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1.0                          Introduction

1.1     Background of the Study

There has been shortage of speculation about the origins of human speech. One general fact however is that no human being is born speaking a language. Some of the speculations about the origin of language include the divine source which holds that God created Adam and whatsoever Adam called every living creature that was the name there of (Genesis2:19). The Hindus also hold the view that language originated from the goddess Sarasvati, wife of Brahma, creator of the universe. Other view about the origin of language is the natural sound source which holds that the beginning of human speech is based on the imitations of the natural sounds which the people of old heard around them as made by objects (Yule,1-2).

          One surprising thing however is that none of the available experiments supports any of the views above. As reported in Yule (2), the speculation that infants growing up without hearing any language would spontaneously begin using the original God given language has been proved wrong. The experiment of an Egyptian Pharaoh called Psammetichus around 600B. C. with two infants proved it wrong. According to this report, “after two years in the company of sheep and a mute shepherd; the children were reported to have spontaneously uttered not an Egyptian word, but Phrygian word ‘bekos’ “meaning bread”. The children may not have picked the word from any human being, but from the sounds made by sheep. The crux of the  matter is that human infant is certainly helped in his or her language acquisition by the typical behaviour of the adults in the home environment; that is, adults interact with children to improve on their language acquisition.

          From the moment a child is born he/she begins to learn about the world. One of the most fascinating areas of learning is the area of language development. A child will develop most of his/her understanding of his/her native language or the language of his/her immediate environment in his/her first to five years of life (Wendy, 1). Child language development is a process where by a normal born-child masters the language of his/her immediate environment without any conscious efforts made; the new born baby listens to, understands and speaks his language and also exhibits an understanding of its rules and how to use them (Anyanw:26). 

          Many theories of language acquisition have been propounded such as the empiricist’s theory, which argues that new babies acquire language through repetition, imitation and memorization of the utterances and expressions produced by people in their environment (Crystal, 8). The empiricists also put forward contextual generalization. This is explained to be the innate ability of children to master the syntactic fact by generalizing an expression in the context in which that expression appears. If a child hears expressions like “daddy bye-bye” the child generalizes this expression in this context with all nouns like uncle bye-bye, stone bye-bye, chair bye-bye, etc. (Anyawu, 26). The empiricists also talked about stimulus response connection. They argue that children acquire language solely because adult reinforce certain responses which the child gives to certain stimuli. Parents and other adults correct the syntax and pronunciation of their children. Adults also correct the language of children when the meaning of children’s utterance is incorrect. This brings us to the role of the family in child language development (Anyanwu, 26).

          Language acquisition is remarkable for the speed with which it takes place in children. A child growing up in the first two or three years requires interaction with other adult users of the language in a given language community or environment. The interaction helps to bring the language faculty of a child into operation with a particular language. According to Yule (136), a child who does not hear, or is not allowed to use language will learn no language. The extract below indicates a typical role that parents play in a child’s language acquisition as indicated by Braine (1971) in Yule (136). It is an interaction between a child and the father where the father plays an active role to help his child acquire a language:

Child: want other one spoon, daddy.

Father: you mean, you want the other spoon.

Child: yes I want other one spoon, place daddy.

Father: can you say “the other spoon?

Child: other …….one ….spoon

Father: say “other”

Child: other.

Father: “spoon”

Child: “spoon”

Father: “Other spoon”

Child: other ….. Spoon. Now give other one spoon (Yule 1996). Adults such as fathers, mothers, older siblings and relations help a child to acquire a language rapidly. As Yule notes the characteristically simplified speech style adopted by someone who spends a lot of time interacting with a young child is called “caretaker speech”. This type of interaction usually involves questions and repetitions in a conversational structure which seems to assign an interactive role to the young child.

          Language is a tool that man uses to communicate or share thoughts, ideas and emotions. Language is also the set of rules shared by the individuals who are communicating. Obanya in Ezema (1) describes language as man’s most important gift and he observes that it is the vehicle for communication and a good instrument for thought and creativity. O’grady and Archibald (1) assert that the gift of language is the single human trait that marks us all genetically, setting us apart from the rest of life.

