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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


BRINK, Nina  and  BREED, Adri. The way in which young Afrikaans children connect meaning to their early vocabulary. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2017, vol.57, n.4, pp.1012-1036. ISSN 2224-7912.

The acquisition of a first language can be described as becoming proficient in the phonology, morphology, lexicon, syntax and semantics (and pragmatics) of a language, as well as mastering the underlying abstract rules associated with these grammatical levels. Seeing that each child should master a form of each of these elements, one can assume that language typological factors will be involved in the process. However, some of these aspects will be language specific seeing that languages differ with regard to grammar and context specific factors. Language specific studies on first language acquisition that employ language typological factors are therefore necessary to explore this field of study. Lieven (2010:92,103) specifically indicates a universal need for more language acquisition studies in a variety of languages and especially research on how children connect form and meaning (make form-meaning mappings) from the input in their different communicative settings. However, very little research has been done on Afrikaans first language acquisition in general and a number of research opportunities, such as exploring the form-meaning mappings of Afrikaans children, within this field still exist. A survey on the available literature within this field has also not been conducted as yet. Another gap is that very few of the available Afrikaans studies make use of original data and of data on children just beginning to learn a language. This present study therefore aims to (i) provide a survey on the available literature in Afrikaans first language acquisition and on the research opportunities within this field, (ii) start to fill some of these gaps in the literature by studying the first form-meaning mappings that Afrikaans children just beginning to acquire their language, make, and (iii) do this by presenting an analysis of original data. Therefore, a literature review of the available literature on Afrikaans first language acquisition from an educational, psychological and linguistic perspective that indicates the research opportunities within these fields is provided. Furthermore, data from 21 Afrikaans speaking children between the ages of eight and 24 months using their first lexical items was analysed in order to make conclusions on how the children connect form and meaning, in other words make form-meaning mappings. During the investigation period of five months, the children's parents recorded their children's first lexical items and also indicated the contexts in which the lexical items were used. Studies on first language acquisition are usually carried out from one of two opposite approaches, namely empiricism and rationalism. This study followed an empiricist approach considering that this approach accounts for the process in which children extract meaning from their linguistic environments. Theoretical assumptions from the usage-based theories, and together with that cognitive linguistics, were used in the description of the language data of the particular Afrikaans children. The theoretical framework chosen from the usage-based theories and cognitive linguistics in order to optimally describe the children's form-meaning mappings consists of cognitive models and processes such as the prototype model of categorisation, image schematic structure, metonymy, metaphor and conceptual blending. These models and processes aid a description of the way in which the children structure and categorise concepts (thus make sense of meaning) before linking them to a particular form. Results firstly reveal two main types of form-meaning mappings, namely simplex mappings and complex mappings. With a simplex mapping, the conceptualisation process is more conventionalised, and therefore not necessarily difficult to establish. A complex mapping is made when the conceptualisation process needs more description and analysis in order to be fully interpreted. The complex mappings can further be divided into two types of mappings, namely metaphoric mapping (not that common in the data) and metonymic mapping. These four types of mappings reveal information on how the children connect form and meaning by means of a conceptualisation process. A significant finding is that the use of metaphor is not really active at this early stage of language acquisition, but that metonymy is a more productive categorisation mechanism at this stage. This corresponds with studies done by Péréz-Hernández and Duvignau (2016) on French speaking children and Rundblad and Annaz (2010) on English children in which it was found that metonymy is more basic than metaphor.

Keywords : Afrikaans first language acquisition; categorisation; cognitive linguistics; conceptualisation; conceptual blending; form-meaning mapping; image-schematic structure; metaphor; metonymy; prototype model; usage-based theories.

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