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Is there universality to language development?

by Eddie P.

Having a little one to watch grow is such an amazing experience. From their first words to their first steps, the process of development is phenomenal. My son's first words were "dada". You can bet his mom wasn't as happy as I was. He's only 8 months old. Of course he said it without knowing the actual meaning of the word, but it counts just the same to me.

Spending so much time with him got me thinking a lot about his development. Is he on track, am I doing everything right to make sure he's developing properly, what if he's a slow leaner. If you're a parent, you know exactly what I'm talking about. We worry, I swear, I've never worried so much in my life. I was always the one who went with the flow. I never really worried about anything. Boy did that change the moment I found out I was going to be a father.

So I started doing some research to find out how babies develop speaking and I found this article from kidshealth.org, which pretty much gives guidelines of where your child typically should be for his/her age, gives warning signs of possible speech and language development problems, things like that. It was very informative and helpful letting me know my baby is on track with his development so that was a relief. But of course I started thinking some more and I thought about other children across the world. Do we all learn language the same?

What I found was an interesting article from Science Daily that researchers did a study on childhood language in 31 different languages to determine the order in which children acquire a set of quantifiers. Quantifiers are words denoting quantity, such as the English words some, none, and all. The purpose of the study was to determine if all the different languages develop language the same.

What the researchers found was that the children identified the quantifiers all or none more easily than some or most across all the different languages studied. This result suggests that we develop language the same across all languages. According to this article, these results are significant to the debate of the universality of language. The fact that different languages with different properties are developed in a similar way confirms the existence of a universal pattern in the language acquisition process.

As my son gets older, his development of language will improve just like every other child across this entire world. In a world of so much diversity, this is a great example of what makes us similar.

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