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The most significant part of a human is being able to communicate as it gives a person an opportunity to build relationships, learn and succeed in life. Infants learn how to communicate from the time they are born where they cry and from there they come to be familiar with the enormous rules that make up speech and language. Crying is a speech because there is a message that the child passes when he cries. Therefore, it is advisable for the parents to keep the communication lines open with them and they should be able to realize the signs that lead to development delays. The two major building blocks of communication are the speech and language and they are greatly interrelated because they both give humans the opportunity to convey ideas, concerns and thoughts. Speech refers to talking one way that a language can be expressed or just the act of talking. Language is the set of rules that allows people to communicate through sharing ideas, thoughts and concerns. Language can as well be expressed through signing, writing or even gestures in the case of individuals who have neurological disorders and depend on the movement of the mouth to communicate or the eye blinks. Note that there are several languages in the world but each of them includes a framework of rules for phonology (phonemes or speech sounds or in the case of signed language, handshapes), syntax ) (sentence formation), morphology (word formation), semantics (meanings of words and sentence), pregmatics (effective use of language) and prosody (information and rhythm of speech).
The ultimate aim of the paper is to outline the infant speech perceptual sensitivity, examine the perceptual segmentation of speech into the distinct units like phonemes, syllables and words, to identify the critical period for speech and language development in infancy and childhood and to recognize the impact of hearing loss on speech development. The papers goes forward to examine the stages of speech development and the articulatory, auditory and linguistic processes involved, to outline the auditory and visual information from lip-reading in speech development, to identify the separation of speech from background noise and lastly to recognize the importance of speech and language in infancy and childhood development.
Infant speech perception sensitivity
The infants begin their journey in language acquisition by having the capability of detecting small differences between speech sounds. They are able to distinguish all the phonemes or speech contracts. As they are exposed to their native language, their expectations become language precise meaning that they learn how to neglect the differences between phonemic language categories. These differences may be contrastive in other languages for example, the English language differentiates two voicing categories of stop consonants, and the Thai language on the other hand has three categories. Therefore, the infants must be able to learn which differences are distinctive in their first language when they are approximately six months old. As the kids learn how to organize the incoming speech sounds into groups, ignoring unimportant differences and reinforcing the important ones, their insight becomes categorical. The infants learn to disparity different vowel phonemes of their native language when they become around six months old. When the infants becomes around 11 or 12 months of age is when they acquire the native consonantal contrasts. Some researchers also shows that the infants are able to learn the sound categories of their first language through passive listening, using the statistical learning process. Other individuals also argue that certain sound categories are innate, meaning that they are genetically-precise.
One of the ways used to examine how infants perceive speech, other than the head-turn procedure, is measuring their sucking rate. Such experiment shows that the baby sucks the special nipple while presented with sounds. In this way, the sucking rate of the baby is identified, followed by playing the stimulus repeatedly. The head-turn rate and the sucking rate are the two most preferred traditional behavioral methods for studying speech perception. One of the modern methods used in studying the speech perception in infants is the NIRS. Therefore, it is clear that the infants are able to learn their native languages using the different speech perception sensitivity where they distinguish between the relevant and the irrelevant incoming speech.
Perceptual segmentation of speech into Phonemes, syllables and words
Phonological development is the process of acquiring adult speech patterns. It is no doubt that the children normally makes predictable errors in pronunciation when they are in the process of learning to talk like the adults. This errors are sometimes referred to as the phonological processes or phonological deviations as the error are not really “error” when a person stops to think about them (Gocken, & Fox, 2001). This phonological process also referred to as the sensitive voicing like cup=gup which fades away from the child’s speech sound system by the time he becomes three years of age. The other one is the phonological process called word final devoicing like bed=bet which also disappears by three. At the age of around three years and three months (3,3) there is the final consonance deletion such as boat=bow generally vanishes. However, there is the phonological process of veclar fronting such as car=tar which persists until around three years, six months as it is observed in many children (Bowen, 1998). The consonant harmony is observed until the children becomes three years and nine months for example kittycat=tittytat. Weak syllable deletion like elephant=ephant which vanishes around the age of four as it gathers reduction such as spoon=boon. Gliding of liquids like leg=weg which disappears by the age of five. Others like stopping of ‘f’, fish=tish and stopping of ‘s’, say=tay vanishes at three (Bowen, 1998). Others that stop at three years six months include ‘z’, peas=pead. At the age of four years and six months, there is the stoppage of ‘sh’, shop=dop, ‘j’, jack=dack and ‘ch’ chin=tin. Stop[ing of ‘th’, this=dis, that=dat goes on until the children reaches five years. the table below shows some common phonological processes that are seen in infants as they grow and develop their speech in communication (Gocken & Fox, 2001).
