The Role of Child-directed Speech in Language Acquisition: A Case Study

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Child language acquisition, Child-directed speech, Language functions, Social interactionism


This study examines the nature of child-directed speech (CDS) from the perspective of functions [M.A.K. Halliday, Learning how to mean: Explorations in the development of language, Elsevier North-Holland, Inc., New York, 1977] and social interactionist theory. It is argued that previous explanations of CDS, often called motherese or caregiver speech, have either minimalized or neglected the functionalist-interactionist dimension of input in language acquisition. Far from being merely a novel way of describing the language caregivers use with infants, CDS is presented as a crucial catalyst in the complex process of L1 acquisition. At the heart of CDS is negotiation between caregiver(s) and infant. The infant need not always respond with complete or near-complete linguistic units or constituents such as an adult might during a given negotiation, yet the context of the negotiation remains crucial to the infant. As physical maturation increases and the infant begins to produce more adult-like utterances, the negotiation between interlocutors becomes more balanced, syntactically and phonologically, but not necessarily semantically/functionally. This paper presents the results of a case study which specifically examines the utterances or input which family members direct at a Japanese infant during the early part of his language development. The data generated by the subject and his parents provide an interesting glimpse into one of the ways in which infants absorb language. The results of the data analysis show that while the parents of the subject were seen to use roughlye qual amounts of language with the child, the distribution of language functions used by the mother was importantly different from that used by the father; therefore, it is suggested that this difference in CDS aids the language development of the infant by providing more interactive negotiation, which is argued to be the crucial factor in language development. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Language Sciences





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First Department