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Babbling

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English

The babbling stage is the first major stage in the language acquisition process during infancy. During this stage, infants begin experimenting with sound production for the first time. The only sounds they're able to make at this stage are simple noises and sounds that are not advanced enough to be considered words. That's why it's called the babbling stage.

Babbling is a normal stage for infants in their journey to full language acquisition, typically beginning around 6 months and ending 6 months later when the infant starts to say whole words. At this stage infants sounds are consonant-vowel combinations, like ' da-da' or ' ma-ma '.

The development of babbling

The mental and physiological development that happens in the first year of a child's life is critical for their ability to develop language skills. As the child grows, the brain becomes more responsive to language from its environment, which helps infants to replicate sounds they've heard from their parents. The infant's vocal tract and neuro-musculature apparatus matures during this period, which gives them the ability to produce more complex sounds, and eventually whole words.

Timeline of vocal output

The verbal development of Infants in the babbling stage follows an approximate timeline. Generally speaking, the babbling stage starts at 6 months and ends at the age of about 1, when the infant usually produces their first word. Individual children can display differences in their linguistic progress, some say their first word earlier and some later.

6 months.

Infants develop the ability to open and close their vocal tract and have greater control over jaw movements. They develop the ability to control the pitch, volume and tone of sounds , which they often do by imitating adult conversations. They gain the ability to make sounds with vowels and consonants, such as 'da' or 'pa pa'.

7 months.

Infants enter into the canonical stage of babbling at this stage. This is the first type of babbling that emerges, involving the duplication of syllables containing alternations of vowels and consonants. Common examples of canonical babbling are 'dadada' or 'deedeedee'. This is a very simple form of babbling, where children will duplicate the same consonant-vowel sounds.

8-10 months.

During this period infants begin to use different syllables in one utterance. They reach a more advanced form of babbling known as variegated babbling. This differs from the canonical stage in the variation and complexity of the syllables produced. Rather than repeating the same sound, infants at this stage can use a combination of consonant and vowel sounds, as in 'da ba do'. Infants have learned how to produce multiple phonemes at this stage and can combine them to make different sounds.

11 months.

At this stage, the infant's babbling starts to resemble aspects of real language. The infant can imitate the tone and melody of the language spoken by adults. A final stage known as the jargon stage is achieved; at this point, the infant develops early conversational skills. In child development, this stage is defined as pre-linguistic vocalisations in which infants use adult-like stress and intonation. ¹

12 months

Infants at this stage have usually learned a few simple words. They use the few words they have learned for specific reasons, such as referring to an object or to gain attention from an adult. They can imitate the rhythm and melody of adult speech, which allows them to produce babbling that sounds like a question or a statement based on tone and intonation.

Physiological development for babbling.

In the first year of a child's life, the organs used for babbling are developing. These physical changes allow the child to develop and improve their ability to produce complex sounds before eventually developing spoken language.

At birth, infants have a short vocal tract and a high larynx compared to adults. The infant has a very limited capacity to produce sounds at this stage. During the third or fourth month of life, the larynx begins to descend in the throat, which gives infants the ability to produce simple cooing sounds with vowels, such as 'aaa' or 'eee'. After the fourth month, the vocal tract starts maturing and the infant is able to produce more complex sounds until the six-month point when they begin to babble.

At around 6 months the jaw can open and close in a controlled manner, which allows the child to produce the sounds associated with canonical babbling. The opening and closing of the jaw alongside phonation (voicing) are required for the child to produce meaningful sounds.²

Absent or delayed babbling

If an infant isn't able to babble in the first six months, then it would be considered a case of delayed babbling. Sometimes, children may experience an absence or a delay in the babbling stages. This is typically observed in children born with developmental disorders or medical conditions .

Infants with apraxia

Apraxia is a neurological condition that makes certain motor movements difficult to carry out. Depending on the severity of the condition, infants may not be able to 'coo', babble or even produce their first word. In severe cases, children will resort to hand movements or grunting to communicate. In less severe forms, the condition will delay the child's ability to babble and form their first words. The child may also find it challenging to say words clearly; to compensate, they may resort to using shorter, simpler words.

