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Language Development

A Symptom or a Stage?

When children are late in hitting developmental milestones, parents worry. And no delay causes more parental anxiety than late talking, which is associated in many parents’ minds with such serious conditions as autism and severe intellectual disability. In fact, as children’s speech expert Stephen Camarata points out in this enlightening book, children are late in beginning to talk for a wide variety of reasons. For some children, late talking may be a symptom of other, more serious, problems; for many others, however, it may simply be a stage with no long-term complications.

Camarata describes in accessible language what science knows about the characteristics and causes of late talking. He explains that today’s greater awareness of autism, as well as the expanded definition of autism as a “spectrum” of symptoms, has increased the chances that a late-talking child will be diagnosed—or misdiagnosed—with autism. But, he reminds us, late talking is only one of a constellation of autism symptoms. Although all autistic children are late talkers, not all late-talking children are autistic.

Camarata draws on more than twenty-five years of professional experience diagnosing and treating late talkers—and on his personal experience of being a late talker himself and having a late-talking son. Camarata offers parents valuable guidance on seeking treatment, advising them to get second and third opinions if necessary, and warning them against false diagnoses, unqualified practitioners, and ineffective therapies. He provides information that will help parents navigate the maze of doctors, speech therapists, early childhood services, and special education; and he describes the effect that late talking may have on children’s post-talking learning styles.

Children with specific language impairment (SLI) show a significant deficit in spoken language that cannot be attributed to neurological damage, hearing impairment, or intellectual disability. More prevalent than autism and at least as prevalent as dyslexia, SLI affects approximately seven percent of all children; it is longstanding, with adverse effects on academic, social, and (eventually) economic standing. The first edition of this work established Children with Specific Language Impairment as the landmark reference on this condition, considering not only the disorder’s history, possible origins, and treatment but also what SLI might tell us about language organization and development in general. This second edition offers a complete update of the earlier volume.

Much of the second edition is completely new, reflecting findings and interpretations based on the hundreds of studies that have appeared since the publication of the first edition in 1997. Topics include linguistic details (descriptive and theoretical), word and sentence processing findings, genetics, neurobiology, treatment, and comparisons to such conditions as autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, and dyslexia. The book covers SLI in children who speak a wide range of languages, and, although the emphasis is on children, it also includes studies of adults who were diagnosed with SLI as children or are the parents of children with SLI.

Written by a leading scholar in the field, Children with Specific Language Impairment offers the most comprehensive, balanced, and unified treatment of SLI available.

The Acquisition of Argument Structure

Before Steven Pinker wrote bestsellers on language and human nature, he wrote several technical monographs on language acquisition that have become classics in cognitive science. Learnability and Cognition, first published in 1989, brought together two big topics: how do children learn their mother tongue, and how does the mind represent basic categories of meaning such as space, time, causality, agency, and goals? The stage for this synthesis was set by the fact that when children learn a language, they come to make surprisingly subtle distinctions: pour water into the glass and fill the glass with water sound natural, but pour the glass with water and fill water into the glass sound odd. How can this happen, given that children are not reliably corrected for uttering odd sentences, and they don't just parrot back the correct ones they hear from their parents? Pinker resolves this paradox with a theory of how children acquire the meaning and uses of verbs, and explores that theory’s implications for language, thought, and the relationship between them.

As Pinker writes in a new preface, "The Secret Life of Verbs," the phenomena and ideas he explored in this book inspired his 2007 bestseller The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. These technical discussions, he notes, provide insight not just into language acquisition but into literary metaphor, scientific understanding, political discourse, and even the conceptions of sexuality that go into obscenity.

Linguists have mapped the topography of language behavior in many languages in intricate detail. To understand how the brain supports language function, however, we must take into account the principles and regularities of neural function. Mechanisms of neurolinguistic function cannot be inferred solely from observations of normal and impaired language. In The Neural Architecture of Grammar, Stephen Nadeau develops a neurologically plausible theory of grammatic function. He brings together principles of neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and parallel distributed processing and draws on literature on language function from cognitive psychology, cognitive neuropsychology, psycholinguistics, and functional imaging to develop a comprehensive neurally based theory of language function.

Nadeau reviews the aphasia literature, including cross-linguistic aphasia research, to test the model's ability to account for the findings of these empirical studies. Nadeau finds that the model readily accounts for a crucial finding in cross-linguistic studies--that the most powerful determinant of patterns of language breakdown in aphasia is the predisorder language spoken by the subject--and that it does so by conceptualizing grammatic function in terms of the statistical regularities of particular languages that are encoded in network connectivity. He shows that the model provides a surprisingly good account for many findings and offers solutions for a number of controversial problems. Moreover, aphasia studies provide the basis for elaborating the model in interesting and important ways.

When two or more languages are part of a child's world, we are presented with a rich opportunity to learn something about language in general and about how the mind works. In this book, Norbert Francis examines the development of bilingual proficiency and the different kinds of competence that come together in making up its component parts. In particular, he explores problems of language ability when children use two languages for tasks related to schooling, especially in learning how to read and write. He considers both broader research issues and findings from an ongoing investigation of child bilingualism in an indigenous language–speaking community in Mexico. This special sociolinguistic context allows for a unique perspective on some of the central themes of bilingualism research today, including the distinction between competence and proficiency, modularity, and the Poverty of Stimulus problem.

