Digital Technology and Language Development


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Communicating via technology occupies a unique middle ground between using spoken and written language for communication. Electronic discourse, such as that used in e-mails, text messages, or Internet chat rooms, often resembles writing that reads as if it were being spoken. Some researchers have termed this form of language “written speech” or “spoken writing” (Crystal, 2006). It has been suggested that this form of “netspeak” may represent an entirely new language register (Greenfield & Subrahmanyam, 2003). If children are increasingly communicating in an alternative language form, this may have implications for their communication and literacy skills, as it may be encouraging the development of new skills or leading to the loss of others. In his book Language and the Internet, Crystal (2006) outlined some key distinctions between speech and writing that are relevant when considering the use of written speech and its impact on a person’s language and literacy skills. Speech is time bound and dynamic and forms part of an interaction, whereas writing is space bound, permanent, and static.

In speech, there is no time lag between the expression and reception of information, and speech exchanges are usually spontaneous and rapid. Writing does have a time lag, allowing the writer to edit and rephrase information, considering expressions and the needs of the reader. In speech, sentence boundaries are often unclear, and speech interactions contain loose grammatical constructions, such as natural pauses, repetitions, rephrasing, interruptions, and overlap. Informal speech contains many vague expressions, slang terms, and nonsense vocabulary (e.g., watchamacallit). A great deal of spoken communication is also nonverbal; facial expression and gestures convey a great deal of meaning. The nuances and prosody of speech such as tempo, loudness, and tone of voice also convey a great deal of meaning. In writing, however, sentences are carefully and concisely structured with punctuation. Written expressions are usually unambiguous because the vocabulary needs to convey the intended meaning without reference to contextual nonverbal cues, although some orthographic cues, such as capitalization and line and letter spacing, can be used.

With mobile telephones and some computer software, it is possible to use spoken language to communicate a conversation in real time, as if one is face-to-face with another person. However, it is currently more common to use written communication as the primary means of computer-mediated communication (Ofcom, 2008), although it is also possible to switch between these two forms or use both simultaneously. This form of electronic discourse can be “synchronous” (i.e., taking place in real time, as in an online chat room) or “asynchronous” (i.e., taking place with a time delay, as in e-mail; Johnson, 2008). The nature of language in this written communication is heavily dependent on the service being used and the recipient of the information. For example, e-mails may resemble a traditional letter or they may more closely resemble written speech, similar to that used in a real-time online chat room (Baron 1998; Crystal, 2006). It is therefore interesting to consider whether different language and literacy skills are required for this alternative communication method, or whether existing skills can simply be adapted.

Digital Technology and Language Development

Concept of Technology

Technology is a body of knowledge devoted to creating tools, processing actions and the extracting of materials. The term ‘Technology” is wide, and everyone has their way of understanding its meaning. We use technology to accomplish various tasks in our daily lives, in brief; we can describe technology as products and processes used to simplify our daily lives. We use technology to extend our abilities, making people the most crucial part of any technological system.

Technology is also an application of science used to solve problems. But it is vital to know that technology and science are different subjects which work hand-in-hand to accomplish specific tasks or solve problems. We apply technology in almost everything we do in our daily lives; we use technology at work, we use technology for communication, transportation, learning, manufacturing, securing data, scaling businesses and so much more.  Technology is human knowledge which involves tools, materials, and systems. The application of technology typically results in products. If technology is well applied, it benefits humans, but the opposite is true, if used for malicious reasons.

Past researchers have viewed and defined the term ‘technology’ from many perspectives and this has influenced the research design and results, negotiations around a transfer and government policies in general (Reddy and Zhoa, 1990).

