Impaired Language Acquisition

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

20 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Language Acquisition
2.1. General overview
2.2. Stages of Language Acquisition
2.2.1. Pre-Language Stages
2.2.2. Holophrastic Stage
2.2.3. Two-Word-Stage
2.2.4. Telegraphic Speech Stage

3. Impaired Language Acquisition

4. Specific Language Impairment
4.1. General outline
4.2. Indicators and Consequences
4.3. Reasons for Specific Language Impairment
4.4. Diagnosis and Intervention

5. Types of Impairment
5.1. Phonological Impairment
5.2. Grammatical Impairment
5.3. Pragmatic Impairment

6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Language is a major communicative device. Human beings communicate via different language systems like for instance sign languages, verbal languages and written languages. This paper will deal with the acquisition of the verbal language or more accurate certain problems which can occur during the process of acquisition.

Almost every human being acquires one or more languages during his live. The general schedule of acquisition can be considered to be the same for all languages and all human beings. Learners of different languages and different age create the same errors. However this process of acquisition does not always follow the same pattern, there are instances in which the process is distracted due to certain problems. Some children suffer from brain damages which prevent them from learning a language properly, while other children have hearing problems which result as well in problems with the acquisition of a language. Furthermore there exists a group of children which have no obvious physically problems like brain damages or hearing problems, but they are delayed or impaired concerning the process of language acquisition. This group of children is within the focus of this paper because their development as well as the treatment of their impairment is most challenging for researchers and medical doctors.

To show the problems that can occur in an acquisition process, the first part of this paper will outline the normal process of language acquisition which almost all children pass through. This serves the purpose to show the contrasts between a normal language development and an impaired development.

After this short outline the general concept of language impairment will be described, before dealing with the concept of Specific Language Impairment (SLI). This concept will be described in more detail before showing the different specifications in which the SLI can occur. These specifications will be illustrated through examples that sow the contrasts and similarities between children with and without problems in the language acquisition.

The Conclusion will present a short summary of the presented issues as well as results of recent research concerning the treatment of SLI.

2. Language Acquisition

2.1. General overview

The acquisition of a language, no matter if it is the first or second language acquisition is in the centre of interest of a great number of linguists. As this paper deals with the language impairment in children, only the process of first language acquisition will be described.

One fact that is remarkable concerning the acquisition Language acquisition in children is that they learn very fast and to a large degree without any formal instruction[1]. Another interesting aspect is that all children, no matter in which social class or culture they grow up, acquire a certain language. This capability of children to learn any language relies to a certain degree on the structure of the brain and the neurological structures which link the brain with the speech organs, which is unique for human beings. However, the fact, that children can learn any language, did often lead to the assumption that children possess an innate predisposition to learn an unspecified language[2]. However if this predisposition was the only requirement for the learning of a language, children growing up in isolation, without being in contact with a specific language would learn a language. As this is not the case, it becomes obvious that other factors apart from the “language faculty” are important to learn a language[3].

The major requirement to learn a language is interaction with other people who speak a certain language. This is what connects the ability to learn an unspecified language with a specific language[4]. It is important that this contact with any language takes place before the child reaches a certain age, which is called the critical period. When there is no language contact before this age, the child will have serious problems in learning a language properly. As a result from these research findings it can be concluded that a language is not an innate or inherited predisposition but that it is achieved in an interactive and communicative process with other individuals in a certain environment[5].

However this interaction with other language users does not in all cases lead to a language acquisition. If the child suffers from a brain damage, deafness or a disability concerning the speech organs, the language acquisition process can be delayed or completely prevented. This aspect of impaired language acquisition will be dealt with in the next chapter, while this chapter examines the stages a normally developing child passes through while acquiring a language.

2.2. Stages of Language Acquisition

Regardless the diverse structures of different languages the schedule which the acquisition process follows is similar in all languages. The ability to speak a language develops in comparable stages at almost the same time. One reason which is often given for these similarities in the acquisition process is the fact that other abilities, like starting to walk and use certain parts of the body, follow the biological development of the body. As a result, it is assumed that the schedule of language acquisition is, to a certain degree, determined by the development of the speech organs as well as the maturity of the brain. However these bodily features are not the only aspects which have an impact on the speed and timing of the language acquisition. Variations can occur due to different social and cultural background in which the children grow up. These elements can for example be seen in the speech input the children receive from their environment. In the following the “normal” developmental stages will be explained briefly.

