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“Personal Pronouns” by Shulamith Chiat Essay (Book Review)


Introduction

The chapter, Personal pronouns by Shulamuth Chiat discusses the acquisition of personal pronouns in children. A pronoun is often described as a word that is used in the place of a noun. Personal pronouns are, thus, words that are used to replace the noun referring to a particular person. The chapter critically analyzes how children gain the skill to use personal pronouns effectively. Additionally, Chiat looks into the role of pragmatics, semantics, syntax and morphology in the acquisition of personal pronouns.

Evidence of the arguments proposed is efficiently provided throughout the chapter making it a very good read. In proving her arguments, Chiat argues that pronoun development is a very complex process. Additionally, the evidence provided proves that there are very many factors that affect the development of pronouns in a child that will also affect the use of the same pronouns later on in life.

Summary

Chiat starts the chapter by lining pronouns are speech roles. She states clearly that speech roles denote the purpose of a word as used in the sentence. For example, in saying “I went to church yesterday” a person has already denoted several roles. The “I” in the sentence is the subject. The same “I” refers to someone whose name has not been given presumably because that person is already known and is the person sending the message (speaking).

If the person was unknown to the receiver of the message, and was not the person speaking or sending the message, then the sentences would be “Mary Jane went to church yesterday”. Thus the “I” in the first sentence refers to “Mary Jane” making it a pronoun, a personal pronoun. In the same breath, Chiat investigates other forms of the personal pronoun. Apart from ‘I” other personal pronouns include: she, you, he and the plural personal pronoun “they”. “He” and “She” also refer to a particular person. For example, “Mary went to school”. In this instance, “Mary” is the subject of the sentence and the noun.

The sentence can also be changed to “She went to school” where “she” has replaced “Mary”. The same can be applied to both “he” and “they”. In discussing the different types of personal pronouns, Chiat agues that each category mentioned can be differentiated further using speech roles. 1st person personal pronouns like “I” “We” “Me” “Mine” “Our” and “My” refer to the person who is addressing. On the other hand “You” refers to the addressee and “She” and “He” refer to non-participants of the conversation. The author explains that there are other factors that influence the type of pronoun used in a sentence including the context of the communication process.

In addition, Chiat also reviews the past studies that have been conducted to explain the acquisition of personal pronouns in children. She argues that many of the past studies have focused on naturalistic contexts and arguments. One argument posed is that children acquire personal pronouns by focusing on the order of emergence of words. This would mean, thus, that children do not initially understand why the order is that way, but they use it because they have heard people using the same order. Thus, the process is naturalistic. Using this argument, it would be correct to say that the development of pronouns in children is a simple process.

Chiat rejects this premise and argues that the naturalist argument does not consider the different kinds of pronominal concepts that are involved in such development. She goes further and explains that the mistakes that children make, even though often considered normal and natural, also have to be investigated to fully understand their development of pronouns. She asserts that analyzing the mistakes children make is important in two ways.

The first is that the absence of errors where most expected can prove that the acquisition of the pronouns is not as complex as once thought. For example, if a child uses all forms of the pronoun well, then it definitely means that developing the language was not psychologically difficult. This then hints at what had been previously rejected, that children follow the ‘flow’ of words as they hear other people speaking. In addition, the mistakes that are made clearly show that there is a difference between how children conceptualize things, and how adults do. The mistakes also show the opposite of the ‘non-errors’ by stating that the process is difficult.

In analyzing the order of acquisition and its relevance in understanding the acquisition of pronouns among children, the author argues that semantic analysis is crucial. She divides the section into two main parts. The parts include the naturalistic angle and the experimental angle. Chiat quotes several scholars who claim that children acquire pronouns by giving them importance. Thus, in their vocabulary, the 1st person pronoun is the most relevant, followed by the second person pronoun, and finally the third person pronoun.

According to the naturalistic argument, this order of acquisition is normal and natural. It suffices to mention that the naturalistic argument agrees that there are some pronouns that do not come as easily as others, especially those in third person. For example, the child will have an easier time saying me or I but not she and he. However, the same child will also have an easier time saying “you” but have a more difficult time saying “they”. It is due to these ‘difficulties’ that scholars who support this school of though explain the order of acquisition. Consequently, the child will star with the easiest to say, 1st person, followed by the rest.