Thus, the term technology has been given various definitions by previous literatures. According to Kumar et. al (1999) technology consists of two primary components: 1) a physical component which comprises of items such as products, tooling, equipments, blueprints, techniques, and processes; and 2) the informational component which consists of know-how in management, marketing, production, quality control, reliability, skilled labor and functional areas. The earlier definition by Sahal (1981) views technology as ‘configuration’, observing that the transfer object (the technology) relies on a subjectively determined but specifiable set of processes and products. The current studies on the technology transfer have connected technology directly with knowledge and more attention is given to the process of research and development (Dunning, 1994). By scrutinizing the technology definition, there are two basic components that can be identified: 1) ‘knowledge’ or technique; and 2) ‘doing things’. Technology is always connected with obtaining certain result, resolving certain problems, completing certain tasks using particular skills, employing knowledge and exploiting assets (Lan and Young, 1996).

The concept of technology does not only relate to the technology that embodies in the product but it is also associated with the knowledge or information of it use, application and the process in developing the product (Lovell, 1998; Bozeman, 2000).  The early concept of technology as information holds that the technology is generally applicable and easy to reproduce and reuse (Arrow, 1962). However, Reddy and Zhoa (1990) contend that the early concept of technology contradicts with a strand of literatures on international technology transfer which holds that “technology is conceived as firm-specific information concerning the characteristics and performance properties of the production process and product design”. They further argue that the production process or operation technology is embodied in the equipment or the means to produce a defined product. On the other hand, the product design or product technology is that which is manifested in the finished product. Pavitt (1985) suggests that technology is mainly differentiated knowledge about specific application, tacit, often uncodified and largely cumulative within firms. Thus, based on this argument, technology is regarded as the firm’s ‘intangible assets’ or ‘firm-specific’ which forms the basis of a firm’s competitiveness and will generally release under special condition (Dunning, 1981). Tihanyi and Roath (2002) propose that technology can include information that is not easily reproducible and transferable. Based on this argument technology is seen as “tacit knowledge (Polanyi, 1967) or firm-specific, secrets or knowledge known by one organization” (Nonaka, 1994).


The latest definition given by Mascus (2003) has broadened the concept of technology where technology is defined as ‘the information necessary to achieve a certain production outcome from a particular means of combining or processing selected inputs which include production processes, intra-firm organizational structures, management techniques, and means of finance, marketing methods or any of its combination’.

Concept of Language

Oxford English Dictionary defines language as “Words and the methods of combining them for the expression of thoughts”.  Language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of voluntarily produced symbols.

 Language is species specific.” Language is one of the most important and characteristic forms of human behavior. A language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which a social group cooperates. (Harmer, 1994).

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Concept of Language Development

Language development is the process by which children come to understand and communicate language during early childhood. Language development begins before birth. Towards the end of pregnancy, a fetus begins to hear sounds and speech coming from outside the mother’s body. Infants are acutely attuned to the human voice and prefer it to other sounds. In particular they prefer the higher pitch characteristic of female voices. They also are very attentive to the human face, especially when the face is talking. Although crying is a child’s primary means of communication at birth, language immediately begins to develop via repetition and imitation.

Importance of language development

Digital Technology enhanced oral communication is indeed useful in that it allows students from remote locations, or from all over the world to communicate orally through video and audio conferencing tools. For example, students of languages in Australian universities overcome the problem of insufficient contact with native language speakers by using online audio and video tools that allow the development of aural, vocal and visual-cognition skills that are important in verbal and linguistic education. Oral group discussions in the form of video conferencing can help non-native speakers of a language with natural language negotiation and cultural intonations in ways that have hitherto not been possible due to geographic isolation/distancing.

Digital Technology can also help in improvement of writing skills. Word processing software promotes not only composition but also editing and revising in ways that streamline the task of writing. Desktop publishing and web-based publishing allow the work to be taken beyond the classroom into a virtual world that allows more constructive interactions.

Until social media sites took over at the turn of the century, electronic mail had been a good way to promote verbal/linguistic learning, through letter writing. The widespread complaint among language experts on the deleterious effects of technology on written skills arises from the use of homophones and new acronyms in messaging that creep into formal writing as well.

