English Language & Literature

A Phonological Description of the Two-Word Stage of Language Acquisition

A Phonological Description of the Two-Word Stage of Language Acquisition: A Case Study of an English-Hausa Bilingual


Human language is primarily characterized by sounds formed and produced by the Organs of Speech. This dissertation entitled; “A Phonological Description of the Two-Word Stage of Language Acquisition: A Case Study of an English-Hausa Bilingual” particularly considered the sound development of a child at the two-word stage. The area of focus includes Articulatory Phonology-Segmental and Suprasegmental phonemes. These were some of the approaches used to analyze and describe the sounds of two-word utterances of the main participant of the research. The study aimed to document the utterances of the main participant from 20-24, 32, and 33 months, and to also conduct a phonological investigation/inventory of phonemic sounds of the same participant Juju and her articulation processes. The objectives were to analyze and describe the sound constituents, both segmental and suprasegmental phonemes of the main participant, investigate the influence of supra-segmental phonemes on the child‟s contextual use of language, and ascertain if the child‟s language at this stage could be regarded as truly connected. This was achieved via recording of Juju‟s (name referred to the participant) utterances consequently making repeated listening expedient. Aspects of two-word utterances in English were the units on which the investigations were based. However, because she is bilingual, acquiring English and Hausa simultaneously and some elements of pidgin, the other languages (Hausa and Pidgin) were not completely disregarded in the analysis. The three media techniques of; the diary, the audio and video recording methods were employed in the data collection process. In the analysis and description of the recorded data, the researchers discovered that Juju‟s utterances were characterized by gross substitution (substitution of one consonant with another, one vowel with another, substitution of vowel with consonant, and substitution of consonant cluster with single consonants), reduction, simplification, inventive reduplication, and deletion/elision. The research concluded that Juju employed these strategies of substitution, reduction, simplification, inventive reduplication, and deletion to articulate sounds at this stage because her organs of speech are still developing.



1.1 Background to the Study

From infancy, the language development of a normal child occurs spontaneously and “effortlessly” where no formal instruction of language input to guide this development is required. The ease with which the acquisition operates poses questions such as: “How is the child able to process this information (language input) to decode what is meant? How is he able not to randomly utter anything he knows to be a word but carefully selects the „right‟ word to communicate?” among many other questions. The curiosity over the processes of language acquisition in children motivated scholars to study the different aspects of language development in children as is the case in this research. This ability to acquire language is credited to brain lateralization which “…is said to increase throughout childhood until it reaches an adult level at puberty”. Reich (1986:293)

When a language is heard for the first time, what intrigues the listener the most are the obvious properties of sound such as tone, rhythm, and stress (suprasegmental phonemes). This implies that sounds form an integral part of any verbal language or communication. These sounds can either be speech sounds or non-speech sounds such as whistling, humming, etc. Some non-speech sounds and sign language may be rightly regarded as impaired use of language; even though communication still transpires in either of these contexts of language use. Due to the central role of sounds in human language, linguists and philosophers of language have found it difficult to exclude sounds from their definitions of language. This is sufficiently evidenced in such definitions as those of Sapir (1921), Hall (1968), Wardaugh, (1972), among others. Sapir (1921:7), for instance, has acceptably defined language as “…a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions, and desires using a system of voluntarily produced symbols. These symbols are, in the first instance, auditory and they are produced by the so-called „organs of speech” (emphasis added). Going by this definition, communication is the aim of any language user and this is achieved in many situations by sounds produced by the organs of speech. Reinforcing this definition, Hall (1968:158) submitted as follows: “language is the institution whereby humans communicate and interact with each other using habitually used oral-auditory symbols” (emphasis mine). These oral-auditory symbols are continually in use for effective communication to take place. And this habit is acquired from childhood until teenage age or the critical period of language acquisition when the habit is said to be fully formed. Central to these definitions of language is sound, which is an indispensable factor in the discussion of any language.

A language learner or acquirer in the earliest stage of development begins by first internalizing the sounds and the rules of such a language, an ability every normal child possesses. How fast this occurs depends on the child‟s intellectual speed, memory, motivation, personality, among other learning conditions or factors. (McNeil, 1966, Surakat 2001). The production of sounds begins from the moment the child is born and this continues to develop to the stage where the child acquires universal sounds which later transform into a sound system (Surakat 2001 and Lenneberg 1964).

