Are developmental stages for speech & language the same across cultures?
January 13, 2017 3:51 PM   Subscribe

Children who grow up learning English, for example, all learn in the same sequence: "birdie go" (the bird has gone), "doggie jump" (the dog is jumping), then "-ing" around 3 years of age ("doggie jumping"), then irregular past tense ("birdies went") and "is" ("daddy is big"). Then, lastly they learn the regular past tense verbs ("doggie jumped") and present tense verbs in the third person ("Daddy eats"). This is the order for the vast majority of English speaking children.** Is this developmental process the same for most Indo-European languages?

** Giving credit where credit is due; my source is the book Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner, pp. 112.

From what I understand, the order seems to be like this:

1. Past participles
2. Present progressive
3. Present participle/gerund
4. Regular past tense
5. Present tense in the third person

I've tried Googling this and it's over my head, as I know little to nothing about language acquisition (especially for second languages) aside from my own limited experience.

Background: I'm working my way through Wyner's self-teaching system and I love it. I'm learning Spanish and I can't wait to learn French later in the year. I've already done 625 cards in Anki and I'm hooked. My next step is grammar, but his chapter on creating grammar cards defers to the examples in your grammar book, which doesn't follow his description above. Of course I can just flip to it, but I'm more curious than anything about whether this pattern for English-speaking children is universal for Indo-European languages.
posted by onecircleaday to Education (5 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
It's been a long time since I took a linguistics class, so hopefully someone can be more specific after me. But yes and no. If we're talking about ALL languages, not every language has all those syntactic structures. Generally, kids learn the sounds for their language, then they learn constituent clauses. Within any language, there will be a typical progression for how children learn their language. It may not be exactly lined up to English, depending on which parts of their syntax are more or less complicated.
posted by Bistyfrass at 4:00 PM on January 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Thank you for your answer, Bistyfrass. It helped me zero in on the two phrases I didn't know: "grammatical morpheme development" and "verb tense acquisition."

I found a study here [PDF] which breaks down the order of grammatical morpheme development in bilingual Spanish-English speaking children. Between that and my grammar book I'm on my way to creating my next few decks.
posted by onecircleaday at 6:38 PM on January 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am not well-versed enough to give sources, but it's worthwhile looking into whether second language acquisition as an adult is the same as first-language (or second-language) learning as a child. From what I remember from maybe too long ago, learning a second language as an adult really doesn't tend to follow the same pathways as learning language as a child.
posted by lazuli at 8:43 PM on January 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I refer to you to this recent thread and my comments there. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask.
posted by karbonokapi at 9:07 PM on January 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

In German I think the progression probably doesn't work this way, because while people use the simple present, "I eat," and the perfect, "I have eaten, " and some common forms of the simple past, e.g. "I was," there really isn't a progressive present in German, and gerunds are used very differently too. Additionally, in German the simple past tense is used almost solely in written language, so I imagine that kids learn those forms later.
posted by colfax at 3:04 AM on January 14, 2017

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