Language refers to the comprehension and production of words, sentences and discourse, in oral and written form. Language development may be delayed or disordered.
Infants communicate with their parents from the time they are born. Early cries and vocal noises shortly develop into speech sounds and eventually into meaningful words. The words children learn are extracted from the language they hear parents use during daily activities and interactions. These early social interactions are crucial to the development of speech and language skills.
Language can be defined as an agreed upon symbolic code that is shared by a group of people. Language has rules for appropriate form, content and use. Language delays and disorders can affect aspects of all of three components in combination or as isolated areas of weakness.
Form, Content and Use
The form of language includes sounds and words. More importantly, form relates to the order in which these sounds and words are combined to affect meaning. Phonology (sound order and combination rules), syntax (word order and combination rules), and morphology (word beginnings and endings that specify meaning) are included in form.
The content of language includes all of its vocabulary and how words are used to code meaning (semantics).
Use of form and content helps us achieve our communication intents or goals in a socially acceptable way and includes non-verbal aspects of communication such as voice (pitch, loudness, speed and stress), eye contact, facial expression, and body language.
Language can be oral or written with receptive (input) and expressive (output) components.
Language development can be delayed in young children who fail to meet expected development norms. There can be a number of reasons for this. For some children language delay is part of an overall developmental delay or arises from a medical condition known to affect speech and language development. In other children, language delay is an isolated finding. It can also be an outcome of early sensory or social deprivation.
Language can be disordered. In this case, developmental milestones are met but there are challenges with specific areas of language such as grammar or vocabulary. These challenges can affect oral and written comprehension and expression.
We tend to think of language development as one of the tasks of early childhood and forget that it continues into adolescence. Adolescents with weaker language skills may, for example, have trouble with more complex grammar or with figurative language, or they may struggle to write essays which require a more formal and complex form of expression referred to as expository.
Who does it affect?
Language delays and disorders affect individuals of all ages. Language skills develop and become more sophisticated as we mature. Language deficits can affect reading and writing skills and alert us to other areas of challenge such as memory, organizational skills, cognitive abilities, and more.
What is the impact?
Because language is the primary vehicle for communication, it can affect any area of social, educational and vocational function. Depending on their severity, language deficits can lead to social isolation and learning struggles, and limit career opportunities.
Can anything be done?
Early intervention is highly recommended for toddlers and preschoolers who are lagging in language development. Much of the early therapy involves parents who interact verbally with the child during every day activities. Language skills provide a foundation for learning at school. Older children and adolescents can also be helped, as well as adults with residual language-based challenges that now affect their function at work.
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