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November 2021

Questioning the notion of development: The case of language acquisition

Journal/Book: Cult Psychol. 2000; 6: 6 Bonhill Street, London EC2a 4Pu, England. Sage Publications Ltd. 169-182.

Abstract: The paper aims at questioning the notion of development currently used to explain change in child language acquisition After a brief outline of the problems faced by students of child language acquisition in their attempts at identifying developmental stages, theoretical arguments are drawn in order to show that, given its specific structural properties, language cannot be parceled out, as presupposed by developmental theories. Following this line of argumentation, Saussure's dichotomy langue vs parole, is presented as a theoretical consequence of his efforts to understand linguistic change. The fact that the native speaker's relation with her/his own language is synchronic, that is, does not imply any awareness of historical change, leads Saussure to recognize la langue as an internal systemic functioning which obliterates what is external to it: namely the linguistic individual sphere, that is, parole, where change starts, as well as the identification processes (social forces, in his terminology) responsible for the diffusion of change. It is my view that those three poles-la langue, identification with the other and the child conceived as a corps pulsionnel-are also called upon to explain change in language acquisition. Since they cannot be seen as independent instances, but must be seen as a structure, the child's trajectory from the state of infans to that of subject-speaker may be seen as implying change of position in a structure to which the adult is also submitted. Data on the acquisition of Brazilian Portuguese and American English are presented in support of such a view.

Note: Article de Lemos C, Ave Julio de Mesquita 590-62, BR-13025061 Campinas, SP, BRAZIL

Keyword(s): child speech; identification processes; linguistic change; linguistic development; structural change


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