What is Natural Language Acquisition and Gestalt Language Processing?
Historically, echolalia has been described as having no communicative function. However, research has identified various communicative functions of echolalia, and has suggested its role in Gestalt Language Processing. Check out this article to find out more about what gestalt language processing is and how you can support gestalt language processors across environments.
When we think of the steps to acquiring language, one might assume the commonly known analytic language development approach where a child first derives meaning from single words or ‘units,’ then combines these units to form two-word combinations and later forms phrases and sentences with more complex grammar. However, not all children are analytic language learners. There are other kinds of ‘units’ referred to as gestalt units. The word ‘gestalt’ means ‘whole.’ Gestalt units are typically phrases, sentences, whole songs, or even whole stories. You can think of gestalts as the “soundtrack of experiences, or life episodes.” The meaning of any gestalt is singular to the individual who picks it up.
Stage 1 Echolalia: Strings of language repeated verbatim from other sources (e.g. songs, sentences)
- “Let’s get out of here!” or “Want some more?”
Stage 2 Mitigated Echolalia: Strings from Stage 1 are first broken down into smaller chunks, then recombined into smaller utterances
- “Let’s get (chunk of first gestalt above) + some more (chunk of second gestalt above)”
Stage 3 Isolation and Recombination of Single Words: Echolalia is further mitigated into single words that are used to generate two‐
- “Get…more” (further break-down of gestalt in stage 2)
Stage 4 Self‐Generated Grammar: Original sentences are simple at first but increase in complexity
- “I get”
Stage 5: Original sentences with complex grammar
- “I want to get some more toys”
Stage 6: Original sentences with complete grammar system
- “Do you want to get some more toys with me?”
Gestalt language development was recognized through research in the 1970’s and 1980’s (B. Prizant, 1983; A. Peters, 1983/2021). Gestalt Language Processing, a component of Natural Language Acquisition, is a natural method of developing language in which children process language as “whole chunks” instead of initially processing single words. Natural Language Acquisition acknowledges the communicative intent underlying echolalia and helps a child break apart their gestalt scripts and recombine the pieces into new combinations, phrases, and sentences. The stages of Gestalt Language Processing differ from analytic language processing where children’s language progresses from words to phrases to sentences. There are six stages the child will move through to reach the final stage where self‐generated, complex sentences are used. The stages are as follows:
For more examples of Gestalt Language Development versus Analytic language development, download this free handout HERE.
It is important for us to understand that we all learn and process information differently, which is what makes us all unique. Gestalt Language Development is a natural method of acquiring language for some children. Click HERE to learn more about how to recognize when an individual is a Gestalt Language Processor and how to best support these individuals.
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Hi, I am a Speech-Language Pathologist at South Shore Therapies. I am passionate about planning and delivering creative, individualized treatment designed to meet the unique needs of each of my clients. Our mission with SST’s social media platform is to empower, educate and inspire families to take on life’s challenges while promoting an optimistic outlook and a brighter future.
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