Communicating with Normal and Retarded Children by W. I. Fraser, R. Grieve

By W. I. Fraser, R. Grieve

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Yet a Martian reading the literature on language acquisition research could be excused for concluding that all humans follow much the same pathway through their language development; that they do so at different rates would be more evident, but this is considered an inconvenient irrelevance necessitating the adoption of some 'independent' variable other than age, for instance the popular 'mean length of utterance' (MLU) (see Brown, 1973, p. , and the critique by Crystal, 1974, p. ). Alternatively a Venusian, reading a somewhat different literature concerned with language, education and social class, could be excused for concluding that while there may be marked differences between social classes (there seem to be just two in the literature), children within the same social class follow much the same course of development in their language towards much the same end-point.

At once Jack began to make the reactions for her; he performed actions that were beyond Jill's strength, and in the end Jill got the apple. Language enables one person to make a reaction (R) when another person has the stimulus (S). (p. ) The gap between the bodies of the speaker and the hearer - the discontinuity of the two nervous systems - is bridged by the sound-waves, (p. ) Bloomfield is rightly venerated as a linguist, but he is no great shakes as a psychologist. It is not that what he says is untrue, but that it is merely banal, and simply does not do justice to the great subtlety of the phenomenon of language use.

This is a timely reminder that there is no such thing as 'English', the Procrustean language that all English-speaking children learn. It is evident that variation occurs in language acquisition, and we should ask why it has been ignored to such an extent. We can isolate two broad reasons, which correspond roughly with the 'original virtue' and 'original sin' orientations outlined above. On the one hand we have investigators who — normally for reasons connected with education and social policy — wish to establish norms of language development, often norms that differentiate groups along such lines as sex, intelligence, social class, race and so on.

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