What Are The Requirements For A Functionalist

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What Are The Requirements For A Functionalist Theory Of Language Development? Essay, Research Paper Most theories of language development have considered the matter from one of two broad viewpoints – behaviourist (language is learnt by imitation, e.g. Skinner), or innatist (particularly Chomsky, who believes that we are born with the necessary cognitive ‘equipment’ to learn language). However, these theories are not truly complete accounts of language development because they only begin to study from the first appearance of words and syntax; none considers how the child gets to this stage. This is where functionalist theories attempt to redress the balance; by concentrating on the functions, or uses, of language, they hope to understand why and how a child begins to use

language. For such a theory to be valid, language development must meet certain requirements. The functions of language first need some qualification. Halliday (1975) separates the child’s utterances with two principal functions: mathematic, when language is used to learn about the environment and language itself (marked by falling intonation), and pragmatic, when language is used to satisfy the child’s needs and to interact with others (marked by rising intonation). He goes on to describe in more detail the initial functions that language serves in interactions: instrumental (the child’s demand for objects), regulatory (the child’s demand that another person do something), interactional (such as greeting), personal (expression of personal feeling), heuristic (questions

about the environment), and imaginative (for make-believe). Jakobson (1960) attempts to qualify the functions of language in a slightly different way, for example , the conative function (when messages are formed to produce the desired behaviour in the addressee), and the phatic (maintenance of the channel of communication). Functionalist theories are based on the premise that the child begins to learn a language in order to fulfil more efficiently these functions of communication, and that the child develops structures out of these functions. The intention to communicate is what provokes language in the first place, but McShane (1980) suggests that this intention is not a ‘primitive’ within the child herself, but within the child-caretaker dyad. A functionalist theory would

require that such intention is present before language itself appears, and this does seem to be the case. Wolff (1969) states that certain patterns of pre-linguistic crying are consistently interpreted by the caretaker; the child learns that there are contingent relations between her own utterances and the behaviour of other people, and thus learns to behave intentionally. Herein lies the problem: is this intent conscious, or is it merely interpreted as such by the caretaker? Ryan (1974) points out that much of what the child utters in the early stages is difficult to understand, if not uninterpretable; it is simply that these utterances take place in interactions with adults who are motivated to understand them. It is even found that mothers endow the earliest utterances with

values such as ’sincerity’ and ‘consistency’. It seems likely that the infant begins by making unintentional cries; the caretaker endows them with intentions, and when the infant sees that her cries are being rewarded she makes them with the intention of receiving reward. Here, then, McShane is correct in saying that communicative intentions are a primitive of the dyad, rather than of the individual. When the child first begins to speak real words, they occur singly, as what are known to many as ‘holophrases’; cognitivists take these to represent whole sentences, but functionalists (such as Dore (1975)) prefer not to concentrate on the notion of a sentence, but rather to think in terms of ’speech acts’. Proposed by Searle in 1969, speech acts are the basic unit of