Linguistics, Language Acquisition, & Pronoun Term Paper

Pages: 10 (3221 words)  ·  Style: Harvard  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Communication - Language

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] In other words, overextension is pushing oneself beyond one's bounds. Consider the example of overextending the range of flexibility in a joint or a muscle as an analogy. Language is a muscle; the use of language exercises a muscle -- the brain. Language exercises very specific areas of the brain. Thus, just as in muscle growth in other areas of the body, there will be some trial and error before mastery occurs. This pronoun error may be an example of growing children, in attempts to develop and strengthen their linguistic muscles, overextending their linguistic capability in a specific pattern indigenous to a very specific age group of children.

Rispoli certainly defends the fortitude of the explanation for this occurrence with syntactic theory, but he also refutes the theory exposing gaps in the theories explanations. He argues:

"There are two major problems with the developmental syntactic approach. First, for every hypothesis proposed about the relationship between case and the abstract features of tense and agreement thus far, counter-examples exist...The second major problem facing syntactic explanations of the phenomenon is the variability in patterns of what pronoun case form replaces another. The fact that this variability exists makes it impossible to claim there is a single default form that will be produced in a pronoun case error." (Rispoli, 1998)

Rispoli illuminates the fallibility of the syntactic theory. He says that for every example supplied by the theory, a counterexample exists. There should be some examples that cannot be countered if the theory is strong, at least one, Rispoli claims that there are none. Syntactic theory cannot explain or predict the kinds of errors that occur in any kind of recognizable pattern. The theory cannot predict the frequency of the pronoun error or the form in which the error will take. Though variations exist in this linguistic phenomenon, there are some mistakes that occur more frequently than other as Rispoli writes:

"There is little doubt that me is the stereotypic replacement for I. Because the objective form me appears in many types of syntactically unrestricted structures, its representation as a word is especially strong. We have seen in this paper an indication that the tendency to replace I with me is strengthened with increased correct production of me as an objective form." (Rispoli, 1998)

Though syntactic theory is strong, it is clear by the gaps that Rispoli exposes that approaching this problem from many perspectives at once will prove effective. Where some theories lack, other theories are abundant; therefore, all the bases should be theoretically covered. In this research article, Rispoli defines himself as a strong researcher. He is able to summarize and analyze major theories. He is meticulous and succinct. He finds ways that his theories and those established theories overlap and then goes farther by identifying places that theory lacks support. He does not ridicule the theory for this trait. In fact, he uses this lack as a springboard for further theories, ideas, and studies.

Syntax theory's mission could be paraphrase as follows:

"Every normal speaker of any natural language has acquired an immensely rich and systematic body of unconscious knowledge, which can be investigated by consulting speakers' intuitive judgments. In other words, knowing a language involves mastering an intricate system full of surprising regularities and idiosyncrasies. Languages are phenomena of considerable complexity, which can be studied scientifically. That is, we can formulate general hypotheses about linguistic structure and test them against the facts of particular languages." (Sag et al., 2003)

Thus, to understand syntax and implement syntactic theory, one must be interested in understanding the group or cultural unconscious of a group of people who speak a particular language. Several authors mention the need or utility of approaching this issue from a variety of perspective, but do not often go so far as to name those specific perspectives that best lend themselves to this situation. Psychology and psychoanalysis is implied by the above quotation as being a fruitful perspective from which to consider pronoun errors. When considering the study of consciousness and culture, one should also consider looking at this problem from a sociological or anthropological perspective, too. Sociologists study the development and characteristics of culture; one prominent feature of culture is language. Therefore, a linguistic occurrence as part of the general use of a language could benefit from a sociological perspective. Moreover, another perspective that may be beneficial in this area may be the cultural theory perspective along with media theory. More than ever in the 21st century, media is a fundamental element to most people's lives. Groups transmit and participate in culture by consuming media. Additionally, culture is reflected and taught in media with great use of language. Thus, studying a linguistic error from cultural studies and media theoretical perspectives are useful as well in the journey for an answer to this problem.

Another opinion as to why children go through this stage is because of how cultures perceive children. Consider stereotypical interactions among babies, infants, toddlers, and adults. Adults make silly faces, non-sensical noises, and talk in "baby talk," a variety of English used exclusively with children. If there is a parent that talks baby talk to his/her baby, the baby is bound to pick up some of the forms as the child acquires speech and literacy. Parents have trouble realizing their children grow up and one way they keep them young, at least in their minds, is speaking baby talk. The kids learn this. They see the happy response in the parents when the kids talk back in the same childlike form. The kid learns that talking and talking in a certain way gets attention and elicits a positive response. They continue to speak this way to manipulate emotions whether to appease and receive love from the parent, or to use cuteness to avoid punishment.

Moreover, yet another possible reason kids talk misuse "I" and "me" has to do with media representations of children and media representations for children. For example, the show Sesame Street is broadcast in over 100 countries in numerous languages. The show premiered in America in 1969 as an innovative, progressive, effective, deeply engaging, and entertaining form of education for children. Two primary characters/Muppets relevant to this speech error phenomenon: Cookie Monster and Elmo. Cookie Monster often says things like, "Me want cookie," or "Me eat cookies." Millions of children around the world love Cookie Monster. A behavior pattern indicative of early childhood is ceaseless mimicry. Therefore, if a child watches Sesame Street and loves Cookie Monster, at some point the child will imitate Cookie Monster's speech error, which may likely please the parent because, though incorrect, the phenomenon is cute. The child may simply repeat Cookie Monster's speech patterns out of sheer enjoyment and connection with Cookie Monster. This same phenomenon occurs with the hugely popular character, Elmo.

Elmo often demonstrates the same error Cookie Monster does and furthermore often refers to himself in the third person such as, "Elmo wants to give you a hug." The Elmo phenomenon is global. Between the broadcast of Sesame Street around the world, the 2010 hit documentary, Being Elmo, about the puppeteer who is Elmo, Kevin Clash, the international phenomenon of the "Tickle Me Elmo" craze, the paper can safely state that there a multitude of Elmo fans out in the world, most of which are probably young children. How many of them imitate Elmo's speech patterns because they watch the show, go to live shows, or have the toy? Children imitate what they are exposed to, whether it is correct speech patterns, domestic violence, or a healthy lifestyle.

Making mistakes in speaking a language is a part of learning it. There are patterns to human behavior; we all know what it is like to have our heart broken; we all have an experience with language acquisition. As the literature presented in the paper says, this phenomenon occurs across language and culture. Thus, the misuse of pronouns in children is not strictly indicative of English; this happens to children in every language. Therefore, this speech act is not so much about English as a language that predisposes it to the error, but this speech act is rather a function of language and linguistics as such. This is akin to how lots of American children have trouble saying the words "spaghetti" and "cinnamon," mispronouncing them as "pa-sketti" and "cimanim," respectively. Many American children demonstrate this speech error as a part of a stage in their linguistic development, just as many children say "me" when they should say "I." It is a stage that will practice and guidance will eventually be a thing of the past. The existence of language and the spread of language is a mysterious and wondrous phenomenon. Sag et al. (2003) say it quite simply and aptly: "If you stop and think about it, it's really quite amazing that people succeed in communicating by using language. Language seems to have a number of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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