Noise or sounds made by infants and children, in general, have always stirred certain emotions in the adult; the adults admire and occasionally imitate these infants or children as the case may be. The language of children and the acquisition or learning methods is an aspect of (developmental) psycholinguistics which Crystal (2003:350) defines as “a branch of linguistics which studies the correlation between linguistic behavior and the psychological processes thought to underline that behavior…the best-developed branch of the subject is the study of language acquisition in children”. Developmental psycholinguistics includes stages in the acquisition of language and its features, theories to explicate the processes of acquisition, language triggering factors, creativity, and errors in the use of language. These processes and the relationship between language and the mental state or the brain is the area of focus in psycholinguistics which berry (1975:4) defines as “…the field of study which considers linguistic questions and psychological questions about each other. One question which is both a linguistic and psychological question is: How do children acquire language?”

In the words of Traxler and Gernsbacher (2006:1027), “The goal of developmental psycholinguistics is to map out the endogenous and exogenous forces that converge to shape and guide this set of developmental achievement”. These endogenous and exogenous forces can be equated to the environmental factors and the mental processing of these factors in language use especially as the child develops. In the early stages, children are being spoken to in simple and short constructions, which is believed to be the same model the child will produce a year-and-a-half or two later. “All infants pass through the same stage in the acquisition of a first language….” (Field 2005:144). But the acquisition of one particular

stage by children of the same age group can vary in degrees and times. The child, in the „real linguistic sense‟, commences with the production of one-word utterances linguistically regarded as Holophrase. This stage marks the emergence of real language (true speech). The moment a child begins the stringing of words together in one use, it is expedient to, at that point, assert that the child imitates the language of his role models – the adult. (This does not mean that the adult speaker has outgrown single-word utterances). This period in development is called the Two-Word Stage. In an article entitled “The Creation of Language”, McNeil (1966) affirms that “by one and a half or two years, the child will begin to form simple two and three-word sentences… this stunning intellectual achievement is routinely performed by every preschool child.” This language behavior was sufficiently exhibited by the main participant of this research Juju.

1.2 Statement of the Research Problem

Early childhood is a critical period for language acquisition (Neuman, Copple, and Bredekamp 1999, Shonkoff, and Philips, 2000). Child language development involves changes that occur in the speech form of the child from stage to stage. Researchers have been able to identify such language development stages and grouped them into (a) pre-linguistic stage, which is the making of sounds such as cooing, babbling, echolalia, and (b) the linguistic stage which begins with holophrases, followed by pivot grammar or two-word stage and lastly, telegraphic stage. Emergent researches have also focused on the acquisition of English by a child in a second language environment especially the syntax, semantics/pragmatics or holophrases and telegraphic stages (Ndahi, 1982; Onyenobi, 1997; Phelps, 2003; Surakat, 2001; 2006; 2007; Wickham, 2013; Ngwu, 2015). The concern of such scholars however bothered on the child‟s psycholinguistic abilities, that is, how the child processes the words spoken to them. Where more than one language is involved, how/why code-mixing? Findings also abound that children of preschool age find it difficult to make the complete pronunciation of phonological sounds (Zhu, 2000; Fox, 2000; Phelps, 2003; Schmitz, 2011; Wickham, 2013). Furthermore, McNeil (1966) terms the process of acquiring aspects of language relevant to the child from age one (1) as “inventive” on the basis that in the fundamental biological characters of the brain, only a little understanding is available. These positions taken by these authors reveal conflicting opinions on why children speak the way they do.

A mild resolution to these varying ardent opinions as to the reason children speak in the manner they do at the developmental stage is that; preschool children who find it difficult to pronounce words adequately invent their pronunciations. De Villier and De Villier (1978) think that the child listens to all the sounds produced by adults but only produces the sounds he has mastered, even though some mispronunciations happen because the child misunderstands the adult‟s pronunciation of multisyllabic words. The issues that are of interest to this study are; (i) whether the language of children or their pronunciation of words is based on their inventive nature or that their developing speech organs contribute to how they speak and pronounce words. (ii) Whether their pronunciations are a result of the merger of their inventiveness and the still-developing speech organs. The research, therefore, investigates these issues, consequently making it imperative for research of this nature to be undertaken.


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