Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Toddlers Really Do Have Their Own Language

We've all been around toddlers who seem to have a language all their own. Sometimes Mom and Dad can understand this toddler-ease; sometimes not. Now, a recent study shows that toddlers really do develop their own individual language and grammar rules.

The study looked at 2 and 3-year olds and analyzed over 60 hours of conversation they had with their parents. I think most parents would not really find the results surprising. Instead of adhering to the rules of English, each toddler developed their own individualized "rules" for categorizing words into nouns and verbs and have to put them together. In other words, the process of learning language seems to be, as the authors describe, "gradual and piecemeal." This surprised some researchers who have previously thought that children had an innate understanding of verbs and nouns, at least in an general way. This new study shows that this may not be the case, but that toddlers just gradual figure out language as they are exposed to it.

The thing I find fascinating about this study is that each child develops their own system for understanding language. Probably some of you with multiple children have experienced this yourself. Maybe one of your children learned language in a different way than another. For example, I've heard kids start to add "ed" to the end of every word once they figured out that it often means past tense. So instead of "I stood next to him," the child says, "I standed next to him." Turns out, this is all part of each child's own way of figuring out the rules of grammar. Interesting stuff!

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