Linguistics, Language Acquisition, & Pronoun Errors in Children
The acquisition of language is not a seamless process. All humans encounter errors as part of their linguistic development and practice. Humans around the world and across languages encounter similar behavior patterns as they grow into adults and gain linguistic fluency in their native languages. One such repeating phenomenon in English of note is the act of young children to misuse pronouns, using the word "me" when the correct word is "I." There are several ideas regarding how and why many children go through a stage in their linguistic development where they misuse pronouns. This paper will explore and critique the ideas of experts in several field including linguistics and language acquisition. The paper will propose and provide evidence for several factors that contribute to this speech phenomenon. The paper will show that this particular speech act is a result of the interaction among several factors and that no a singular theory regarding this matter explains it completely.
Rispoli agrees with the position of the paper that this error in speech reveals a greater issue at work in linguistics and language acquisition. He names the issue as he writes:
"Within the last ten years or so, hypotheses have been proposed linking pronoun case errors with the development of FINITENESS. Finiteness is a set of grammatical features that apply to clauses (Radford, 1997). A finite clause differs from a non-finite clause in a number of ways. The main verb in a finite clause can agree with the subject and show tense distinctions. Only the finite clause may be augmented by a modal auxiliary or auxiliary do. (Rispoli, 2005)
Thus for him, the speech act is a symptom of a cognitive and linguistic development. The speech act does not mean anything significant standing alone without context. The speech act within a narrower context of English in young children reveals to Rispoli that problems with pronoun errors demonstrate development in language and thought construction. As the child struggles with speech, this reflects developments in language generally as well as how the child's thoughts form in relation to linguistic capability. Rispoli performs a study where in he asks and answers
"…the question of why some children are disposed to making a large number of pronoun case errors and others are not. The answer proposed is that when pronoun paradigm building outstrips the development of INFL, children become especially vulnerable to erring in the choice of pronominal word form, resulting in pronoun case error." (Rispoli, 2005)
This is a curious phenomenon to Rispoli. His research aims to located definitive predictors of this particular language event. His conclusions affirm the perspective and thesis of this paper.
Rispoli concludes that
"The results of this study underscore the need to view the development of pronoun case from a multivariate perspective. Errors do not arise merely because the child's grammar is immature. Rather, even with the most immature of grammars, the incidence of error can be minimized if the child does not attempt to perform more ambitiously than they have the capacity to perform.." (Rispoli, 2005)
There are many factors that contribute to a child's improper use of pronouns such as "I" and "me." There is no one answer as to why this occurs, but when theories work in collaboration and conjunction linguistics offers a wider perspective of the issue making way for more interdisciplinary interventions and solutions to this common problem.
Kirjavainen et al. further agree with Rispoli and the paper that an approach to this problem is most effective if taken from a variety of perspectives. They state their position and try to account for inconclusive studies in this area:
"Some children produce many errors, others virtually none, although these differences could in part reflect sampling problems. Some children who make errors do so with a range of pronominal forms, others with only one particular pronoun type (Pine et al., 2005). Explanations for the pattern of case errors observed in children's speech have been suggested by researchers from a range of theoretical perspectives." (Kirjavainen et al., 2009)
There are not many studies in this area. The data offered by the existing studies is not definitive. The data is inconclusive and moderately unclear, not so far as the researchers cannot literally read the data, but because the data demonstrates no known pattern, thus meaning cannot be rendered from it. The authors do not propose they have all the answers to this research area, but what they do suggest in an effective method by which linguists and researchers can approach the problem and make some headway in their understanding.
One opinion of the paper as to a reason why this speech act occurs with some many children is that in English (all forms), the native speakers do not speak proper English at all times. Language is acquired primarily through listening and through use during context. If the children are in proximity to people who speak poor English, their English will be poor. This English does not have to be poor to affect the children; the aforementioned situation is simply an extreme example to illustrate the point more clearly. No speaker of any language speaks that language in perfect form at all times; it is not the nature of people to be perfect in any way at all times and it is the nature of language to change; therefore, the nature of perfection in languages changes ceaselessly.
Kirjavainen et al. provide a history of the thought as to why children make "me" and "I" errors. They agree that part of the reason why children make this error is due to the linguistic inputs the children receive. In essence, children repeat what they hear and are more likely to repeat what they hear the most frequently. They ask further, what precise speech acts or inputs are more disposed to create this specific speech errors in so many children? What is it about the language or what is it about the process of language acquisition that contributes to the prevalence of this phenomenon? Their research endeavors to explore this hypothesis in a most intensive manner, more so than they believe existed at the time they conducted their research. The language forms that children hear do not fully explain this particular error. For these authors, like Rispoli, this occurrence is symptomatic of a greater issues at work within the child. Thus, we do not repeat everything we hear. Language acquisition is an adaptive process that changing due to multiple factors, both internal and external.
While their research proved illuminating, their findings aligned with Rispoli and that of the thesis of this paper:
"A wide range of factors including the child's existing knowledge of language, the distributional properties of the input, perceptual salience, the child's understanding of pragmatics and semantics, and the child's communicative goals are thought to contribute to the state of the child's linguistic system at any given point in development. For this reason, children's errors can be seen as deriving from a number of different sources. As far as pronominal case errors are concerned, a single mechanism is unlikely to explain all of the observed errors, and clearly a straightforward input-driven account cannot explain why many children produce GEN-for-NOM (i.e. my-for-I) errors, as these combinations are not found in the input." (Kirjavainen et al., 2009)
They agree that numerous factors combined may result in the pronoun misuse error. They bring several other factors to light that other researchers have yet to mention. They mention the child's existing knowledge of language and understanding of semantics as contributive to this error. The child may be unaware that he/she makes a mistake; on the other hand, the child may be aware of the mistake and intentionally demonstrate it for emotional or psychological reasons. The authors stress again that these errors cannot be explained down to one factor of direct cause and effect.
In another study by Rispoli, he claims that
"Researchers have viewed pronoun case errors from a variety of perspectives, of which the most prominent is syntactic. From the perspective of development syntax, pronoun case overextensions occur before the child has fully acquired case assignment principles (Guilfoyle & Noonan, 1992; Radford, 1990; Schutze & Wexler, 1996; Vainikka, 1994), usually thought to be sometime before the age of approximately 2;6." (Rispoli, 1998)
This statement concurs with the last quotation by Kirjavainen et al. regarding the existing linguistic capability and understanding of the child making the errors. He regards syntax theory as the most prominent explanation of this error though he admits that this question is approach from a variety of perspectives. In this statement, Rispoli also does something none of the other authors have yet to do, which is specify a specific age group where this error occurs most frequently. This small piece of information may end up changing the kinds of research and data analysis regarding this issue. Rispoli also mentions something called "overextensions." The paper understands overextensions to be an attempt to master a…