Essay written for a grad-level Language and Culture class I'm taking
Essay question:
Describe two ways in which language plays a role in the socialization of children.


Language is a very important part of the development of children. Not only are extremely important cognitive skills developed; language also is key in the social development of children. Social and linguistic development begin long before humans are mentally developed enough to speak.

Between birth and approximately 25 weeks, infants develop the basic skills for the production of speech, first making only basic biological noises such as crying, breathing and coughing and similar noises. "Cooing" and more advanced types of vocal play are engaged as the infant develops, starting with simpler sounds and moving towards the more advanced. At about 25-50 weeks, an infant can and does form relatively complex phonetic constructs in what is commonly known as "babbling." At about one year, give or take a few months, the infant can produce, albeit to a limited extent, actual language.

The process by which infants gain the use of language depends almost entirely upon interaction with their parents or caregivers. Even very young babies have surprisingly advanced perception of speech. This has led some linguists to theorize that children's perceptual apparatus is in some way innate- that they are genetically "programmed" to distinguish speech sounds.

From birth, babies' mothers talk to them almost incessantly. They seem to have an instinct to do so in order to develop the child's communication skills as rapidly as possible. The social development of infants is largely based upon linguistic interaction with their parents. Mothers talk to their infants in a conversational context, seemingly interpreting every communicative signal, whether cooing, babbling, etc. as if it they were speaking. Mothers generally ask questions followed by pauses, as if expecting a response. This practice seems to teach infants much about the foundations of conversation, and thus by the time infants learn enough to begin speaking, they're much better able to participate in conversation.

Not only is this parent/child linguistic interaction crucial to the child's cognitive development, but it also very important to its development of a normal relationship with its parents. In addition, language plays a role in the child's understanding of self and others. Aside from Whorfian hypotheses about the grammatical construction of language influencing cultural perception of self which vary by language, learning how to interact linguistically in an acceptable manner with others is a large part of the social skills that children acquire.

By the age of three, most children have learned the basics of conversational strategy: how to initiate a dialogue, how to hold your listener's attention, the intricacies of conversational turn-taking conventions and how to respond appropriately to questions posed to them. Having acquired the linguistic skills to do so, they are prepared for more complex social interaction with peers, older children and adults.

Children often socialize in language-dependent ways. The linguistic characteristic of children's games and puzzles is easily noted. Language as a "game" doesn't need to carry any special meaning; rather, the rhythms and structure are often enough. This is demonstrated by children's counting-out and rope-skipping rhymes.

A counting-out rhyme is a gibberish formula used by children, usually as a preliminary to games in which one child must be chosen to take the role considered undesirable, commonly called "It". These counting-out rhymes are actually quite interesting in their similarity between languages and that their origins can often be traced to ancient charms, parts of the liturgy or even Druidic rituals. Common counting-out rhymes in the United States include "Eenie, meenie, miney mo, catch a tiger by the toe. If he hollers let him go. Eenie meenie miney mo.", "One potato, two potoato, three potato, four. Five potato, six potato, seven potato, more." and innumerable variations thereof. Incidentally, "Eenie meenie.." is also common to multiple languages in northern Europe, and have been linked to ancient numbering systems still used by English fishermen and shepherds.

Children interact socially through these and similar games just as adults often use language purely as means for social interaction. While communicating ideas is a very important function of language, socialization achieved through use of language does not necessarily have to convey any information whatsoever. This is easily demonstrated by the greetings exchanged when people who know each other meet. "Hello" or "Good morning" does not convey any factual information whatsoever. What is usually termed "small talk" also conveys minimal information, and whatever information it does contain is at best secondary to its actual purpose. We do not remark, "nice day", to someone because it is vital that they know it is indeed a nice day.

Social interactions of this kind are called "phatic communion" and their purpose is to fulfill the basic need of humans to signal friendship or non-hostility to others. Children learn this early on as an important part of their ability to get along socially, whether as part of a game or in some other context. This skill would seem to eventually translate into an adult ability to participate in these speech acts of social interaction.

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