Early First Language Acquisition of German Phonology

Term Paper 2006 13 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Main Part
1 Basic conditions for language acquisition
1.1 Anatomical development
1.2 Children’s memories
1.3 The functions of language for a child
1.4 The linguistic environment
2 Phonological Development
2.1 Stages of language acquisition
2.1.1 The period of single word utterances
2.1.2 The period of first word combinations
2.2 Phonological processes
2.3 Changes from one period to the other
2.4 Homonymy
3 The Relation of Babble to Speech

III. Conclusion


I. Introduction

“Children’s earliest attempts at words often are sporadic, unsystematic in their phonological relation to the adult target word, and extremely variable in pronunciation…” (Fletcher and Mac Whinney 1995: 340). The changes in phonological development during the first two years of life will be discussed in this term paper. The research concentrates on whether the first sounds produced by a young child attach to general rules and what characterizes language of a two-year-old. In order to analyze the acquisition process a German boy named Paul, a firstborn, is taped during play and in interaction with his parents and the data are transcribed. The examples will help to inquire the word structure in infancy. A comparison of articulatory abilities of two different periods shows the progress in childish first language acquisition concerning word utterances and pronunciation. At first the basic conditions for learning a language in general are explained. It follows a detailed study of the phonological development of children with regard to German phonology that is intended to discover the relation between babble and speech. Finally a conclusion summarizes the results.

II. Main Part

1 Basic conditions for language acquisition

Linguistic capability varies from child to child because the learning process is always individual (cf. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spracherwerb). There are differences in manner and place of articulation, in syllable shape as well as in vocalization length (cf. Fletcher and Mac Whinney 1995: 338). Ingram is of the opinion that every child is born with “the same set of universal principles” and that the reasons for individual differences in language use are the following: on the one hand performance variation means that various biological features among children are responsible for different levels of phonetic inventory. In addition Ann M. Peters underlines that phonological variation among young children depends on “individual personality and neurological differences” (cf. Peters 1983/1985: 33). On the other hand Ingram mentions Environmental variation which contains „environmental effects“. According to John L. Locke (cf. Fletcher and Garman 1986: 247) children must pay attention to their mother tongue in order to be able to speak it. Thirdly the author names Linguistic variation indicating that a great diversity of structural possibilities causes differences in language use (cf. Ingram 1989: 77-78). The attribute of auditory feedback is necessary for speech production because without the ability to hear one’s own utterances and mistakes one will never learn to speak correctly (cf. Fletcher and Garman 1986: 216). The following aspects present some necessities for native language acquisition.

1.1 Anatomical development

The universal aspects of first language acquisition might be genetically determined (Fletcher and Garman 1986: 171). One assumption concerning the phonological development is that new acquisitions are due to anatomical changes.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1. Section through the head of the newborn infant in midline (after Bosma 1972; original figure drawn by H. Bartner). Key 1, tongue blade; 2, lips; 3, body of tongue; 4, hard palate; 5, soft palate; 6, posterior pharyngeal wall; 7, epiglottis; 8, vocal and ventricular folds; 9, cartilages of larynx; 10, cervical vertebrae; 11, trachea (Fletcher and Garman 1986: 164).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2. Section through the head of the adult in midline (from Zemlin 1968) (for Key see figure 1) (Fletcher and Garman 1986: 165).

The illustrations above show the stages of the human vocal tract at first during infancy and then of adults. There are certain aspects which distinguish the one stage from the other: the construction of the vocal tract of young children is for example characterized by a large tongue which is only capable of moving back and forward because it fills out the whole mouth. Whereas an adult tongue, as a result of the growing oral cavity, has become relatively small. This enables it to switch positions of different heights. The fact that an infant’s sounds are usually nasalized is due to the high place of the larynx and that the larynx and nasopharynx lie close together. Only during cry the space between the tongue and the soft palate is big enough not to nasalize. Later, when the child is grown up, the larynx has descended to a lower level (cf. Fletcher and Garman 1986: 163-166).

1.2 Children’s memories

The memory is significant for learning a language because children acquire words by remembering them. It is easier for young children to keep a word in mind the more often it is produced. Certain studies have shown that children memorize words they have heard repeatedly but that their reproduction is determined by deviation from the correct form. Several phonological processes are even found with older children who have reached an age of 4 to 9 years (cf. Fletcher and Garman 1986: 247-9).



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University of Marburg – Fremdsprachliche Philologien
Early First Language Acquisition German Phonology




Title: Early First Language Acquisition  of German Phonology