Lenneberg (1967) 315~319
It is exactly the opposite of what we might expect from at least one theoretical point of view. If the development of speech were the consequence of the child’s hearing, his own utterances, and noticing the similarities between his own and his parent’s sounds, and if the pleasure in speaking derived from his ability to reproduce, for example, his mother’s sounds, then his first “aim” should be to replicate as a accurately as possible the mature sounds he hears. The mental defect should be no obstacle here, or perhaps even an advantage much the way talking birds say sentences without the benefit of a human mentality.
The poor articulation of the mongoloid child may actually be related to a lack of motivation. Usually these children can articulate better than they do, but apparently exact acoustic rendering of utterance is not important to them. The children in our mongoloid sample words in which the most common phonemes of English were embedded in vocalic or consonantal surroundings for consonants and vowels respectively. The child was asked to repeat one word at a time. The performance of a selected sample of children (N = 25) on this articulation test was compared with their articulation of spontaneously produced words and phrases. The analysis was performed by two linguistics.* In all cases studied, performance on the test was considerably better than during spontaneous speech, thus demonstrating that the child is organically capable of accurate articulation.
An expedient way for testing understanding is to have subjects repeat sentences. Most of us have attempted at one time or another to repeat something in a totally foreign language. In the absence of understanding, even the reproduction of a single word may be difficult, whereas short sentences are an impossibility.
Consider the following transcribed attempts at sentence reception. This is a twelve-year-old mongoloid girl whose language development is comparable to that of a normal two-and-a-half year old.
*Jacqueline Wei Mintz and Peter Rosenbaum. Throughout the observation period the child wore a condenser microphone in a bib around his chest. Recording equipment was of high fidelity. The examination room was sound proofed.
The first nine sentences seem to have been essentially understood, but in all sentences except three the repeated sentence is slightly different from the model sentence. The alterations in several instances are not grammatical English, so that the child could not have heard them before. This patient is still deficient in some of the more refined rules of English, but the basic sentence type is present. The “do-constructions” are understood but the rules do not function well enough yet to enable this patient to apply them to sentence. Consequently, sentences (6), (8), and (9) are changed back into grammatically simpler but incorrect forms. Sentence (7) is the only attempt, only partially successful, to use the “dose-not-form.” The passive construction in sentences (10) to (14) is not well understood, although question (13) is answered correctly. However, all attempts at reception of the sentences are failures.
In sentences (10) and (12) reception is attempted by apparently taking recourse to a different strategy. Instead of trying to understand the meaning of the sentence and to reproduce the sentence the sentence is ignored entirely and repetition is attempted as in a rote memory task. When we are asked to repeat a string of random digits, we are only able to repeat the last ones, and the number of digits remembered is a function of memory span. When grammatical connections between words is not understood, the subject behaves as if a string of randomly concatenated words had been presented. This blind repetition may be called parroting.
In our study of language-understanding among the mongoloid, we were interested to know at what stage of development a child would take recourse to parroting. A child was said to be simply parroting if he only repeated of picking out some functionally important words such as the subject-noun and the verb. We classified the responses of a selected group of children (N = 25) into: (1) correct repetitions of the original sentence; (2) sentences that are grammatically correct but different from the original; (3) recognizable sentences that are grammatically incorrect; (4) two-word phrases that are not parroting; and (5) parroting. This subsample of our patients was divided into five groups according to their grammatical ability. Figure 7.11 shows the result. Parroting dose not seem to be the way to begin language. This was also clearly brought out in a recent study by Ervin (1964). Parroting is resorted to when the grammar of the original sentence is simply not understood. It is comparable to a panic-response elicited by the pressure of the examiner to get the subject to “try his best.”
FIG.7.11 Distribution of “parroting responses” with respect to stages of development in 25 mongoloid children.
TABLE 7.8 Transformational Relations between Conjunctions and their Underlying Sentences
*It has recently shown that this type of sentence may be accounted for in simpler ways which further strengthens the point of structural differences between the two examples.