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Linguistic Development

Linguistic Development

Author: Erick Taggart

Examine strategies that parents use to facilitate language development.

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Source: Toddler; Public Domain Languages; Public Domain

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Hello, class. So one of the most important events for a parent in a child's development, and probably also one of the most apprehensive for them, is when a child says its first words. Language is important to humans as social creatures. It's what sort of sets us apart from other creatures, being able to communicate with one another.

In psychology, the linguistic development, which is to say the development of language in people, is tied closely to the development and maturation, especially cognitive development and social development. OK. So we're going to be talking about linguistic development today.

Let's start first with some milestones or important events over the course of linguistic development. Now, the development of language occurs even before the child is born, in the prenatal stage. Children begin to understand and recognize the rhythm and the cadence of a particular language. And this is different for each type of language. So, for example, a child will recognize and respond to English if English is spoken around them more, more than they will respond to, say, Chinese. This is because it's recognizing it even within the womb at a prenatal stage.

It's also important to note, at this stage, and really with all of the stages, that children can understand before they're able to produce. And they can understand more than they're actually able to produce. And this is because, especially at these early stages, being able to physically produce something can be difficult, because the child hasn't developed the necessary motor skills to be able to do that. And this is also why sign language has become very popular for babies recently, because children are able to produce things through sign language that they aren't actually able to vocally produce. Again, so they understand before they can produce.

Around five months of age, a child begins to do what's called babbling, and this starts off initially as single sounds, like uh. But eventually, it becomes more complex forms. For example, it might be reduplicated babbling, which is repeated syllables, things like buh buh buh buh, or variegated, which is the next step in babbling, where they start to mix syllables. They might say, buh duh puh kuh. OK. So things like that.

Around 10 to 13 months is when a child finally says their first word. These are single-word phrases. They're very simple, and the child knows very few of them. They might know things like mama, dada, up, or mine. OK.

Shortly after that, they begin two-word phrases or what we call telegraphic speech, where they combine nouns and verbs together. These are generally very concrete things. For example, want puppy, or, where daddy.

After two years of age, it begins what's called a language explosion, where the vocab and the grammar of a child expands greatly over a short period of time. This is also when they begin to use multi-word sentences.

Finally, by six years of age, a child can generally understand up to 8,000 words and produce 4,000. So you can see that explosion that occurs. Up to five years of age is what we generally call a sensitive period for language, which is to say after this time, it's much harder to acquire a new language. This is why when you're in high school, when you try to learn a foreign language or later on in life, it's a lot more difficult. Because it's up to five years of age that we're very sensitive to developing languages. And this is when it's much easier.

Now throughout the course of all these milestones in linguistic development, the parents play an important role in helping the children to acquire language. So even before they're able to verbally talk, parents help by creating signals. Now signals are early language development, any kind of behavior, like touching or vocalizing, gazing, smiling, anything like that allows for a nonverbal communication on the child's part.

And it also begins turn-taking between the parent and the child. This usually takes the form of certain types of games or routines that we start to develop with parents. And this is also why you see a lot of repetition occurring when parents interact with their children, or with other caretakers interacting with children. Because this is very helpful for children early on.

For example, a game like peekaboo would be a signal because it's a routine that they get in place, where the child understands that when the parent pulls up the sheets, a sort of tactile response, and then pulls it down and says, peekaboo, and has a certain facial response, then child is supposed to laugh and giggle. Or they might start to develop other routines, like reach out for the parents.

Now around the time that the child first begins to talk, parents also begin to assist them by using what's called parentese, or sometimes called motherese. And this is a way of adjusting a person's speech when they're talking in front of an infant. OK. So they change the way that they're speaking in a way that assists them in understanding and being able to use the language that they're hearing.

For example, if I were talking to an infant, I might say, Look at you. Aren't you so pretty? So you see that change in my voice when I'm talking to an infant. And this is sort of instinctual. It occurs even in other languages. But it generally occurs without a parent even being aware of it. It's not something you generally have to consciously do. And this helps children to acquire the language because it sort of makes it easier for them to understand. It breaks it up and makes it more digestible for a child who's just learning the language.

Terms to Know
Language Development

One of the most important events in development; closely tied to cognitive development; important to humans as social creatures.


Parents often use a speech pattern that helps babies learn to speak in their native tongue faster. This kind of shaping includes simple phrases, high pitched vocalization and exaggerated inflections.


Babies can make early nonverbal interactions that mimic later verbal interactions before they learn to speak (examples: touching, smiling, gazing, early vocalization).