Babble, grunts, and words : a study of phonetic shape and functional use in the beginnings of language
Sammanfattning: The present study follows in the tradition of those seeking to understand linguistic behavior from a cognitive and socio-biological perspective (Bates, Benigni, Bretherton, Camaioni and Volterra 1979, Lindblom 1992, Hauser 1996) by tracing the development of a non-linguistic vocal behavior in relation to communicative and early lexical advances. More specifically the study focuses on the occurrence of what are termed ìcommunicative gruntsî and their functional relationship to adult based word use in one Swedish boy from 11 to 19 months of age. The findings are based on audio and video recordings made bi-weekly in the childís home. The recordings have been subject to auditory and acoustic analysis of the childís vocal output and coding of co-occurring manual and visual gestures.The auditory results indicate that there is a progressive use of grunts over the first months of the second year of life and an increase in communicative grunts (as defined by co-occurring communicative gestures) prior to the onset of context-flexible word use. The auditory findings are corroborated by the results of the acoustic analysis where a shift in fundamental frequency, first and second formant frequency and utterance duration co-occurs with the onset of use of communicative grunts. Based on these findings it is concluded that there is a functional relationship between the use of words and the use of communicative grunts. Further, as the functional shift of the grunt co-occurs with changes in the phonetic domain, the communicative grunts are understood as adaptations to the articulatory and perceptual constraints governing speech communication.Two interpretations are provided to account for the significance of the communicative grunt to lexical development. The cognitive approach suggests that the functional relationship between words and communicative grunts holds as an index of cognitive readiness for adult based word use. The experiential approach suggests that the communicative grunt contributes to a representational reorganization allowing for the emergence of denotative word use in the child. Taking advantage of the different foci of the two interpretations, a third amalgamated view proposes that both motor advantages and internally defined conceptual functions may be relevant to an understanding of the phenomenon. It is thus suggested that the significance of the behavior may be that it provides the child with a vehicle by which conceptual content may be expressed, prior to the mastering of appropriate adult vocal forms.
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