Grammatical Development

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Grammatical development is the acquisition of rules of language/sentences.

The holophrastic stage (12-18 months)

The holophrastic stage is sometimes alos known as the one word stage.

  • Single word utterances such as: gone, bye-bye, more, dada and teddy are produced and function as phrases or sentences. (Single word utterances are also known as holophrases)
  • Sometimes children produce longer utterances, these are learned as whole phrases and used as single units. e.g. allgone, gosleep

Dada - used in 3 different ways

1) "Dada?" - interrogative (rising intonation)

2) "Dada." - declarative (falling intonation)

3) "Dada!" - imperative/exclamative

Most single word utterances are nouns (60%) and verbs (20%). The preposition 'in' is used as a verb in this stage.

The two word stage (18-24 months)

By the time a child is 2 years old, there will be a variety of combinations: mummy eat, cat bad, no Abi.

Baby chair 

1) POSSESSION - this is baby's chair

2) REQUEST/COMMAND - put baby in the chair

3) STATEMENT - baby is in the chair

When children do so, the adult behaves as though normal communication is taking place. The child will await feedback, to confirm that their utterance has worked.

During the two word stage, children will start to use some inflections (e.g. present participle ending -ing).

Questions also appear at this stage, usually marked by rising intonation e.g. 'eat cheese?'

At the end of this stage, the first negative words emerge e.g. 'no' and 'not'.

Roger Brown's semantic roles

Roger Brown and his colleges studied two-word sentences from children. They analysed the types of meanings that children were expressing (semantic roles) and found that at the two word stage, the majority of utterances have the same basic set of meanings and the word order is consistent.

Semantic Roles Example Context

Agent + action  daddy kick dad kicks ball

Action + affected throw stick child throws stick

Agent + affected me ball child kicks ball

Action + location sit chair child sits on chair

Entity + loaction spoon table spoon is on the table

Entity + attribute kitty big see's tigers in the zoo

Possessor + Possession daddy coat points to dad's coat

Nomination that cake that is a cake

Recurrence more ball finds a second ball

Negation no ball has lost her ball

Agent - person or thing doing an action

Action - verb

Entity - person or thing being described/located

Affected - has an action done to it

Attribute - the description

Location - where something is

Nomination - involves labelling persons or objects (that)

Recurrence - expresses the repetition of objects (more)

Negation - expresses denial, rejection or non existence (no)


The telegraphic stage (2-3 years)

Between 2-3 years, the child will begin producing a large number of utterances which can be classified as multiple word utterances

These utterances tend to be grammatically correct and follow the SVO (Subject Verb Object) word order. e.g. Amy (S) likes (V) tea (O). 

Others will have grammatical elements missing.

  • 'This…

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