There are many languages in the world and each language has its own set of rules that guide speakers of that given language. Internalizing these rules from childhood forms the origin of language acquisition and development in man.

Scholars like Harley and Ingram observe that most of the language learning processes take place between the ages of 2 and 5 years. By 2, children are just beginning to combine single word into rudimentary two-word utterances. By 4 or 5, the normal child’s syntax is already extremely complex and intricate to that which he hears around him. The early two-word utterances often resemble sentences of the adult language with a very large number of omissions. The sentences of the 5 year old child are often indistinguishable from correctly formed sentences of the language (Haxley and Ingram, 95).

Agbedo (107) observes that by the age of two and a half, the child’s vocabulary begins to witness tremendous expansion just as the sentence structure becomes evidently complex approximating that of adult language in the child’s environment. Such child’s language could even be assumed that the child has started using language in the real sense of the word.

Eliot (149) on the other hand is of the opinion that “the child’s major source of knowledge about a particular language is the conversation directed at him by other people”. In his further explanation, children acquire the language they hear them. They learn to name things by hearing other people name and repeating what they hear. That is to say that much of what the child learns by way of language acquisition is the result of observation and imitation of model behaviour.

Nkwocha (70) seems to share Elliot’s view. He asserts that language acquisition is being influenced by stimulus response or reinforcement. In other words it is a factor of observation and imitation of people in a child’s environment.

In this research work therefore, the focus is on the role of the family in child’s language acquisition and development in Funtua Education Zone. It is important to re-emphasize that child language acquisition and development is influenced by different environmental factors. Differences in the rate of acquisition of language could be attributed to socio-economic background, basic training, motivation and differential association (Yule,1996). Thus, when a child is given adequate exposure, training and systematic intellectual stimulation, his rate of language acquisition and development improves.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

In whatever linguistic environment a child is growing up, he/she has the ability to acquire language for social interaction. The ability of the child to interact within an environment depends mostly on his/her level of acquisition of vocabulary in use within that area. Despite the fact that language acquisition and development is very crucial for a child to interact with his/her environment, scholars like Erika observes that acquiring adequate language skills can be problematic for children who have a variety of other conditions, including mental retardation, hearing impairment, or brain injury. He further states that some children have difficulty acquiring language in the apparent absence of any other sort of impairment.                Research has shown that most parents do not pay serious attention to the issues that will enable their children to acquire competence in English language, such as telling them stories in English language, buying story books for pleasure, insisting that children speak the standard English, etc. Most parents and family members do not deem it necessary to speak the standard English to their children and some parents are confused as to whether their children should be made to use either English or the indigenous language at home, (Ezema, 58).

The aforementioned problems led to this research work. The research problem then is to identify the roles played by parents to facilitate child’s language acquisition and development.

1.3 Objective of the Study

The main objective of this study is to reveal the important role parents play in helping their children to acquire and develop a language. In this study, it is necessary to focus on the role of the parents because ,it is the parents who facilitate the language development of their child hence, in most cases, they provide the caretaker speech. In the process of language acquisition and development, attitudes and motivation are crucial and to an extent, parents play an important role in attitude development. They are equally influential in their child’s attempts to learn a language.

1.4 Significance of the Study

The research will provide useful information on how parents can help to guide a child to adequately achieve language acquisition and development. Scholars and students in this area of study will benefit from the contents of this work. The findings of this research will buttress the point that language development is universal, no child is born speaking a language without undergoing the processes of language development in children.

Moreover, the study will assist teachers who teach pupils what to expect at the different stages of child language acquisition. The study will equally unravel to adult language learners some techniques and strategies used by children in speedy language development.

In essence, this study will be beneficial to parents, teachers, children, adults and researchers in this field of study.

1.5              Scope of the Study

This study deal with children in the age range of six months to six years old.  That is children from the stage of babbling and telegraphization to the stage where they begin to make grammatically correct sentences in their language acquisition. It also look at how parents and adults around the child can help the child in his/her language acquisition and development.

1.6             Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to find out the processes involved in child’s language acquisition and development, how the child acquires language in so short a time and the motivational factors behind this speedy acquisition.

In addition, the research aims at investigating how parents’ language can influence a child’s language development and to examine how environment can affect a child’s language acquisition and development.

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