (‘again’). nat (‘that’) go on.

-the child has yet to develop full use of the consonants, as is shown by the deletion of the consonant ‘r’ when she attempts to say ‘press’ it is instead ‘pess’. ‘r’ is a fricative sound that is one of the more difficult ones to master
-the child also uses substituton, as she swaps some sounds for others that are similar but easier to make. For example she says ‘nat’ for that and ‘dere’ for there.
-the child ignores syllables that are unstressed for example Hannah uses ‘gain’ instead of again
– she simplifies consonant clusters by deleting a consonant for example she says ‘uptairs’ not upstairs.
-she often uses sounds which are related but easier to make, for example instead of stop she says ‘top’
-the child is still in the holophrastic (one-word) stage of development. she uses mainly single word utterences with no grammatical form, but they still convey a clear message or express actions. For example ‘pess’ ‘duck’ ‘yeah’
the child often misses out words with a grammitical function, as these areless vital to getting your meaning across, for example she emits the verb ‘am’ when she says ‘I tired’ and she also does this in the phrase ‘duck cying’, the auxillary verb ‘is’ is deleted.
-the child often repeats words she has just heard, which supports Skinners theory that children learn through imitation of others for example when Gayle says ‘ quack quack’ Hannah repeats immediately ‘ cack cack’
-the child is at the labelling stage of language development, as she knows when she sees a toy duck that the word for it is ‘duck’ and she says ‘baby’ when picking up a doll
-the child has not yet acquired the skill to use negativeforms so negations come from single dependance upon words ssssuch as no or not, for example ‘ no like it’. inthis phrase the personal pronoun ‘I’ is also omitted as in the holophrastic stage words with grammatical function are less important for the child to get its meaning across
-the adult taking to Hannah demonstrates many features of child directed speech, for example she uses lots of questions: ‘and what else?’, ‘where?’ and she also repeats herself frequently ‘he’s at home’ , ‘your Dads at home’ all this enable the child to learn how to respond to questions and label objects correctly. it also teaches the child how to take part in conversations,in the form of question, answer etc.



ABCs the alphabet mmmh appreciation of taste
Allgone empty, gone meanie mean person
Beddy-bye bed time nana grandmother
Birdie bird night-night goodnight
Bow-wow dog peekaboo game involving covering and
Buggie pushchair uncovering eyes
Bunny rabbit pee-pee to urinate
Caca faeces poo faeces
Choo-choo train poopy soiled
Dada father potty child’s pot/ toilet
Din-din dinner quack-quack duck
Ding-dong penis tick-tock clock
Doggie dog tinkle urinate
Dolly doll tummy stomach
Footsie foot uh-oh realisation that something is
Go bye-bies go to sleep wrong
Icky dirty upsie-daisy child is moving upwards
Jim-jams pyjamas wee-wee urine/urinate
Kiss it better consoling winkle penis
Mama mother yuckie dirty
yum-yum tasty

These words are taken from motherese language as they help the child development. The words ‘quack quack’ and ‘tick-tock’ are imitating the sound of the object and this helps the child to relate to the object and remember the word.
Words such as ‘dada’ and ‘din-din’ reduplicate monosyllables which makes the word easier to say phonetically.
The word ‘allgone’ has merged two words into one because when a child hears ‘all gone’ it may sound like one word.
‘’bow-wow’, ‘caca’ and jim-jams’ contain consonant clusters which make it simpler for the child to say.
Since the word ‘alphabet’ is a long and difficult word for children to learn, ‘ABC’ is used instead to simplify things.
‘Uh-oh’ is imitating what people say when something goes wrong and so children will be able to relate to this.

K: I stuck
M: You’re stuck. There. Is that better?
K: Yeh
M: You alright now?
K: Got my socks on.
M: You have. What colour are your socks?
K: Pink
M: Yes, they are pink
K: [indeciph] put my slippers on.
M: Mmm. What colour are your slippers?
K: Um. Red.
M: Red. Red and…
K: O…don’t know…and…
M: And…(2)red and…what?
K: Red and blue
M: Red and blue. Yes, they are. They’re red and blue slippers.
K: With zip.
M: With a zip

This is the telegraphic stage of a child’s process of language acquisition as non-lexical words have been omitted in their sentences for example the indefinate article ‘a’ in ‘with zip’. Some holophrases are found for example ‘yeh’, ‘pink’ and ‘um’ as these give enough detail.
The child begins to use the possessive pronoun ‘my’ in the sentence ‘got my socks on’. This shows that by the telegraphic stage, their language has become more advanced.
It can be seen that the child has learnt how to turn take. The conversation is therefore structured with both the parent and child taking turns to speak. The parent however asks all the questions for example ‘What colour are your socks?’ This is a feature of motherese to try to instigate responses from the child to develop their language skills.
As skinner suggests, there is imitation found in this transcript for example M says ‘Mmm’ in line 10 and on line 11, the child says ‘Um’. The child is learning featutres of language including these fillers which are non-fluency features but never the less, still feature of spoken language.
The parent reinforces the child to help them with their language and to give them encouragement for example in line 15, the child says ‘Red and blue’ and the parent follows with ‘Red and blue. Yes they are.’ Skinner theorises that this helps children to develop linguistically as they in a sense being told that they are understood and are correct in what they are saying.
Another feature of motherese found in the conversation is the way that the parent tries to prompt the child to give a response when M says ‘red. Red and …’ in line 12. Here, M is trying to develop the child’s sentence further and encourage them to think and give a longer answer.


Come on.
Talk to me.
Can you talk to me>
[laugh] Say something.
Come on.
Can you talk?
Can you say something?
Well, talk.
Well, say something.
Can you say mama?
Well, come on.
Come on.
Come on.
Come on.


Is that a burp?
Or are you going to get the hiccups?
You going to get the hiccups?
Hi, there.
You look like you’re just concentrating so hard.
Hey, you follow mw don’t you?
You follow my voice.
You follow my voice more that you follow me.

In both these monologues, the parent is talking to the child who is unable to respond as they are too young and haven’t developed language skills and vocabulary. Therefore, it can be said that this transcript features motherese which encourages the child to pick up on vocabulary.
There is repletion for example ‘come on’ and ‘talk to me’ which is caretaker way of teaching the child.
There are many interrogatives such as ‘can you talk to me?’ which also encourages the child.


4 thoughts on “child language acquisition

  1. I had analysed all the transcripts my teacher had, so thankyou for adding some 🙂 and also thanks for the analysis summaries helps with comparing answers.
    Thankyou x

  2. Do you have any idea… or what you believe is the importance of understanding major theories of first and second language acquisition?

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