Francis proposes that competence (knowledge) should be considered as an integral component of proficiency (ability) rather than something separate and apart, arguing that this approach allows for a more inclusive assessment of research findings from diverse fields of study. The bilingual indigenous language project illustrates how the concepts of modularity and the competence-proficiency distinction in particular might be applied to problems of language learning and literacy.

Few investigations of indigenous language and culture approach bilingual research problems from a cognitive science perspective. By suggesting connections to broader cognitive and linguistic issues, Francis points the way to further research along these lines.

This volume brings together contributions by prominent researchers in the fields of language processing and language acquisition on topics of common interest: how people refer to objects in the world, how people comprehend such referential expressions, and how children acquire the ability to refer and to understand reference. The contributors first discuss issues related to children's acquisition and processing of reference, then consider evidence of adults' processing of reference from eye-tracking methods (the visual-world paradigm) and from corpora and reading experiments. They go on to discuss such topics as how children resolve ambiguity, children's difficulty in understanding coreference, the use of eye movements to physical objects to measure the accessibility of different referents, the uses of probabilistic and pragmatic information in language comprehension, antecedent accessibility and salience in reference, and neuropsychological data from the event-related potential (ERP) recording literature.

Human communication is grounded in fundamentally cooperative, even shared, intentions. In this original and provocative account of the evolutionary origins of human communication, Michael Tomasello connects the fundamentally cooperative structure of human communication (initially discovered by Paul Grice) to the especially cooperative structure of human (as opposed to other primate) social interaction. Tomasello argues that human cooperative communication rests on a psychological infrastructure of shared intentionality (joint attention, common ground), evolved originally for collaboration and culture more generally. The basic motives of the infrastructure are helping and sharing: humans communicate to request help, inform others of things helpfully, and share attitudes as a way of bonding within the cultural group. These cooperative motives each created different functional pressures for conventionalizing grammatical constructions. Requesting help in the immediate you-and-me and here-and-now, for example, required very little grammar, but informing and sharing required increasingly complex grammatical devices. Drawing on empirical research into gestural and vocal communication by great apes and human infants (much of it conducted by his own research team), Tomasello argues further that humans’ cooperative communication emerged first in the natural gestures of pointing and pantomiming. Conventional communication, first gestural and then vocal, evolved only after humans already possessed these natural gestures and their shared intentionality infrastructure along with skills of cultural learning for creating and passing along jointly understood communicative conventions. Challenging the Chomskian view that linguistic knowledge is innate, Tomasello proposes instead that the most fundamental aspects of uniquely human communication are biological adaptations for cooperative social interaction in general and that the purely linguistic dimensions of human communication are cultural conventions and constructions created by and passed along within particular cultural groups.

The nature of the interplay between language learning and the evolution of a language over generational time is subtle. We can observe the learning of language by children and marvel at the phenomenon of language acquisition; the evolution of a language, however, is not so directly experienced. Language learning by children is robust and reliable, but it cannot be perfect or languages would never change--and English, for example, would not have evolved from the language of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. In this book Partha Niyogi introduces a framework for analyzing the precise nature of the relationship between learning by the individual and evolution of the population.Learning is the mechanism by which language is transferred from old speakers to new. Niyogi shows that the evolution of language over time will depend upon the learning procedure--that different learning algorithms may have different evolutionary consequences. He finds that the dynamics of language evolution are typically nonlinear, with bifurcations that can be seen as the natural explanatory construct for the dramatic patterns of change observed in historical linguistics. Niyogi investigates the roles of natural selection, communicative efficiency, and learning in the origin and evolution of language--in particular, whether natural selection is necessary for the emergence of shared languages.Over the years, historical linguists have postulated several accounts of documented language change. Additionally, biologists have postulated accounts of the evolution of communication systems in the animal world. This book creates a mathematical and computational framework within which to embed those accounts, offering a research tool to aid analysis in an area in which data is often sparse and speculation often plentiful.

How Child Language Illuminates Humanism

Every sentence we hear is instantly analyzed by an inner grammar; just as a prism refracts a beam of light, grammar divides a stream of sound, linking diverse strings of information to different domains of mind—memory, vision, emotions, intentions. In The Prism of Grammar, Tom Roeper brings the abstract principles behind modern grammar to life by exploring the astonishing intricacies of child language. Adult expressions provide endless puzzles for the child to solve. The individual child's solutions ("Don't uncomfortable the cat" is one example) may amuse adults but they also reveal the complexity of language and the challenges of mastering it. The tiniest utterances, says Roeper, reflect the whole mind and engage the child's free will and sense of dignity. He offers numerous and novel "explorations"—many at the cutting edge of current work—that anyone can try, even in conversation around the dinner table. They elicit how the child confronts "recursion"—the heartbeat of grammar—through endless possessives ("John's mother's friend's car"), mysterious plurals, contradictory adjectives, the marvels of ellipsis, and the deep obscurity of reference ("there it is, right here"). They are not tests of skill; they are tools for discovery and delight, not diagnosis. Each chapter on acquisition begins with a commonsense look at how structures work—moving from the simple to the complex—and then turns to the literary and human dimensions of grammar. One important human dimension is the role of dialect in society and in the lives of children. Roeper devotes three chapters to the structure of African-American English and the challenge of responding to linguistic prejudice. Written in a lively style, accessible and gently provocative, The Prism of Grammar is for parents and teachers as well as students—for everyone who wants to understand how children gain and use language—and anyone interested in the social, philosophical, and ethical implications of how we see the growing mind emerge.