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Language Acquisition: An Observation on the Early Age of a Child’s Growth

Language Acquisition: An Observation on the Early Age of a Child’s Growth


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Published by WIDIATMOKO
Wandering over the world of language acquisition, particularly human language, it seems to be an interesting thing to put into a study. That would be an endless research since the blossom of a language was, to some extent, not the thing some people thought that it would come to die; even then up-coming study focusing on how a language was commences to be required, i.e. a study of psycholinguistics.
Wandering over the world of language acquisition, particularly human language, it seems to be an interesting thing to put into a study. That would be an endless research since the blossom of a language was, to some extent, not the thing some people thought that it would come to die; even then up-coming study focusing on how a language was commences to be required, i.e. a study of psycholinguistics.

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Language Acquisition: An Observation on the Early Age of a Child’s Growth

Widiatmoko moko.geong@gmail.com http://widiatmoko.blog.com PPPPTKB, Departemen Pendidikan Nasional, Jakarta

Introduction Wandering over the world of language acquisition, particularly human language, it seems to be an interesting thing to put into a study. That would be an endless research since the blossom of a language was, to some extent, not the thing some people thought that it would come to die; even then up-coming study focusing on how a language was commences to be required, i.e. a study of psycholinguistics. As said by some linguists the acquisition is of different thing to what we call as the learning. The difference is meant to develop any capacity on human’s brain of a second language. Yet, the acquisition is basically a natural process a child learns his/her first language. Language acquisition is a subconscious process in which the knowledge will implicitly be acquired, be undertaken as a picking-up like thing, and be considered to have the characteristics of how his/her first language has already been acquired similarly. Differently, the language learning is a conscious process deliberately used for knowing his/her second language, the knowledge is explicitly acquired, and a formal learning is considered helpful (Krashen, 1983: 2627). Language acquisition has been taken into account since people were born. The study of it has been done by some experts; such as Littlewood (1960), Chomsky (1969), Brown (1973), de Villiers (1973), Mitchell & Keith (1977), Ervin Tripp (1977), Steinberg (1982), Klein (1986), Taylor (1990), and so forth. The empirical study undertaken so far was based on the view of psychology (Skinner, Piaget) or even on what Littlewood and Ervin Tripp did. Principally, the study of language acquisition will get more graded. Lenneberg (1967) as quoted by Klein (1986) had set a finding which was then fruitful for psycholinguistics. In his finding, Lenneberg mentioned any critical period in which a child’s brain will steadily be elastic to acquire his/her first language, i.e. the age of 2 to adult (Klein, 1986: 9). But it does not mean that after adolesence a child will not be able to optimise his/her brain to learn language. According to Chomsky, human being has a device which is called as LAD (Language Acquisition Device) functioning to maximise acquiring a language, i.e. his/her first language (Littlewood, 1984; Klein, 1986). Chomsky’s thought was actually launched to againts for Skinner’s thought (1957) in his concept of ‘habit formation process’ telling that the component of language acquisition is undertaken by imitating the sounds and patterns which he hears around him, recognising the child’s attempts as being similar to the adult models and reinforcing the sounds, repeating the sounds and patterns so that these become habits, and being conditioned or shaped until the habits concede with the adult models (Littlewood, 1984:5). Differently, the language acquisition of each child is not in the similar way to one another. It means that the elements of the language such as morphology, phonology, syntax, or even lexis will be mastered in a different time. The implementation to the language learning for adults, particularly the students of a university, is that language learning is only a part of mastering any utterance of, e.g. English,

