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Language as Labor: Semantic Activities as the Basis for Language Development

Riegel, Klaus F.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Chomsky, Noam, Cognitive Development, Language Acquisition, Linguistic Theory, Piaget, Jean, Psycholinguistics


The processes by which the young child recognizes and regenerates some invariant and organizational properties of language are discussed. In these processes the child conjoins and contrasts recurrent segments -- perhaps a recurrent word of the messages presented to him. After repeated exposure to messages containing a common segment, the child recognizes the invariant segment. Both the identification of meanings and the formation of classes can be explained on this basis. In the first section, language acquisition is discussed as an unadulterated process of activities with little consideration for the products and structures generated. Linguistic operations are compared with those in economy through the comparison of three stagesin the development of monetary systems -- the barter system, the coinage system and the debenture system -- with three stages in the origin, development and study of language -the proto-language, the token language, and the interaction language. It is argued that the intellectual processes involved are roughly comparable to Piaget's three stages of cognitive development -- the periods of sensory-motor activity, concrete operations and formal operations. In the second section, the acquisition of the semantic and syntactic organization of language is emphasized. All these acquisitions succeed through active operations by the child with and upon the relational information given. These operations consist of intersecting or composing, conjoining or aligning relational information. (Author/KM) (45pp.)

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