Language variation in young children

Barnes, Sarah B (1984). Language variation in young children. MPhil thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000f803

Abstract

The present research was designed to explore individual variation in young children’s one-word utterances. It begins with a critical review of the research literature relating to language variation in terms firstly of sociolingistic sources of variation and secondly of evidence for language variation from the psycholinguistic literature. Five hypotheses were developed from the literature review. These were as follows: Some children show a preference for nouns and other children a preference for pronouns at the one-word stage of development; referential and expressive speech styles will emerge based on pragmatic codings; the focus of reference is objects in referential speech and the focus of reference is people in expressive speech; referential speech most often occurs in response to adult speech; and referential speakers will use more nouns, will have a higher proportion of responses and will talk proportionally more about the object world, whereas expressive speakers will use more pronouns, will initiate conversations more often and their speech will refer more to people than to things.

The sample consisted of 32 children drawn from the Bristol Language Development Project. An analysis was made of all one-word utterances produced on three separate occasions over a six month period. All one-word speech was coded into systems of discourse features, pragmatic function, imitation, focus of reference. All word types were categorized by parts of speech. Percentage data was analyzed using ANOVAs, T-Tests and cluster analyses.

In general, the results supported the hypotheses. However, the support was not always as clear-cut as had been hoped. The results were then discussed in terms of their relevance to the study of language variation.

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