Technological Tools for language development:

Television: Television plays an active role in language development due to it’s visually and auditory captivating and entertaining nature. Watching an excessive amount of television and videos by children less than two years of age has been reported to significantly influence language development and behavioral disturbances (Chonchaiya  & Prusanandaonda, 2008; Mistry, Minkovitz, Strobino, & Borzekowski, 2007). 

Computer: Similar to television, computers have become an indispensable element in children’s lives. Spending too much time on the computer from an early age can negatively affect academic success due to the low concentration, lack of attention and disorganization, undeveloped language skills, creativity, and imagination seen in children as a result of excess computer use (Cordes & Miller, 2000; Palmer, 2015).

Internet: Studies on the internet’s possible effects on early literacy activities have explored whether the internet offers intentional and unintentional learning opportunities, and the impact of the internet on early literacy is still not fully understood (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, & Leu, 2008). Easy access to illegal, violent, and sexual content, communication with dangerous people, and excessive dependence on games constitute only a few of these significant risks (Iscibasi, 2011).

Video games: Although much has been written about the effects of video games on children and adolescents, there has been little work done on the effects of video games on young children (Bailey, West, & Anderson, 2011). Violent video games can lead children to aggressive behavior and inhibit creative game play (Provenzo, 1992). Studies have shown that there is a strong link between violence in video games and real life violence, and that these games lead to social isolation and lack of communication and communication with children (Kutner & Olson, 2008).

Smart phones: An increased use of smart phones has been reported to be associated with passive aggressive, unprotected, socially incompatibility, obsession, addiction, and anxiety. It has been reported that those children engaged with their smart phone during school negatively affect both own and their classmates’ attention (Sevi, Odabaşıoğlu, Genç, Soykal, & Ozturk, 2014; Yen et al., 2009).

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Digital toys: As digital toys multiply and become an indispensable part of children’s daily lives, the increasingly restricted use of outdoor playgrounds may negatively affect the normal development of children. For normal development, children need to spend their time with their peers (Rosen et al., 2014).

Challenges of language development

As with anything to do with technology, there are also detractors who propose negative influence of features like animation, sound, music and other multimedia effects possible in digital media, which may distract young readers from the story content. The complaint that constant use of digital technology hampers attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks is also commonly heard.

There is also considerable agreement that the course of language development reflects the interplay of factors in at least five domains: social, perceptual, cognitive processing, conceptual and linguistic.


1.         Toddlers infer a speaker’s communicative intent and use that information to guide their language learning. For example, as early as 24 months, they are able to infer solely from an adult’s excited tone of voice and from the physical setting that a new word must refer to an object that has been placed on the table while the adult was away. Akhtar, Carpenter and Tomasello (1996).

2.         The verbal environment influences language learning. From ages one to three, children from highly verbal “professional” families heard nearly three times as many words per week as children from low verbal “welfare” families. Longitudinal data show that aspects of this early parental language predict language scores at age nine.11


1.         Infant perception sets the stage. Auditory perceptual skills at six or 12 months of age can predict vocabulary size and syntactic complexity at 23 months of age.12

2.         Perceptibility matters. In English, the forms that are challenging for impaired learners are forms with reduced perceptual salience, e.g. those that are unstressed or lie united within a consonant cluster. (Leonard, 1992).

Cognitive processes

1.         Frequency affects rate of learning. Children who hear an unusually high proportion of examples of a language form learn that form faster than children who receive ordinary input. (Nelson, 1996).

2.         “Trade-offs” among the different domains of language can occur when the total targeted sentence requires more mental resources than the child has available. For example, children make more errors on small grammatical forms such as verb endings and prepositions in sentences with complex syntax than in sentences with simple syntax. (Namazi M, 1997).


1.         Relational terms are linked to mental age. Words that express notions of time, causality, location, size and order are correlated with mental age much more than words that simply refer to objects and events.16 Moreover, children learning different languages learn to talk about spatial locations such as in or next to in much the same order, regardless of the grammatical devices of their particular language. (McGregor, 2002).

