Our first Words


Is language, like food, a basic human need without which a ch0ild can be starved and damaged at a critical period of life. In the thirteenth century, Frederic II made a frightening experiment to find an answer to this question. He was hoping to discover what language a child would speak if he heard no language at all so he told the mothers in the experiment to keep silent1. The results of the experiment show that hearing no language at all can be very helpful for a child.

All the babies in the experiment died before the first year. Was the deprivation of language the only reason for their death. there was more than language deprivation here. What was missing was good mothering. Without good mothering, in the first year of life especially, the capacity to survive is seriously affected.

Today no such extreme language deprivation exists as that in Frederic II’s experiment. However, some children are still backward in speaking. Most often the reason for this is that the mother can’t understand or doesn’t notice the cues and signals of the baby, ~yh9se brain is programmed to absorb language rapidly. There are critical times, it seems, when children learn more easily. If the mother can’t deal with these important periods properly2, the ideal time for 1e1‘trning skills passes and they might never be learned so easily again. A bird learns to sing and to fly rapidly at the right time, but the process is slow and hard if the critical stage has passed.

Linguists suggest that certain stages in language development are reached in a fixed sequence3 and at a constant age, but there are children who start speaking late and who, eventually, become very intelligent. At twelve weeks, a baby smiles and produces some sounds; at twelve months, he can speak simple words and understand simple commands; at eighteen months he has a vocabulary of three to fifty words. At three he knows about l000 words which he can put into sentences, and at four his language differs from that of his parents in style rather than grammar.

Recent evidence suggests that a baby is born with the capacity to speak. What is special about man’s brain is the complex system which enables a child to connect the sight and feel of things with their sound pattern. The child’s brain is also able to pick out an order in language from the sounds around him, to analyse, to combine and recombine the parts of a language in new ways.

However, the child’s language development depends on his communication with his mother. The mother should always understand


and respond to the cues and signals in the child’s crying, smiling and his attempts to speak. If she fails to do that, the child will stop trying to speak. In other words, paying attention to the child’s non-verbal cues is very important for the growth and development of language.

1 silent : (s.) sessiz, sakin; suskun; söylenmeyen. silent letter okunmayan harf. silent partner işlerin yürütülmesine karışmayan ortak. silent system mahpusların birbiri ile konuşmalarını yasak eden sistem. silently (z.) sessizce. silentness (i.) sessizlik.

2 properly : uygun şekilde, hakkıyla, haklı olarak; well; correctly; fittingly; justly

3 sequence : (i.) ardışıklık; ardıllık, bir birini izleme; sıra, düzen; seri; sonuç, etki; (müz.) ardıllık, artardalık.


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