Focusing on Phonology in Child Language Acquisition Research

This month we published On Under-reported Monolingual Child Phonology edited by Elena Babatsouli. In this post, the editor writes about how her new book contributes to the field of child language acquisition research.

Early evidence of philosophical thought on how language is acquired dates back to Classical Greece in the 4th and 5th centuries BC. Even nowadays several language acquisition publications — reviews or actual research — pose the logical problem of acquisition: how language is acquired, known as Plato’s problem. More recently, fundamental philosophical insights waver between two opposing perspectives, namely, the rational (e.g. Noam Chomsky) and the empirical stance (e.g. B.F. Skinner).

For language acquisitionists, there is also a distinct difference between the logical problem of acquisition and the developmental problem of acquisition (Hornstein & Lightfoot 1981).

The distinguished child linguist David Ingram differentiates between research on language acquisition, as one substantiated by ‘what people know’, and research on child language, substantiated by ‘what children say’. Thus, a comprehensive model of child language development needs to combine knowledge of how grammar is practiced during language acquisition, with how learnerability evolves in human offsprings. Furthermore, for such a model to have universal applicability, all aspects of the acquisition of grammar, across all natural languages, and across language acquisition contexts, need to be accounted for.

This necessitates ongoing research into individual children’s linguistic development as well as across several children’s collective developmental linguistic data from infancy and toddlerhood to about school age (i.e. protolanguage). Further elucidation comes by comparing children’s speech outputs (phonological systems) in typical development contexts, in atypical development contexts (i.e. in the presence of disorder or impairment), and in cases where intervention and therapy are practiced.

In the midst of everything, child language data (empirical proof) are the driving force behind theoretical suppositions (rationalizing).

The present volume, On Under-reported Monolingual Child Phonology, adds a tile on the edifice that makes up child language acquisition research, with a particular focus on the development of phonology (i.e. the study of human speech sounds). It has been a while since a compilation of this type has appeared in the book literature, in spite of the gradually increasing upsurge of related research undertaken in the field.

Also, there has not been a volume previously published that attempts to fill in general knowledge gaps that concern scientists, interested colleagues, and novices in child phonological development — some evidence-based, some theoretical, some purely informative.

Like the auburn-haired child on its cover, On Under-reported Monolingual Child Phonology stands out as a unique and singular contribution that pays homage to every child, every parent, every parent-linguist, every scientist, and every group effort (contributors, books, conferences) that makes child language research the vibrant collaborative enterprise that it is.

I am thankful for the opportunity to put this book together and hopeful that it will occupy a deserving place in the procession of similar struggles since the ‘official’ commencement of crosslinguistic child phonological research in the early 20th century.

Elena Babatsouli
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
elena.babatsouli@louisiana.edu

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like An Anthology of Bilingual Child Phonology edited by Elena Babatsouli and Martin J. Ball.

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