The Transition to Language: A Dynamic Systems View
Lorraine McCune (Rutgers University, USA)
Is language a unique and isolated ability or is it an imbedded outcome of a variety of developmental components? I began to address this question by examining the symbolic abilities of children making the transition to language. My research and others’ demonstrated that mental representation as assessed by observing early pretend play was predictive of language milestones. However, while children did not tend to exhibit the language milestone without the associated representational play skill, there could be lags of several months between the accomplishment of play milestones and the structurally equivalent language. Working from a dynamic systems perspective I proposed that additional skills other than mental representation might contribute to the language transitions and that when all other skills were in place, a transition to the given language milestone should occur. With the advantage of rich collaborations I have worked at predicting the transition to referential language based on children’s productivity in mental representation, phonetic skill and communicative ability. In this talk I will report on the extent to which this project has met with success. A key component has been attention to the productivity of various naturally occurring behaviors that children exhibit spontaneously in the course of interaction. The theoretical antecedents of this approach include Jean Piaget, Heinz Werner & Bernard Kaplan, and Esther Thelen. Although the emphasis in the talk is on children’s productive behavior I would like also to discuss the meaning of the underlying notion of “representation” both as a psychological construct and as a descriptor of internal information in the brain.