The critical period for speech and language development in infancy and childhood
It is important to note that the critical period through which the infants becomes familiar with perception of speech and language is when they begin to process the basic linguistic units including phonemes, phonological features and syllable during input of auditory and output of articulation if spoken language (Robert & Finger, 1987). It is clear that infants single out phonetic contrast of all languages until they become five months old since at three months, they are only able to produce non-speech and vowel-like sounds such as crying and or laughing. At six months old, the infants are introduced to the distributional frequencies (statistical learning) and they develop language specific vowels perception. Canonical bubbling begins when they are seven months and at eight, they start detecting standard stress pattern in words that occurs due to statistical learning or the transitional probabilities. At nine months old, they begin to recognize specific language sound combinations and when they become ten months old, they produce language precise speech production. When the infant turns eleven months old, they increase their consonants perception in their own native language while the consonant perception in foreign language weakens. The timeline completes when the child turns twelve months or one year old where they begin producing their first words. Therefore, it is evident enough that the critical or most significant period in infant speech development is the period between the first three months to twelve months. It is at this point that the infant identifies a lot of consonant perception in native language (Robertson, 2002).
However, this is quite different when it comes to acquiring the speech sound intelligibility which now determines how the child makes the right combination of correct sounds and errors for their age. Note that this is a critical period in gaining the intelligence of communication but it greatly depends on the first critical period where the infants gets familiar with consonant perception. The table below shows the rough rule of thumb for how clearly the child should be speaking.
How well words can be understood by parents
By 18 months a child's speech is normally 25% intelligible
By 24 months a child's speech is normally 50 -75% intelligible
By 36 months a child's speech is normally 75-100% intelligible
Source: Lynch, J.I., Brookshire, B.L., and Fox, D.R. (1980). A Parent - Child Cleft Palate Curriculum: Developing Speech and Language. CC Publications, Oregon. Page 102
Therefore, the critical period in gaining sound intelligibility in infants is between the 24 months and 36months as shown in the table above but as mentioned earlier, this greatly depends on the consonant perception period, which is between three months and one year.
The impact of hearing loss on speech development
It is no doubt that hearing is very significant to speech and language development communication, and learning. Infants with listening difficulties due to auditory processing problems or hearing loss end up being underserved and under-identified population. The earlier the child develops hearing loss the more significant the effects occur on the child’s development. On the other hand, the earlier the problem is recognized and interventions laid down, the less significant the ultimate impact becomes (Wacyk & Zundel, 1990). However, the hearing loss affects the children in four main ways which are; causing delay in expressive communication skills and receptive communication (language and speech) development, learning problems that bring about limitation of academic achievement, leading to social isolation and poor self concept ad lastly having impact on the vocational or career choices. After realizing this effects, it is also important to recognize the signs of hearing loss which may help the parents to take necessary action as soon as possible in order to help the infant to function normally. Therefore, the child may have hearing loss if he of she; usually fails to respond when spoken to quietly, understands or speaks few words, pays little attention to verbal and sound cues, rarely responds to music, has hard time in noticing sounds that comes from side or behind and when the child cannot seem to hear the tone . He or she is not able to tell whether the person speaking is angry or happy (Hillenbrand, Clark &Nearey, 2001). Other signs include difficulty in telling the difference between similar-sounding words like store and door as well as the words beginning with f, s, or sh, tends to favor one ear when turning towards a certain sound, is unable to detect low sounds like ticking of the clock, wants the TV, radio or tape player volume to be very high.
