Generally, this book deals with the development of language from birth to two years of age. Bruner begins by offering two competing theories, one an "impossible empiricist associationism," which covers everything from Saint Augustine to B.F. Skinner, and the other, a "miraculous nativism," introduced by Noam Chomsky. To complement Chomsky's Language Acquisition Device (LAD), Bruner proposes a Language Acquisition Support System (LASS), which helps assure continuity from pre-linguistic to linguistic communication.
After a philosophical discussion, Bruner devotes the remainder of his attention to games, the growth of reference, and the development of request. He concludes that whether or not humans have innate capacities for language, they still have to learn to use their language in a socially acceptable manner. Thus the rationale is established for the LASS, which frames interaction between mother and child in such a way as to help the young speaker master the use of language.
Three salient points emerge from Bruner's study. The first, that pre-linguisitic communication consists of breaking down conversations into units by means of "completives" uttered by the mother, is intrinsically weak. If the child is taught that these completives segment actions, and subsequent sentences are built of a subject and an action-based predicate, then the analysis that Bruner suggests must exist above the sentence level, not below it.
Secondly, Bruner asserts that young mothers focus on action units that have the structure Agent - Action - Patient - Beneficiary, e.g., "Mommy is putting Doggy outside so Baby can sleep." However Bruner's argument does not allow for different word orders in different languages.
Thirdly, Bruner supposes that the management of joint attention leads to the development of predication. Here Bruner does not provide sufficient details to convince us of his arguments. He implies throughout that the child imitates the parent, but a few simple observations will show that in many cases, the opposite is true: it is the adult, in fact, who imitates the child.
Bruner gets a lot of mileage (perhaps stretching things a bit too thin) out of two longitudinal studies of young children in England. One of these was cut short when the child's family moved away. Despite the occasional lapse into a kind of Oxbridge cynicism, however, Bruner's ideas come across with a certain freshness, welcome diversions from the field of language acquisition studies.