before s/he uses his/her LAD to monitor any language produced in an easy way without noticing any thought to structure the piece of a language utterance. Following will be of the explanation of the development of a child’s language acquisition. They will be as follows. .a ‘Social and Educational Background of her Family’ .b ‘Cognitive Development’ .c ‘Physical Development’ .d ‘Phrase and Sound Producing Development’ Social and Educational Background of the Family Individual’s mental, intelectual, and physical development is influenced by some external and internal factors. External factor meant is the environment; and the internal factor will be heredity. This combination causes the growth and the development have the characteristics of ‘self generating’ and ‘self sustaining’ (Semiawan, 1997). These characteristics will be then underlined ‘why’ the people are willing to learn. The writer has observed Arum, 4.5 years of age, in terms of her language development. She was a firstly-born baby of a highly-educated father and a elementary school-teaching mother in a district of Candisari, Semarang. Of course, her first language is what her father and mother trained, i.e. Javanese; although bahasa Indonesia is sometimes used informaly. So, her first and second language acquisition will not be clearly apparent. Her first language acquisition will automatically be dealt with her cognitive and social development in her family. In this environment, she is grown up with the concepts of unknown words before to later communicate. This is a development of ‘wordless infants’ to ‘zoon logon echon’ and ‘zoon politikon’ (Klein, op.cit: 4). The language of her highly-educated parents will significantly influence on the language development. The influence is not as a mother language rather a ‘peer’s language’ (Taylor, 1990: 240). Her language acquisition goes dynamically with a limited numbers of words expressed, e.g.: ‘Bapak uttered (bapa’) ‘Ibu’ uttered (bu) These two words were often uttered by her parents as the concept of Skinner’s ‘habit formation process’ in that so many parents used to deliver to their children learning to talk. Although, Skinner’s concept is theoritically againts Chomsky’s LAD. Cognitive Development A child’s cognitive development will influence on his/her language acquisition development. It shows the internal trait of the child. The language development of the child will depend upon the internal capacity, although some psychologist will say againts this view in terms of the behavioristic thought. This capacity is LAD (Language Acquisition Device) launched by Chomsky (1959). The characteristics of LAD are as follows. a. Specific to normal human species b. Giving children a means of processing the ‘speech’ in the environment so that they can construct its underlying system c. To enable it to operate so quickly, it may already contain some of the ‘universal’ features which are found in all known language, such as the use of word order to signal meaning, or basic grammatical relationships, like between subjects and objects (Littlewood, 1984: 6). In the cognitive development perspective, what Arum has shown that her language development is succintly clear. It is due to the words produced when she was at the age of 3. For instance, the word of ‘sesuk’ (tommorow) will emerge in the response of: Kapan Arum sekolah? Response: ‘cecuk’, means ‘sesuk’ (Javanese) or ‘tommorow’. Ibu’e Arum sopo? (Ibunya Arum siapa?) Response: Bu gulu (Bu guru) or ‘A teacher’ Also, when the question is changed, the response will be similar: Jenenge? (Namanya?) Response: ‘Bu gulu’ (Bu guru) In this case, Arum had not understood the elements of the different questions given. What she has caught was similar, and did not differ the questions of ‘siapa’ (who) and ‘namanya’ (her name). What was in her mind is the universal concept the speaker gave. However, the similar response will come up while the observer gives any questions.

Similarly, the cognitive development will also emerge as well as the LAD when she was given a question: Arum kelas berapa? Response: Kelas dua Interestingly, when she was asked the forced question: Kelas nol! Response: Kelas dua (Although she was not in the kindergarten) Therefore, the process of hearing the ‘speech’ in a certain environment will be reconstructed in a new certain environment. According to Piaget, there are four stages of the cognitive development in human species, i.e., censorymotoric (0-2 years), preoperational (2-7 years), concrete operational (7-11 years), and formal operational (more than 11 years). The age of Arum as Piaget grouped is in the stage of preoperational cognitive development. According to him, in this stage, a child’s development will grow dynamically, and so will be the language development because language is a means of mental representation. Additionally, the other characteristic in the stage of development is the symbolic mastery of the objects, e.g., a child playing a doll, a phone-like thing, etc. When she plays a doll as well as a phone-like thing, in the same time, the appearing words or phrases are: Hayo! (Representing Halo) Samat paji! (Representing Selamat pagi) Cup, cup, cayang (Cup, cup, sayang) Ha’, minyum cucu (Ha’ minum susu) When Arum was in the age of four, before she was in the kindergarten, she began to improve her ability to communicate with others. For instance, she pretended to be a candy/fruit seller, like what she heared when she bought any candy or fruit in the shop, and the appearing words or phrases will be Belapa? (Berapa?) Selatus lupiah (Seratus rupiah) At the same time, she paid any attention to the television, particularly showing any cartoons or musics. This is the directly-pictured object she watched. What she watched was the stimulus she was going to try to talk as a response. Physical Development A child’s physical development will influence on the other development, i.e., the language development as well as the mental development. For instance, when a child learns to walk, he/she also develops the interaction of acquiring the language. Arum’s physical development goes along with the development on how to express the words or phrases. Theoretically, the language development of children will be based on the mental and physical development. Arum’s physical development is depending upon her increasing age. As known that the equilibriumof physic and the age will be taken into account. A child called as a fast learner in acquiring his/her first language is concerned with the so called ‘ultimate attainment’ (Krashen, 1983). The older he/she is the less she has the capacity of the brain to chirp and recite words in the different environment. This happens to those who get the normal growth, like Arum. Words and Sounds Producing Development Prior to uttering speech sounds, infants make a variety of sounds, crying, cooing, and gurgling. The ability and propensity to utter such sounds thus appear to be unlearned in humans, but the combination between the ability God gave (according to Chomsky called LAD) and the ability parents themselves teach makes any sounds. What mother said to her baby influences his/her responses, e.g. crying, laugh, or even certain sounds (Steinberg, 1982: 147). As stated in the theory of language acquisition or even language learning consciously, Arum got an ease and smoothness to utter any speech sounds. Seeing on the development of the world, she has her gradual development syntactically, phonologically, grammatically, and semantically. However, it began from ‘item learning stage’ , in terms of the concept of ‘bottomup’, to’multi unit production’(Peters, 1981:309-313). Arum’s words producing development occurs in the ‘three early meaningful speech stages’ i.e., naming, telegraphing, and morphemic transforming (Steinberg, 1982: 147). In the stage of naming, Arum began to name the known objects as a result of the interaction with the adult, i.e., her parents. She named the objects like: Monyet (The word referring to any objects of animals on the trees)


