Infant Language

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From the first days of life, babies attend to words and expressions, responding as well as their limited abilities allow—crying, cooing, and soon babbling. Before age 1, they understand simple words and communicate with gestures. At 1 year, most infants speak. Vocabulary accumulates slowly at first, but then more rapidly with the naming explosion and with the emergence of the holophrase and the two-word sentence. The impressive language learning of the first two years can be explained in many ways. One theory contends that caregivers must teach language, reinforcing the infant’s vocal expressions. Another theory relies on the idea of an inborn language acquisition device, a mental structure that facilitates the acquisition of language as soon as maturation makes that possible. A third theory stresses social interaction, implying that infants learn language because they are social beings. A hybrid model combines all three of these theories. Because infants vary in culture, learning style, and social context, the hybrid theory acknowledges that each of the other theories may have some validity at different points in the acquisition of language. Sensorimotor Intelligence

1. Piaget realized that very young infants are active learners, seeking to understand their complex observations and experiences. Adaptation in infancy is characterized by sensorimotor intelligence, the first of Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development. At every time of their lives, people adapt their thoughts to the experiences they have. 2. Sensorimotor intelligence develops in six stages—three pairs of two stages each—beginning with reflexes and ending with the toddler’s active exploration and use of mental combinations. In each pair of stages, development occurs in one of three types of circular reactions, or feedback loops, in which the infant takes in experiences and tries to make sense of them. 3. Reflexes provide the foundation for intelligence. The continual process of assimilation...