Infants with autism

Infants with autism usually experience delayed babbling, and in severe cases, will not be able to babble at all. Babbling is less common among autistic children, as the complexity of the vowel and consonant combinations used is less advanced. Children with severe autism may reach adulthood with the inability to speak at all, but some with milder forms will develop the ability to speak with a limited vocabulary.

Infants with Down's Syndrome

Infants born with Down's Syndrome have a genetic disorder caused by the presence of an extra chromosome. In this case, language development is delayed; the canonical babbling stage usually starts two months later than it does among other infants. Infants with Down's Syndrome experience some abnormal physiological development in parts of the body important for vocalisation. For this reason, speech production can be difficult.

Infants with hearing impairments

Infants with hearing impairment usually display similar early vocalisation to children with normal hearing. Deaf infants will usually cry, coo and display simple canonical babbling but the development of babbling beyond this is dependent on the ability of the child to hear themselves.

The ability of deaf children to speak is usually delayed. The study of deaf children has led researchers to the conclusion that hearing is essential for children to develop spoken language.

A positive alternative for deaf children is the use of sign language. Deaf children who are exposed to sign language from birth can develop advanced sign language skills. They even have a specific form of babbling, known as manual babbling, which involves using physical gestures as a form of language practice.

Babbling - Key takeaways

  • The babbling stage is the first stage of language acquisition.
  • The babbling stage typically occurs from 6 months until 1 year of age.
  • Babbling is a normal stage while children develop their capacity for language.
  • There are three main types of babbling are: canonical babbling, variegated babbling and jargon babbling.
  • Children with developmental disorders or medical conditions experience a delay or absence of the babbling stage.
  • Children who learn sign language perform manual babbling, which is a physical form of communication by babbling.

1. Sroufe, Cooper, & Dehart, Child Development, Its Nature & Course, 1996, p. 258

2. Dolata, Jill K. et al. 'Characteristics of the rhythmic organization of vocal babbling: Implications for an amodal linguistic rhythm', Infant Behavior and Development, 31 (3): p. 422-431, (2008)

3. Salkind, NJ Encyclopedia of Human Development. Thousand Oaks: California, Sage Publications, P.152. (2006)

4. Petitto, L .; Marentette, P., 'Babbling in the manual mode: evidence for the onogeny of language', Science, 1493-1496. (1991).

Babbling

Babies normally start babbling at six months old.

A typical example of babbling would be dada or mama.

It sounds like a baby trying to produce simple consonant-vowel combinations.

The first utterance an infant produces that includes a vowel and consonant combination.

The 3 main types of babbling are canonical babbling, variegated babbling and jargon babbling.

Final Babbling Quiz

Question

What is meant by language acquisition?

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Answer

The process of humans developing the ability to understand and use language.

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Question

What is meant by language acquisition?

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Answer

The process of humans developing the ability to understand and use language.

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Question

What happens in the babbling stage of language acquisition?

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Answer

The child repeats sounds with a combination of consonants and vowels.

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Question

What are the types of babbling and how do they differ?


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Answer

Canonical babbling is the duplication of the same syllables, variegated babbling is the repetition of different vowel and consonant combination syllables. Jargon babbling is when the babbling begins to sound like a conversation.

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Question

When does the babbling stage of language acquisition occur?


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Answer

The babbling stage occurs from six to twelve months old.

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When do infants typically learn their first words?


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Infants normally learn their first words at 1 year of age.

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Question

True or false? Infants develop the ability to babble after the larynx has descended in the throat.


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Answer

True, before the larynx descends in the throat, infants' ability to make sounds are very limited.

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True or false? An infant can produce meaningful sounds once they can move their jaw.


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Answer

False. Movement of the jaw and phonation is required for an infant to make meaningful sounds.

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True or false? Babbling is only possible for children that can make sounds.


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Answer

False. There is a form of babbling known as manual babbling were children that learn sign language babble through the use of physical movements.

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Question

Can infants with autism babble?


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Answer

Yes, they can babble, although the time for babbling to start may be delayed.

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True or false? Deaf children can't make sounds.


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Answer

False. Deaf children will cry, coo and make sounds after birth. Deaf children may experience difficulty in developing language skills depending on the severity of the hearing impairment.

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