2.         Language skills are affected by world knowledge. Children who have difficulty recalling a word also know less about the objects to which the word refers.18


1.         Verb endings are cues to verb meaning. If a verb ends in –ing, three-year-olds  will decide that it refers to an activity, such as swim, rather than to a completed change of state, such as push off. (Fazio , Johnston  and  Brandl, 1993)

2.         Current vocabulary influences new learning. Toddlers usually decide that a new word refers to the object for which they do not already have a label. (Bates and Goodman, 1997)

Other challenges

 (i) Body

The physical organs which are responsible for speech affect the development of speech. If these organs develop properly the child learns better language and their pronunciation is also correct.

(ii) Health

Children who are healthy and their sense organs are properly developed, they receive correct stimuli from the environ­ment and they learn better language quickly. Child with poor health is not able to learn language properly.


Intelligence of the child affects the language development of the child. Comprehension of the intelligent child is good so he learns faster and better. They make less grammatical mistakes.

(iv) Sex

It has been seen that girls learns language earlier than boys. Their sentences are long and their pronunciation is nearly correct.

(v) Family

The language of family members affects the language development of the child. How do they communicate with him? How much opportunity the child get to speak, their encouragement, etc. affects the child’s language development. Children from joint families learn language faster than children from nuclear family. The vocabulary of children of joint families is more than the vocabulary of children of nuclear families.

(vi) Economic status of the family

It has been seen that children from higher in­come group have a better language develop­ment. They get better environment, better opportunities, better school and teachers, so automatically their language development is good. They speak correctly and they have a rich vocabulary. They make sentences choos­ing better words.

Digital technology and language development

A key assumption of many concerns is that the time spent using technology may be displacing other activities of greater developmental value (Johnson, 2006), such as sports and social activities. It is therefore important to consider whether evidence-based research findings show that there is developmental value in computer-mediated communication.

Models of language acquisition stress the importance of human interactions in developing language skills. Children raised in very deprived language environments can struggle, particularly with the development of social communication (Bishop, 2001). A major concern regarding communication technology is that it potentially encourages social isolation and that this may have a negative impact on language skills, particularly on social communication skills in that children spend less time inter- acting face-to-face with their family and peers (McCarrick & Xiaoming, 2007). The lack of face-to-face interaction means that many contextual and nonverbal language cues may be lost, and it is questionable whether conversational maxims such as turn-taking, response, appropriateness, relevance, formality level, and continuation are still adhered to in electronic communication.


Families do report that in households with many media devices, there is a reduction in the number of social interactions that take place (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008). There is also an increasing trend for children to use technology without adult supervision and often in their own room (Ofcom, 2008). Children ages between 8 and 11 years have an average of four media devices (e.g., television, stereo, mobile phone, computer games console) in their bedroom, and children ages 12 to 15 years have an average of six (Ofcom, 2008). Many family members perceive that they are spending less time together and more time independently using technology than was the case a decade ago (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008). Some research has linked the presence of a computer at home with a decline in children’s social relationships, but in the short term, this was found to be due to the novelty effect of having a computer (Subrahmanyam et al., 2000). The evidence from studies of electronic discourse is that conversational language rules are still adhered to (Baron, 1998; Crystal, 2006; Greenfield & Subrahmanyam, 2003).

There appears to be no research to date that has found conversational language skills to be adversely affected by using communication technology. If anything, the limited research in this area would suggest that electronic communication encourages users to be more aware of the need to provide contextual information, and may in fact enhance pragmatic language skills. In a study by Greenfield and Subrahmanyam (2003), teenage chat room users were found to adapt to features of the chat room environment by developing new communication strategies and creating a new communicative register. There is evidence that computer-mediated communication has encouraged new micro-communication behaviors (Walther, 2007) and modified communication strategies (Greenfield & Subrahmanyam, 2003). Users appear to be highly aware of social context (Mesch, 2009) and adapt their relational tone, personal language, sentence complexity, and message composition time depending on their target recipient (Walther, 2007), which suggests a high level of cognitive awareness in terms of pragmatic skills.