2.2.1. Pre-Language Stages

Children communicate with their environment long before they actually use language. They react to the words and communicative elements the adults direct to them by looking at them, smiling or crying. Furthermore, the children use simple speech sounds during the stages in which they do not use a language. These stages are called “cooing” and “babbling”. During the “cooing” stage, which takes place when the child is about three month old, he/she mainly uses velar consonants like “k” and “g” as well as high vowel sounds (i, u)[6]. The subsequent stage is that of “babbling”, which starts when the child is about six month old. At the very beginning of this stage the child is able to produce different vowels and consonants and can thus create sounds which resemble syllables[7]. During this stage the children develop the ability to produce intonations patterns[8] like for example in an interrogative sentence..

An important achievement of the pre-language stages is the fact that the children get to know the communicative role of language and how they can uses even simple patterns to communicate their wishes and gain the attention of the adults. It can be said that this stage is to a certain degree a playful stage in which the children explore the function and the boundaries of language.

2.2.2. Holophrastic Stage

The holophrastic stage, which children pass through between the age of twelve and eighteen month, is often as well called one-word stage. This term already explains what kind of language is used in this stage. Within this stage the children start to use one-word utterances, which are mainly related to objects or persons which belong to their everyday-environment. However, the children do not only use single-word utterances but also try to imitate multi-word utterances by shortening these to single units. An example for this is the term “what is that”, that is shortened by several children to a single-unit utterance. This phenomenon is described by the term holophrastic which means that a single form is used to substitute a whole sentence or phrase[9].

2.2.3. Two-Word-Stage

The stage in which children start to use utterances which contain two words takes place at the age of about eighteen month. To be able to produce such expressions the vocabulary of the children needs to contain a certain amount of words. Yule refers to a number of approximately 50 words which are acquired before the child enters the two-word-stage[10].

In this stage the child combines two words to express a certain meaning. However the combination of two words can have different meanings and it is thus the task of the adults to interpret the utterances of the cild in the right way[11].

During this stage of language development, the child communicates with his/her environment and the adults should provide him/her with a certain communicative feedback and act according to the communication of the child.

During this stage the number of words the child knows and uses in order to communicate with his/her environment increases immensely.

2.2.4. Telegraphic Speech Stage

The telegraphic speech stage begins at a time between the age of two and three years. During this stage children produce utterances which contain more than two words. The term telegraphic speech is the result of the structure of the sentences the children create. During this stage the children form a sentence by simply stinging lexical morphemes together[12]. Utterances which are produced during this stage can be “mommy give ball” or “Peter eat cake”. It is obvious that the children are able to string the morphemes together in the right order but there is a lack of inflectional morphemes. The development of these features takes place during the telegraphic speech stage, together with the use of prepositions like “in“ and “on”[13].

This short outline shows the schedule which language acquisition follows in normally developing children. However it has to be kept in mind that this schedule is not a fixed plan and that variations to a certain degree are normal.


[1] Yule, George. The Study of Language, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, p.175

[2] Yule (2003), p. 175

[3] Yule (2003), p. 175

[4] Yule (2003), p. 175

[5] Yule (2003), p. 176

[6] Yule (2003), p. 178

[7] Yule (2003), p. 179

[8] Yule (2003), p. 179

[9] Yule (2003), p. 179

[10] Yule (2003), p. 180

[11] Yule (2003), p. 180

[12] Yule (2003), p. 180

[13] Yule (2003), p. 180

Excerpt out of 20 pages


Impaired Language Acquisition
University of Paderborn  (Anglistik)
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ISBN (Book)
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This paper deals with the impaired language acquisition in general and especcially with that in children that show no other signs of disability,which is called specific language impairment. It shows reasons and concequences as well as different types of impairment and methods for intervention.
Impaired, Language, Acquisition, Psycolinguistics
Quote paper
Silke Lübbert (Author), 2006, Impaired Language Acquisition, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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