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Early childhood language development: a case study of a Sri Lankan Tamil child’s progress in language acquisition


Jeyaseelan Gnanaseelan

University of Vavuniya, LK
About Jeyaseelan
Dr Jeyaseelan Gnanaseelan is a Senior Lecturer in English and the Head of the Department of English Language Teaching, Faculty of Business Studies, University of Vavuniya, Sri Lanka. He has visited, presented papers, and participated in international conferences and seminars within Sri Lanka, India, at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, and at the University of Virginia, the United States of America, and published research articles in the journals and two books, Vanni Farmers in Wartimes and National Conflict and International Intervention: a Media Discourse. His research areas are Multidisciplinary Discourse Analysis, ELT, Media Political Discourse, and Contrastive and Error Analysis. He has been a curriculum developer and resource person for the University of Jaffna, Open University, Eastern University of Sri Lanka, and Trincomalee Campus. He has been a research reviewer, conference chairperson, PGD Co-supervisor, Doctorate Thesis Examiner, Consultant in Development and Rehabilitation Projects, Resource Person for many Workshops, Seminars, and Guest Lectures at the national level, and UGC Research Grantee.
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The paper presents a case study of early childhood language development focused on a Tamil child from Sri Lanka. The research study aims to analyse the progress a Tamil child from Sri Lanka achieves in language development at the five levels: phonological, morphological, syntactical, semantic, and pragmatic. The methodology involves a five-fold linguistic analysis of some utterances extracted from a conversation between the researcher and the subject, who is a six-year-old Sri Lankan Tamil child, based on a story presented in the form of a monologue. It reveals that the child had acquired the necessary language skills in Tamil to communicate his thoughts in advance of the conversation. Also, his speech is equal to that of an adult, if not for some interlanguage expressions and discourse markers. The findings reveal that the child has managed to internalise the structure of the Tamil language, which is his mother tongue. The child possesses a considerable fund of ‘language universals’ that are required in the narration of his story. Although the story is not his own creation but heard from his teachers or parents, the utterances he makes are similar to those used by an adult. Most of the sentences he utters represent a high level of competence. So, this paper identifies the child’s language output under Chomsky’s mentalist approach to language and transformational generative language acquisition. It is perceived that his innate language faculties help him utter sentences, in addition to his exposure to the use of language by the adults in the environment.

How to Cite: Gnanaseelan, J., 2023. Early childhood language development: a case study of a Sri Lankan Tamil child’s progress in language acquisition. Sri Lanka Journal of Social Sciences, 45(2), pp.213–229. DOI:
Published on 27 Apr 2023.
Peer Reviewed


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