There is also evidence that chat groups and online forums develop dialects (Crystal, 2006). Users accommodate their own language to take into account the language environment; this again suggests that language and social communication skills are promoted by using communication technology and are not adversely affected.

Despite concerns that technology reduces human interactions, the use of computer technology for communication purposes has in fact been found to promote social interactions, albeit electronically mediated ones. Children and young people are still communicating as much as ever, but simply via their electronic devices. The overall influence on social interaction depends on whether the social uses of the computer supplement or substitute other sources of social contact that young people have (Subrahmanyam etal., 2000).

Research on very young children has investigated another common concern, whether a lack of adult–child interaction while children use the computer alone affects early learning by inhibiting early spoken language use (Klerfelt, 2007; McCarrick & Xiaoming, 2007; Palfrey & Gasser, 2008). McCarrick and Xiaoming (2007) found that computer use with preschool children did not significantly inhibit or encourage language use, and that computers provided an equally rich environment for language development. However, adult presence with small children has been found to have significant effects on the way the computer is perceived (Klerfelt, 2007). Some researchers have stressed that the computer should be seen as a tool and that adult mediation is vital to promote learning through interactive discussions (Espinosa et al., 2006). Use of nonverbal communication such as gesture has also been highlighted to promote quality interactions between an adult and child using a computer together; this in turn has shown positive effects on learning in literacy (Klerfelt, 2007).

Computers are increasingly being used to promote early language learning (McCarrick & Xiaoming, 2007). Pro- grams are available that develop pragmatic language skills in children with impaired language and autism (Bosseler & Massaro, 2003). Computer-mediated communication is also widely encouraged for second-language learning. Computer- aided language learning programs have shown positive effects on disadvantaged children’s language development and are now widely used in preschool Head Start centers across America (McCarrick & Xiaoming, 2007; Subrahmanyam, Greenfield, Kraut, & Gross, 2001).

The Klerfelt (2007) and McCarrick and Xiaoming (2007) studies took place in school settings, but the concerns over adult supervision are perhaps even more important when children use computers at home. There is evidence that children are much less able than adults to assess the credibility and appropriateness of the content and language they are able to access via computer technology (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008). There is a wealth of information accessible via the Internet, but to be able to judge the credibility of information obtained requires a high level of cognitive skill as well as prior knowledge on which to base judgments. From the point of view of social communication, there have also been concerns regarding children’s ability to judge what information is appropriate to share when communicating via the Internet and with whom to share this information

(Palfrey & Gasser, 2008). Children have the low-level skills to access information but lack the higher order skills to evaluate it (Johnson, 2007). Research suggests that when using computer-mediated communication, many people are selective in their self-presentation (Walther, 2007). In electronic discourse, the recipient of messages may be known or unknown (Baron, 1998). The lack of nonverbal cues available when communicating with this technology makes it much more difficult to make judgements about what is conversationally appropriate for known or unknown recipients.

It would seem that computer-mediated communication does not appear to have negative effects on specific language skills and may indeed have beneficial effects, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds or second-language learners. However, it would seem that there are valid concerns over the language content accessible to children via computers and their ability to make judgments about what is conversationally appropriate on such an open forum. There is a need for parents and caregivers to safeguard their children’s interests in ensuring they are accessing developmentally appropriate language. Much of the research that has been mentioned has referred to language skills. We will now consider literacy skills and some of the more general cognitive skills that support literacy development. Digital Technology and Language Development, Digital Technology and Language Development, Digital Technology and Language Development, Digital Technology and Language Development, Digital Technology and Language Development, Digital Technology and Language Development, Digital Technology and Language Development, Digital Technology and Language Development, Digital Technology and Language Development, Digital Technology and Language Development, Digital Technology and Language Development

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