This article is authored by Mythili Raja, Assistant Professor, Nirmla Arts and Science College, Mulanthuruthy

Among the many complex phenomena in the world, language acquisition occupies a high position based on its complexity. But surprisingly in children this process occurs in a seemingly effortless manner even with the comprehension of complex concepts at a very young age itself.  Psycholinguistics, the study that centers around the relationship between mind and language tries to find out the intricacies involved in the complex language acquisition process. There are four domains of psycholinguistics:

Acquisition → Comprehension → Production→ Dissolution

Acquisition explains how the child acquires his first or the native language (mother tongue). Comprehension explains how children understand sounds, words and sentence in a language. Production of language is the manifestation of its acquisition and comprehension. Dissolution means how language loss happens.

The present study concentrates upon the psycholinguistic aspects that assist the comprehension of complex concepts in semantics. The study has tried to unearth the significant role of human mind in the concept development process by exhibiting its generativity capacity. The study is carried out among the native speakers of Malayalam language.

Semantic Acquisition

The study of Semantics deals how linguistic elements carry meaning. As Language is a symbolic system, each symbolic elements or words are linked to specific concepts. Eventhough the process of concept development is complex children acquire this stage of development extremely rapidly and simply.

In order to acquire the semantics of a language, a child must 1.  identify the relevant linguistic items 2. identify or understand the meanings linked to these items and 3. learn how these forms connect to their respective meanings. There is a relation between language and cognition.   

Concepts help a child to understand about direction, location, position, number, quantity, sequence, attributes, dimension, size, similarities and differences. In order to function in a society, one must learn the rules and structures of the language system. Structure of language helps a child to become more specific in its understanding, and it’s use provides the knowledge of concepts. There are two types of concepts: abstract and concrete concepts. Abstract concept is the one which cannot be learnt through definition; e.g., spatio-temporal concept whereas the concrete concept is the one that can be learnt through definition.

The semantic analysis identified that from babbling stage the kinships are identified even with over generalisation. Thus, the first identified grammatical categories are the nouns. The data of noun classification identified before the age of 3 in children has attained almost all noun categories. The complex categories of abstract nouns such as ‘sahayam’ ( meaning help) are also possible for the child’s mind to acquire before the age of 3.

This shows that the number of nouns are greater in number than verbs. In two-word stage children become experts in vocabulary development. In multi word stage they try to use complicated words with complex concepts. The data reveals that children show a tendency to use antonymous words for the actual words they intend to use eg. /patukke/’softly’ for /urakke/ ‘loudly’.

Gradually child starts to use most of the synonymous words for simple vocabulary. For eg, /katakə/ ‘door’ the child use /jennel/ ‘window’, For niRaye /ottiri child use /valiyatu/‘bigger’.

There is also hyponymous words which are identified in child’s vocabulary. They are  very few in number. When children assign a meaning to an unfamiliar word form, they must take into account different kinds of semantic relations. They give information about a relation like class inclusion in utterances. e.g. /migangal / ‘animals’, ‘This is a kind of animal’, car/bus> vandi ‘vehicle’.

Finally, we see that the child has attained the level of using the right verb at the right place. It is evident from the data when the child says /pōṇə pāttə veccu/ ‘The phone is kept hiding’ instead of saying /pōṇə kāṇāte pōi/ ‘The phone is missing’. Similarly, in an instance the child uses the sentence / dōṭṭarpūppan tīnnu pōi / ‘Doctor grandfather exhausted’ instead of doctor grandfather has already moved away from the front of its house. There is a third instance from the data showing the child using the verb ’switch off ‘instead of ‘remove’ the child tells /cūccə ōppə ceyyə/ ‘Switch off the shoes.

/kai muRinnu > /kai potti pōyi/ ‘hand broken’ (There is an injury in the hand).

From the collected data it can be observed that children tend to co-relate the knowledge of different grammatical categories of Malayalam before they produce it through there speech. It takes a little more time for the child to reach the level of adult’s usage of language.

It has been observed that the children tend to grasp concepts relating to space much quickly than concepts relating to time. This might be because the social environment of the child tends to develop an urge in him to grasp the special and directional concepts and use it in their communication to fullfill their needs. When it comes to temporal concepts, we can only find three terms before the age of three in children. These terms refer to the concept of night, tomorrow (child tends to use it in every situation relating to temporal concepts). It might be because adults tend to use these few terms more often to the children through baby talk and motherese.


The child’s concept of death is changing. Babies do not have the cognitive capability to understand an abstract concept like death before two. After two years child understand the non-functionality concept in death. Wells (1995) argued that children initially approach death with curiosity, whereas emotions of stress, fear and sorrow appear later and were adopted as behavioural patterns by the environment. They develop an intense curiosity as to what happens to the human body, while at the same time they consider that dead people are in a state of protracted sleep, but generally not different to that of the living.