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Later language development: How literacy impacts grammar

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By the age of four the vast majority of children have acquired the basics of their native language. When they enter school, however, they are challenged with the task of becoming more than just native speakers; they are required to become proficient producers of different text types in both the spoken and written modality. The work to be presented will show how the use of language to produce monologue texts in speaking and in writing modifies children’s grammar over the course of later language development. Passive constructions and lexical noun phrases will be analysed in narrative and expository texts produced in both spoken and written modalities by eighty native speakers of French (10-, 12-, 16-year-olds and university graduate students). The study of passive constructions illustrates the role of text type in buttressing the gradual development of syntactic flexibility. The study of lexical noun phrases underscores the difference between written and spoken modalities of language production. Both of these constructions – passives and heavy noun phrases – are more characteristic of planned discourse. Exposure to these constructions is crucial for their emergence, but exercising these constructions is crucial for their mastery. The most appropriate situation in which a child can exercise his/her ability to use these constructions is in writing. Thus, it is not surprising that children’s knowledge of and ability to use language is profoundly effected by learning to produce written discourse.

This talk is part of the RCEAL Tuesday Colloquia series.

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