Learning to Speak Stages of Language Development

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Learning to Speak Stages of Language Development
Chapter 7 Thought, Language, and Intelligence
before they say their first words, babies
are getting ready to talk. Experiments in
Patricia Kuhl’s laboratory show that even
six-month-olds tend to look longer at
faces whose lip movements match the
sounds of spoken words. This tendency
reflects babies’ abilities to focus on,
recognize, and discriminate the sounds of
speech, especially in their native language.
These abilities are crucial to the development of language (Mayberry, Lock, &
Kazmi, 2002).
Learning to Speak: Stages of Language Development
Children the world over develop language with impressive speed; the average six-yearold already has a vocabulary of about 13,000 words (Pinker, 1994). But acquiring language involves more than just learning vocabulary. We also have to learn how words
are combined and how to produce and understand sentences. Psychologists who study
the development of language have found that the process begins in the earliest days of
a child’s life and follows some predictable steps (Saffran, Senghas, & Trueswell, 2001).
The First Year In their first year, infants become more and more attuned to the
babblings Repetitions of syllables; the
first sounds infants make that resemble
sounds that will be important in acquiring their native language. In fact, this early experience with language appears to be vital. Without it, language development can be
impaired (Mayberry & Lock, 2003). The first year is also the time when babies begin
to produce babblings, which are patterns of meaningless sounds that first resemble
speech. These alternating consonant and vowel sounds (such as “bababa,” “dadada,” and
“mamimamima”) appear at about four months of age, once the infant has developed
the necessary coordination of the tongue and mouth. Though meaningless to the baby,
babblings are a delight to parents. Infants everywhere begin with the same set of babbling sounds, but at about nine months of age, they begin to produce only the sounds
that occur in the language they hear the most. At about the same time, their babbling
becomes more complex and begins to sound like “sentences” in the babies’ native language (Goldstein, King, & West, 2003). Infants who hear English begin to shorten some
of their vocalizations to “da,” “duh,” and “ma.” They use these sounds to convey joy,
anger, interest, and other messages in specific contexts and with obvious purpose (Blake
& de Boysson-Bardies, 1992).
By ten to twelve months of age, babies can understand several words—certainly
more words than they can say (Fenson et al., 1994). Proper names and object words—
such as mama, daddy, cookie, doggy, and car—are among the earliest words they understand. These are also the first words children are likely to say when, at around twelve
months of age, they begin to talk (some talk a little earlier and some a little later).
Nouns for simple object categories (dog, flower) are acquired before more general nouns
(animal, plant) or more specific names (collie, rose; Rosch et al., 1976).
Of course, these early words do not sound exactly like adult language. Englishspeaking babies usually reduce them to a shorter, easier form, like “duh” for duck or
“mih” for milk. Children make themselves understood, however, by using gestures, voice
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