Learning to talk


Stages of Development

Vegetative - reflex crying noises; between 0-4 months; e.g. crying, laughing

Cooing - open mouthed vowel sounds; between 3-6 months; e.g. ooh, aaaah

Babbling - repeated constonant vowel sounds; between 6-12 months; e.g. goo goo, mamama

Proto-Word - babbling sounds that seem similar to actual words but not completely correct; between 9-12 months; e.g. 'goggie' could mean 'dog' but would have to be applied consistantly

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Grammatical Stages - Holophrastic

Single words that are consistently used for specific meanings

9-18 months

e.g. Daddy

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Grammatical Stages - Two word

Two word phrases in a range of patterns

18-24 months

e.g. Daddy go

      Where Mummy?

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Grammatical Stages - Telegraphic

Speech consists of three or more words where key content words are used but grammatical function words are left out

24-40 months

e.g. Where Daddy gone?

       Give doggie biscuit.

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Grammatical Stages - Post telegraphic

Grammatical words missing from the telegraphic stage start to appear and clauses begin to be linked into larger sentences.

36 months onwards 

e.g. We went to the park and played on the swings.

       That's my dolly 'cos Granny bought it for me

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First words

  • Usually appear at around 12 months
  • By 18 months vocabulary at around 50 words
  • 24 months -> 200 words
  • 36 months -> 2000 words

~ most children learn about 10 words a day

Holophrastic means 'whole phrase' - a child's one word utterance may convey more than one word's meaning 

e.g. if a child says 'doggie' when it walks into a room, it could mean ' look there's the dog' or 'the dog's come in'

It can also consist of two words that a child has chunked together e.g. 'wassat'

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Case Study: Nelson

Four categories that make up a child's first words:

  • Naming words - daddy, mummy, marmite, nana, granda
  • Action words - jump, bang, cuddle, poo
  • Social words - hiya, hello, please, yes, bye-bye
  • Modifying words - nice, more, hot, two

Nouns make up 60% of a child's first 50 words

- these are influenced by environment

- there is a degree of personal variation - some children are 'referential' while others are 'expressive'

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Extension of Meanings

Common semantic errors made by children:

Overextension - when a word is given a broader meaning than it has in adult language, so it                                  covers more objects

                         These have similar properties or functions/shapes e.g. 'apple' is used to identify                              all kinds of fruit

Underextension - when a word is given a narrower meaning than it should have

                           e.g. child only understands 'banana' as the fruit not as an image

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How words are constructed from their parts; e.g. base word jump or a suffix -ing or a prefix -un

Acquisition of inflections - the ways words change according to tense and who does the verb. This is shown by adding suffixes to base words


Present participle -ing e.g. I eating (verb used correctly but 'am' is missing)

Plural -s e.g. dogs

Possessive -'s e.g. Mum's

Articles, athe e.g. dog; the mat

Past tense -ed e.g. walked

3rd person singular present tense -s e.g. She says 

Auxiliary verb, be e.g. 'Be ok' should be 'It is ok'

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Children start to apply rules to their own language they have observed in action in other people's language. The rules work in many cases but do not apply to irregular words. 

e.g. past tense 'to see' is 'saw' not 'seed'

      past tense of 'fly' is 'flew' not 'flied' 

Links to the case studt of Jean Berko's experiment

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Virtuous Errors

Complete mistakes but show an underlying logic.


I runned - grammatical error for the word ending of 'run'

There was two mans - plural suffix for 'man' incorrect; 'men'

There sheeps - plural suffix incorrect; missing auxiliary verb 'are'

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Derivational morphology

The making up of new words

Conversion - using words as a different word class, like converting nouns into verbs 

                   e.g. I jammed the bread

Affixation - applying endings to words to create new ones

                 e.g. It's crowdy in here

Compunding - joining existing words together 

                  e.g. calling a gardener the 'plant-man' 

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Phonological development

Phonemes - units of sounds

Phonemic expansion - during the babbling stage the number of different phonemes produced by the child increases initially

Phonemic contraction - a reduction in the numbre of phonemes begins to occur normally by the age of about 9 or 10 months, focussing on the child's native language

Deletion - missing out hard to say consonants/ unstressed syllables e.g 'mou' instaed of 'mouse'

Addition - adding in a sound e.g 'horsey'

Substitution - changing letters for ones that are easier to say e.g wabbit

Cluster reduction - missing out hard phonemic combinations e.g 'sh-' 'bl-' 'cr-' 

Reduplication - repeating a word/sound e.g 'quack-quack'

Relates to Berko and Brown 'fis' phenomenon

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Covers how language is used in social situations to convey meanings and achieve purposes

- rules and patterns in conversation

- politeness

- impled meanings 

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