(Meaning ‘sekolah’ referring to all the costumes, bags, books, or even her mother going to school for teaching) Ma’wo (Referring to someone old) Ayum (Meaning ‘Arum’ referring to any children singing on television who were like her) Bude (Referring to any women who used to bring her on their laps) Yeye (Referring to any fish in the pond at the back of her house) Deyuk (Referring to any birds, like ‘tekukur’, ‘perkutut’, parrot, and parakeet which were in the cage next to her house) Waung (Referring to anything dangerous, like dog, cat, or even frightening sounds in the far distance) Adoh (Referring to the activity to go outside, to the shop, etc., by bus) The voice of two or three words of telegraphics would be like Ayum tumbas yoti (Meaning ‘Arum mau membeli roti’, referring to the cake which has been bought or will be bought. She made the generalisation to any cake on her hands or not. Although the activity of buying can be now, tomorrow, or whenever) Ayum kelas dua (‘Arum kelas dua’ referring to herself like those who were going to school and wearing school costumes for study) In the stage of morphemic transformation, Arum progressed in the phrases like Ayum nyuwun yoyo (‘Arum minta dua’ referring to any requests on: a lot of cake, a lot of candy, a lot of fruit, etc., with crying, although one or two had been on her hands. She preferred to give one of the things to her friends) When Arum was asked the question ‘Arum sekolah kapan?’, she gave a response Ayum cekolah cecuk (‘Arum sekolah besok’ meaning that she was like her friends going to school. The word of ‘cecuk’ (sesuk, Javanese or tomorrow, English) was used to inform ‘the happines’ and not ‘the time’). Therefore, the morphemic transformation covers the plural forms, the forms showing the similarity between ‘the happiness’ and ‘the time’. Those are the items of the language referring to the objects in the world used to make any distinction of one another. Peters like Steinberg (1982) called it as ‘referentiality’. In phonology, some consonant voices are changed into ’y’ and ‘c’ like Oya (‘Ora’ meaning ‘No’. The phoneme ‘r’ changes to ‘y’, although it differs when she said ‘gulu’, the changes of ‘r’ to ‘l’) Yoti (‘Roti’ meaning ‘cake’) Ayum (‘Arum’) Deyuk (‘Deruk’, a kind of bird) Kacet (‘Kaset’, phoneme ‘s’ changes to ‘c’) Cecuk (‘Sesuk’ meaning ‘besok’) Cuwe (‘Suwe’ meaning ‘lama’) Above all, the development of Arum’s language acquisition is not different from other children holistically, even in terms of phonology, semantic, morphology, or syntax. Conclusion Whatsoever the writer observed is the first language acquisition which sometimes goes along with the second language acquisition. The conclusion the writer draws includes the view of syntax, semantics, phonology, and vocabulary. Also, the background of the objects observed, i.e., family background, physical and cognitive development background are succintly described. The writer concludes the objects meant, Arum, as the observational study, correlates with the scientific thought of 1980s. The conclusion will be that the development of language acquisition follows the theoretical scale, like what the psycholinguist said. What the writer presents is the effort to observe the development of language acquisition on a child. The writer thanks Prof. Dr. Sabarti Akhadiah and Prof. Dr. SUS Nababan for their contributions of their guidance on this study. They are contributing some aspects observed, like (1) the family background, showing the first and second language acquisition which will be difficult to be observed; (2) the cognitive and physical development; and (3) the cognitive

development influencing on the words and phrases producing development due to the interaction socially. Finally, the writer is aware that psycholinguistics is a dynamic study in which it is concerning with how a child acquires his/her first language. English in Indonesia will be the language in which a child will be able to use it in communication through learning or acquisition. The writer does hope that his brief summary of an observational study on a child’s language acquisition will make a curiousity for those who are deeply willing to be concerned with psycholinguistics. References Klein, Wolfgang. 1986. Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Krashen, Stephen D. and Tracy D. Terrel. 1983. The Natural Approach. England: Pergamon. Littlewood, William T. 1984. Foreign and Second Language Learning: Language Acquisition Research and Its Implications for the Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Peters, Ann M. 1981. Language Typology and the Segmentation Problem in Early Child Language Acquisition. Barkeley. Semiawan, Conny. 1997. Perspektif Pendidikan Anak Berbakat. Jakarta: Grasindo. Steinberg, Danny D. 1982. Psycholinguistics. London: Longman. Subyakto, Sri Utari, Nababan. 1992. Psikolinguistik: Suatu Pengantar. Jakarta: Gramedia Pustaka Utama. Taylor, Insup. 1990. Psycholinguistics: Learning and Using Language. New Jersey: PrenticeHall.

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