Chiat explains that’s he conducted a study to realize the arguments made by the naturalistic argument, she observed eight children between the ages of two and three. She noted that many of the children used ‘I’ and ‘me’ first and most frequent than any other pronoun. During the study, there was one child who used her own name in reference. The scholar explains that the problem arose probably due to the attempt to use second and third persons. The use of the 3rd inanimate ‘it’ was also investigated. According to the findings of the study many of the children did not initially adapt the use of ‘it’. However, once they did, they also started using it to replace the third person, and eventually, they could differentiate between the animate and inanimate objects, and use third person correctly.

In regard to the experimental angle, the scholar starts by stating that the experimental angle is beneficial as it checks each individual acquisition rather than grouping and generalizing them. In addition, the learning process of children is experimental in nature. They start by saying what they think is right, then they are corrected, and this process goes on until they get the right way of saying what they meant. Problems in pronunciation, grammar and spelling are very common during the process.

Chiat argues that this type of analysis of acquisition of pronouns might not be very reliable as by the time the child actually pronounces the word, the acquisition might be already complete. She adds that proper usage in children is often when they speak spontaneously and not hen they are asked to speak correctly. Chiat agrees that the experimental angle is very useful when analyzing the strategies that the children use to acquire the pronouns.

In addition, they also offer more details on the child’s linguistic form. Chiat explains that an experiment on German children showed that the children would easily identify the less complex pronouns (like I and me) and had a difficult time acknowledging the other pronouns. In turn, this showed that the linguistic complexity hypothesis as indeed a major influence in the acquisition of pronouns. In every sense of the words, thereby, the naturalistic argument and the experimental argument differ greatly.

In the same vein, Chiat takes time to analyze the errors that children make, and how they are related to her discussion. She argues that very many children these days make few errors, and this is surprising. Chiat explains that there are two types of errors that are most common among children. The first is the substituting of a proper name for a pronoun while the second is the confusion between first and second pronouns. In the first case, she gives the example of a boy named Trevor and the kind of mistakes he made. Trevor said, “Trevor’s going to draw my money. The statement shows that the pronouns have been interchanged.

Correctly the statement would say either “I am going to draw my money”, or “I am going to draw his money”. Chiat also observes that for the second error mentioned, children that used names for pronominal roles did not have the problem of swapping names for pronouns like Trevor. Thus, the child would have had no problem stating, “I am going to draw my money”. Chiat calls out other scholars who have argued that non-occurrence of errors is a good thing to also explain why the errors do not occur at a stage when they are expected to occur. The author suggests that the errors made are actually made by the parents when they are speaking to the children. In trying to simply language for them, thus, they ensure that the children make mistakes when talking. For example, a mother will tell her child “Mommy has to go to the shop”, thus, the child will register this as the normal order of language.

Critique

It suffices to mention that the chapter is very well written with ample evidence to support the arguments made. However, there still are a few loopholes that have to be addressed and it is these loopholes that will be discussed in this section of the review.

The first issue that can be raised after reading the chapter is the lack of information on how the order of relevance of pronouns affects other linguistically aspects of the child, and the child’s behavior in general. It is crucial to note that children often use vocabulary to communicate about things that are around them. For example, “I want a ball”, “Mommy bought this” and so forth are sentences that many children use.

The constant use of the first person pronoun denotes several things. The first is that children find it to be more relevant compared to the rest since it refers to them. The second thing is that children use language according to their behavior. Many scholars have referred to children as selfish. In fact, the statement ‘stop behaving like a child’ has been used on numerous occasions to refer to selfish adults. Thus, behavior also plays a big role in language acquisition. In the same breath, the author fails to explain the link between language acquisition and acquisition of pronouns. In this sense thus, the author does not pay any attention to how the child first began to speak.

It is commendable that the author sheds some light on the influence of child directed speech to the pronoun acquisition of a child. Additionally, the author fails to show how first language affects pronoun acquisition either in children or in adults for example, the author has stated experiments involving German children, but there is no comparison with other children speaking other languages. The author has also not acknowledged children who start off with one language, but when they are a bit older they start using a different language. Do these children have a problem with pronoun acquisition as well? What are the challenges they face and how are they different if they were using the first language they learnt?

