As Gordon Wells (1986) indicates, the entire function of learning language and interacting socially is geared toward making connections with other people as well as to help the individual make sense of their experiences. “Language occurs through an interaction among genes (which hold innate tendencies to communicate and be sociable), environment, and the child’s own thinking abilities” (Genishi, 2006). But just how does this happen? How do children learn to use sounds to communicate and then to place those sounds in the correct order to make themselves understood? While much of this behavior can be attributed to imitation of the caregivers, there remain aspects to the development of language and communication that cannot be so easily explained. To provide a more complete understanding of how language and communication develop in the young child, it is necessary to understand not only the primary terms that are applied, but also the parts and components that make up language. This helps to inform the various theories that have been developed relating to language development which then begins to identify how environmental aspects of the child’s world may contribute to the development of language and identify those strategies that are used to encourage language development.
There are several terms used in a discussion of language development that may not be quite as obvious as they might seem at first glance. Generally speaking, language is defined as a set of symbols, typically in the form of articulatory gestures and the creation of sounds, which are used to communicate or store information (Eccardt, 2003). “The symbols are words, and their meanings cover everything we humans deal with … Generally, the above definition puts the label ‘language’ on English, Spanish, Chinese, etc. It also covers sign languages for deaf people” (Eccardt, 2003).