Stages of speech development and the articulatory, auditory and linguistic processes involved
Articulation refers to the general word used in phonetics to indicate the physiological movements entailed in modifying the flow of air in the vocal tract above the larynx, in order to be able to produce several speech sounds. This means that sounds are categorized according to the manner and place of articulation in the vocal mechanism. Articulation development and phonetic development refers to children’s slow gaining of the ability to create individual speech sounds. The articulatory phonetics field is a phonetics subfield (Nygaard & Pisoni, 1995). The articulatory phoneticians attempt to document different vocal structures well known as the articulators such as the teeth, lips, tongue, jaw and many others which interact to create specific sounds. Auditory phonetics is a phonetic branch concerned with the acquisition, hearing and phonetic sounds comprehension of words of language. Thee explosion of sound production by articulatory phonetics, auditory phonetics explores the methods of reception, which include process like ear to brain. Acoustic phonetics is as well a phonetic subfield, which contract with acoustic aspects of speech sounds. This examines properties such as the waveforms’ amplitude mean squared, its time limit, its main frequency or other frequency spectrum and the properties relationship to other branches of phonetics as well as to the abstract linguistic notions like phrases, utterances or phones. Therefore, it is clear that the stages of speech development depend on the phonetic articulation processes identified above. These stages thus include consonance perception, utterances phonological development, phrase development and speech sound intelligibility. After all these stages, the children are now able to communicate fluently with precise speech sounds.
Integration of auditory and visual information from lip-reading in speech development
When in the speech perception process, the aptitude to put together visual and auditory information leads the speech to sound louder and be more intelligible that in turn leads to faster processing (Smith & Benneto, 2007). The process of putting together the auditory and visual information is crucial in early language development as well as goes on to affect the comprehension of speech throughout the lifespan of the child. The initial research reveals that people with autism have problems putting together information specifically across multiple sensory domains. The current study on the other hand shows that the audiovisual speech integration was examined in eighteen adolescent with elevated functioning autism and nineteen well-arranged adolescents with normal development using the speech in noise example. The reception of speech thresholds for auditory only were calculated and the audiovisual matched speech, and the lip-reading capability gauged. The results showed that the individuals with autism revealed limited benefit from the totting up of visual information in audiovisual perception. The results also showed that the autism individuals were worse at lip reading in comparison to those in the other group. The weakening of the pecking order showed that group audiovisual condition differences when powered by auditory perception and especially by lip-reading, were as well characterized to a distinct factor that mirrors a precise shortfall in putting together the audiovisual (Gocken, & Fox, 2001). The combination of shortfalls in audiovisual speech addition and lip-reading in people with autism are likely to add to ongoing difficulties in speech comprehension, and they may as well be connected to delays in early language development.
Separation of speech from background noise
There was a study carried out to examine the users of cochlear implant (CI) perceptual segregation of speech from the background noise with distinct electrode separation degrees between noise and speech (Nygaard & Pisoni, 1995). There were eleven nuclear CI system users tested on identification of consonant using the multi-stream processing experiment whereby speech and noise sensitivity were processed differently and sprinkled. The speech presentation was done to either six electrodes (every fourth electrode) or ten electrodes (every other electrode) whereby the noise was grounded to either different electrode set (interlaced condition) or the same electrodes (overlapped condition) ant the electrodes for both speech and noise separated by one-and two-electrode spacing for the six-and ten-electrode presentations respectively. The outcome showed that a slight but massively important improvement in consonant recognition (5%-10%) in the interweave condition with a two-electrode spacing (approximately 1.1 mm) in two subjects. It comes out clear that the outcomes were powered by interactions by the peripheral channels, slightly explaining the individual variability. In general, the study showed that the performance of the CI users on segregating the focus from the backdrop which may modified if the sounds were presented with enough peripheral separation. Keep in mind that identification of the background noise can as well be done using the blind signal separation (Kuhl, 2004). This can be done through suppressing the speech component after separating all the other components. The blind signal separation (BSS) avoids the scale indeterminacy using the projection back method. The results shows that there is a slight improvement in consonant recognition by about 6 to 11 percent meaning that if the method can be modified then the end results can be great and clearly show the distinct separation between speech and background noise.
Importance of developing speech communication in infancy and early childhood
Speech development in early children is very important because like any other person, it helps them pass an important message to their mothers or caretakers who then go ahead to take appropriate action. For example, when an infant cries he passes a message that either he is hungry and should be given food or he is hurt in one way or the other whereby he may be sick as well. Therefore, the parent or caretaker will take the necessary action to make sure the baby stops crying proving that he has communicated and heard. This shows that speech sound is a very special concept in communication among the infants and early childhood. Speech communication in infants and early childhood is crucial as it helps them during the process of learning; writing and reading as well as career choices when they become youths. Speech communication is also important in brain development process which also determines how brilliant and sharp the child will be. For example, the process of brain development includes physical development, language development, visual and auditory development and emotional and social development (Diane, 1998). This shows that speech communication also plays a major part in brain development as it encompasses language and visual and auditory developments. Therefore, there is no doubt that speech is a very crucial component in children development.