The Language Acquisition of Twins and Twin Language

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2002

19 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Primary Language Acquisition and Linguistic Theories

3. The Language Acquisition of Twins

4. Reasons for the Delayed Language Acquisition of Twins
4.1. Biological Factors
4.2. Social Factors

5. Twin Language (Idioglossia)

6. Conclusion

1. Introduction

The examination of language acquisition is an interesting field of linguistic research, no matter whether primary language acquisition of children or second language acquisition of adults is concerned. In general, the ability to comprehend language and to communicate verbally is a defining aspect of the human being; in principle, the ability to acquire language and the will to communicate is present in every human child. Verbal communication is basic to human social interaction. Moreover, the study of language acquisition offers an insight into the operations of the human mind; according to the progression and pace of the language acquisition, the linguistic researchers can draw their own conclusions from the observations. Definitely, linguistics is an interesting scientific research field, which has not been fully examined up to now. Although linguistic researchers have done various studies on the acquisition of language and on speech impediments, there are still many linguistic peculiarities that cannot be explained thus far.

During my research on the topic of primary language acquisition of children, I now and again came across a short remark or even a short chapter that commented on the peculiarities of the language development of twins. Further on, I learned about the phenomenon of twin language, often referred to as “idioglossia.” Since these hints aroused my interest, I decided to write my research paper on the topic of the language acquisition of twins and on idioglossia.

With regard to linguistic research on the processes of language acquisition, twins offer an interesting approach, because their language development is reported to be different from the language development of same age singletons. In order to prove this thesis, it might be helpful to provide a short introduction to what is considered normal language development for children aged between about three months to about five years. Accordingly, the way in which the language acquisition of twins differs from the norm will be described. Of course, the fact that there are differences begs questions: What might be biological reasons for the delay? If compared to singletons, what are the differences in the twins’ bringing up, or in their interaction with the parents? There are diverse attempts to explain the speech disorders of twins, so the fourth chapter of this research paper is devoted to the explanations for the delayed development with regard to the biological and social factors.

The most drastic form in which the twin language development can culminate is the development of a private language, which is hard to understand for any person other than the twins.

The phenomenon of idioglossia has been observed quite often; it is no isolated case. In this context, the findings of the Russian neuro-psychologist and linguistic researcher Alexander R. Lurija will be referred to. Lurija published several essays on linguistic topics, and he gave a very detailed description of his observations on idioglossia. Unfortunately, I will be able to give only an oversimplistic synopsis of one of his linguistic experiments; the topic of idioglossia is so diverse that it cannot be treated adequately here.

All in all, this research paper is intended to offer an insight into the way in which the language acquisition of twins differs from normal language acquisition, and an attempt to find out about the reasons for the delay and the occurrence of idioglossia.

2. Primary Language Acquisition and Linguistic Theories

As already indicated, the ability to acquire language is present in almost every human child. Of course, the way in which language is acquired depends on the mental abilities of the child and on universal constraints like the child’s social background, etc. Apart from these variables, the child’s language learning process usually follows a certain pattern, the different developmental stages of which are similar in nearly every human language or culture.

Recent studies suggest that newborn babies are already able to recall sounds of a language, and that they can somehow identify their mother tongue from foreign languages. Obviously, the process of language acquisition starts during pregnancy, even if the child hears the sounds from the outside world and the mother’s voice only in a subdued way. Presumably, the baby already develops a feeling for the rhythmic pattern of a language. Nevertheless, it takes some time after birth before the babies start to make out that there is a link between sound and meaning.

During the first three months, the baby only “communicates” through crying, unintentional facial expression, and uncontrolled body movements. Within about three months, the baby exposes the “social smile” as a response to the human voice or to express pleasure. At the same time, the baby starts to babble and to coo. Although the sounds have no concrete meaning, the baby reacts with these sounds to objects that arouse its interest, or as an answer to the mother’s address. By the sixth month, the baby already produces more structured vocalizations and tries to echo words. Increasingly, the baby is able to record the sounds of words. The first word, which is still only an echo of a word heard, is usually uttered by the age of 12-14 months. In the following time, the infant learns very quickly to map words to meanings. The vocabulary is rapidly enlarged, although there is a tendency to use one word for numerous objects.

Throughout the second year, the child struggles with perfecting sounds and understanding the meaning of words, but pronounces only isolated single words. British linguistic researchers have found out that 18-month-old children already have a good idea about the correct word order for English sentences. At that age, the child can pronounce about 20-30 words, which already allows for a very basic form of verbal communication.

In the second half of the second year, the child starts to link language and cognition. The acquisition of grammatical categories normally takes place in a certain order: at first, the child is able to express the connection of a person to a location or an object, for example “Mummy in garden”, or “cat on chair.” Afterwards, the child starts to use numbers, e.g., “two cookies.” Interestingly, when it comes to the use of different tenses, the irregular past tense is produced earlier than the regular past tense, e.g., “Daddy went work.” Furthermore, they are able to relate objects to a person, e.g., “Mummy’s bag”, and the children learn to describe persons or objects with adjectives like “nice”, “bad,” etc. The pace of language acquisition then increases in rapidity, and soon, the child starts to form sentences. Despite the fact that children absorb linguistic information very quickly, they do not speak in complex sentences before the age of two. From then on, their conversational capacities constantly increase, and the “vocabulary-spurt,” a period in which the vocabulary is rapidly enlarged, helps to improve the language proficiency. By the end of the second year, the child is able to use all vowels and most consonants; the child’s phonemic system is rather differentiated. In addition to this, the vocabulary is enlarged to about 200-300 words.

During the third year, the possibility to differentiate between cognitive and communicative function of language vanishes. The child becomes a real partner in conversation, who is able to express wants and to understand the parents’ argumentation. In addition to this, the child becomes very inquisitive, thereby also constantly learning new words. At the age of three years, the vocabulary includes about 850 words. Until the age of school entry, the child’s communication capability increasingly improves.

In the course of language acquisition research, different theories have been developed to explain how children learn their primary language. Commonly, there are four explanatory models, which describe imitation, innateness, cognition, or input as the decisive factors for language acquisition. The behaviorist approach considers the acquisition of language merely as a process of imitation and reinforcement; but this theory proved unable to explain all the facts of language development. Adherents of the innateness theory argue that there has to be an innate capacity for language development, otherwise it would be impossible to acquire an integrated idea of the complex language structures in such a short time. The model of the cognitive development proposed by Jean Piaget considers the process of language acquisition as closely linked to the child’s intellectual development.

Other linguistic researchers attach great importance to the impact of social interaction to the verbal stimuli given by the parents on the development of linguistic skills. One widely recognized linguistic theory is the so-called “transformational-generative grammar” that had been established by the American linguist Noam Chomsky. He made a distinction between “competence”, which refers to the innate knowledge of language, and “performance”, which refers to the transformation of this competence into speech. Until now, none of the theories has been able to give a precise explanation of the processes that trigger primary language acquisition, but each offers an interesting approach to it.


Excerpt out of 19 pages


The Language Acquisition of Twins and Twin Language
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz  (Seminar für Englische Philologie)
Language Acquisition in its Developmental Context
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
433 KB
Language, Acquisition, Twins, Twin, Language, Acquisition, Developmental, Context
Quote paper
Mieke Schüller (Author), 2002, The Language Acquisition of Twins and Twin Language, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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