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Babbling

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Babbling

As children acquire language, they progress through four different stages. We'll be looking at the first stage of child language acquisition called the 'babbling stage'.

Babbling meaning

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 age

Babbling typically begins around 4-6 months and ending at 1 year old when the infant starts to say whole words. At this stage, infants' sounds are consonant-vowel combinations, like 'da-da' or 'ma-ma'.

Babbling examples

Examples of babbling include:

'ba'. 'da'. 'ma'.

'ba-ba'. 'nana'.

'ba de da'. 'ba na na'

'mama na dada'

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 also mature during this period, giving them the ability to produce more complex sounds, and eventually whole words.

Babbling baby with mouth open StudySmarterInfants began to replicate sounds they've heard from their parents (Pexels)

Timeline of vocal output

The verbal development of infants in the babbling stage follows an approximate timeline. Generally speaking, the babbling stage starts at four to six months and ends at the age of about one year old 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.

1-6 months (cooing and babbling)

From birth, babies are able to produce sound. The first type of sound they make comes from crying, which most are able to do from the second they are born. Within the first few months, babies start to 'coo', meaning that they are able to make sounds that require the voice box to vibrate. These coos develop into simple speech sounds such as 'aaa' or 'ooo', showing that the baby is learning to coordinate their lips and tongue.

6 months

At around 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 also gain the ability to make sounds with vowels and consonants, such as 'da' or 'pa pa'.

7 months (canonical stage)

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 in which children duplicate the same consonant-vowel sounds.

8-10 months (variegated babbling)

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 e.g. 'da ba do'. Infants have learned how to produce multiple phonemes at this stage and can combine them to make different sounds.

11 months (jargon babbling)

At this stage, the infant's babbling starts to resemble aspects of real language and they can imitate the tone and melody of 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.

Over 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 and, 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 often delayed with the canonical babbling stage usually starting 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: 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, p. 258, 1996.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions about Babbling

Babies normally start babbling around 4-6 months old.

A typical example of babbling would be 'ba de da' or 'mama'.

It sounds like a baby trying to produce simple consonant-vowel combinations e.g. 'ba ba ba' or 'ba de da'.

A babble is 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

Babbling is the _______ major stage of language acquisition. Fill in the blank.

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Answer

First

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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

4-12 months.

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Question

When do infants typically learn their first words?


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Answer

1 year

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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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Question

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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Question

True or false? Babbling only refers to children making 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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Question

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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Question

Babies speak words during the babbling stage. True or false?

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Answer

False. They make sounds, however, these are not advanced enough to be considered words.

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Question

Which of the following are examples of babbling?

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Answer

Ba da ma

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Question

Which of the following are examples of babbling?

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Answer

Da-da na-na

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Question

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. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True

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Question

The child ___________ sounds they’ve heard from their parents. Fill in the blank.

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Answer

Replicates

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Question

Put the following stages in order:

  • Canonical stage of babbling
  • Jargon babbling
  • Variegated babbling
  • Cooing and babbling

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Answer

  1. Cooing and babbling
  2. Canonical stage of babbling
  3. Variegated babbling
  4. Jargon babbling

Show question

Question

During the third or fourth month of life, the larynx begins to ________ in the throat, which gives infants the ability to produce simple cooing sounds with vowels.

Show answer

Answer

Descend

Show question

Question

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. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Delayed babbling is when the child isn’t able to babble in the first how many months?

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Answer

6 months

Show question

Question

Some children born with developmental disorders or medical conditions may experience delayed babbling. True or false?

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Answer

True

Show question

Question

Babbling is _______ common among autistic children as the complexity of the vowel and consonant combinations used is less advanced.

Show answer

Answer

Less

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Question

Language development in infants with Down’s Syndrome usually starts __________ than it does among infants without. Fill in the blank.

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Answer

2 months later

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Question

Deaf infants go through each stage of babbling, just at a slower rate to hearing children. True or false?

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Answer

False! 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. 

Show question

Question

The study of deaf children has led researchers to the conclusion that hearing is essential for children to develop spoken language. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

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