Still on the issue of arrangement and relevance, the author rejects the notion that the arrangement is innate but does not clearly state the reason why this is so. Scholars have come up with different arguments on whether children learn language by themselves, or their mothers teach them. This argument would have made the discussion presented richer. The author also fails to give specific details of the children in the study conducted. For example, only the ages of the children are stated. It would have been interesting to also compare the acquisition between girls and boys and also the language level the children were at the time of the experiment.

For example, there are children who learn languages faster than others. Thus, they will be in a better position to make a correct sentence using a pronoun than those who do not know much of their language. The scholar should have also compared the background of the children to make her study more concrete. For example, children are influenced by the language that is used around them Taking English as an example; children raised in the black community will have very different language acquisition from children raised in a Caucasian setting. This is of course regardless of skin color, but mainly revolves around the type of English used, and the culture the child understands.

It is also important to point out that the study Chiat did is not full proof. She states that she observed eight children for a period of time and concluded that indeed they first acquired the use of the 1st person pronoun. Even though this might be true, it does not prove that the pronoun was acquired naturally. When one argues that some thing is natural, it implies that it is innate or inborn. There are scholars who have argued that language acquisition is inborn such that a child will learn how to speak naturally and does not have to be born. Scholars have explained that when a mother speaks to a child, he or she registers the words, and how they follow each other, so when the child starts to speak, he or she will use the same arrangement.

In fact, when the author discusses how the mother’s arrangement of pronouns and proper names in sentences affects the child’s acquisition of the pronouns, she is referring to child directed speech. In addition, the author does not explain how the child’s interaction with other children affected their speech. The eight children that were observed over time had other influences. For example, they heard other children speak in a certain way, or their parents corrected them whenever they made errors. Such influences tend to change the way the children arrange their words. Additionally, it is crucial for the author to also incorporate the impact of other technological equipment on acquisition of language. For example, children are usually exposed to television and can absorb language from them. The language tends to be very conversational even though at times it can be official.

Language is not only about what has been taught, but also what has been seen and felt. Children, thus, build their vocabularies based on the things they see and the things they feel. This is one of the reasons why children fill in language by using made up words to describe a feeling or something they do not know the correct name for. Having said this, the author does not mention any such factor in the chapter. The lack of such factors limits the advantage of the studies that were done by the author.

In addition to this, Chiat criticizes other scholars who have claimed that children these days make fewer mistakes. However, she also does not give more information on the same. She agrees that the children in several studies had very little mistakes and it was unexpected. When reading the chapter though, several questions pop up with regards to why the children registered fewer errors.

Apart from the loopholes mentioned, there several good things about the chapter. The first thing is that the author has incorporated a lot of evidence. She has quoted several scholars and what they said about the subject at hand, the recognition goes further as she both criticizes and praises the arguments raised. In similar fashion, Chiat recognizes the possibility of other arguments being better than others and leaves it to the reader to decide which argument bests suits the topic.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the chapter Personal pronouns by Shulamuth Chiat is very informative. It gives a lot of information on possible ways children learn to use pronouns. Chiat argues that there are very many influences, apart from innate attributes that should be considered when discussing pronoun acquisition in children. Additionally, she rejects some premises proposed by other scholars by providing evidence of her own. Chiat however fails to fully support her argument by leaving out some important questions. For example, she claims that children make fewer mistakes these days with regards to the use of pronouns. However, she does not say why this is so. In the same breath, Chiat uses the studies done by people to support and criticize her own study, making the chapter a good read.

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IvyPanda. (2020, July 3). "Personal Pronouns" by Shulamith Chiat. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/personal-pronouns-by-shulamith-chiat/

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""Personal Pronouns" by Shulamith Chiat." IvyPanda, 3 July 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/personal-pronouns-by-shulamith-chiat/.

1. IvyPanda. ""Personal Pronouns" by Shulamith Chiat." July 3, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/personal-pronouns-by-shulamith-chiat/.


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IvyPanda. ""Personal Pronouns" by Shulamith Chiat." July 3, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/personal-pronouns-by-shulamith-chiat/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. ""Personal Pronouns" by Shulamith Chiat." July 3, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/personal-pronouns-by-shulamith-chiat/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) '"Personal Pronouns" by Shulamith Chiat'. 3 July.

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