Language Development

Language is the principal method of human communication, consisting of words used in a structured and conventional way and conveyed by speech, writing, or gesture.

The systematic, meaningful arrangement of symbols, provides the basis for communication. Language blooms so rapidly between the later months of age two and the mid-threes. Researchers have yet to understand the exact pattern.

It is closely tied to the way we think and how we understand the world. Moreover, it enables us to reflect on people and objects. And to convey our thoughts to others. What is clear, is that sentence length increases at a steady pace. The ways in which children at this age combine words and phrases to form sentences known as syntax. However, it doubles each month.

Language has several formal characteristics that must be mastered as linguistic competence is developed. They include,

  1. Phonology: Phonology refers to the basic sounds of language, are phonemes, that is combined to produce words and sentences.
  2. Morphemes: A morpheme is the smallest language unit that has meaning. Some morphemes are complete words, while others add information necessary for interpreting a word, such as the endings “-s” for plural and “-ed” for past tense.
  3. Semantics: Semantics are the rules that govern the meaning of words and sentences.

In addition to the increasing complexity of sentences, there are enormous leaps in the number of words children use. By age six, the average child has a vocabulary of around 14,000 words. However, to reach this number, preschoolers acquire vocabulary at a rate of nearly one new word every 2 hours, 24 hours a day. They manage this feat through a process known as fast mapping. In which, after only a brief encounter, they associate words with their meaning.



Some developmentalists suggest that private speech, speech by children that is spoken and directed to themselves, performs an important function. For instance, Vygotsky suggested that private speech is used as a guide to behavior and thought. By communicating with themselves through private speech, children are able to try out ideas, acting as their own sounding boards.

In Vygotsky’s view, then, private speech ultimately serves an important social function, allowing children to solve problems and reflect upon difficulties they encounter. He also suggested that private speech is a forerunner to the internal dialogues that we use, when we reason with ourselves during thinking. Vygotsky proposed that private speech diminishes and disappears with age not because it becomes socialized, as Piaget suggested, but rather because it goes underground to constitute inner speech or verbal thought” (Frauenglass & Diaz, 1985).

Vygotsky (1934, 1987) viewed private speech as: “a revolution in development which is triggered when preverbal thought and pre-intellectual language come together to create fundamentally new forms of mental functioning” (Fernyhough & Fradley, 2005).

Private speech may be a way for children to practice the practical skills required in conversation, known as pragmatics. Pragmatics is the aspect of language relating to communicating effectively and appropriately with others. So, the development of pragmatic abilities permits children to understand the basics of conversations such as, turn-taking, sticking to a topic, and what he/ she should and should not say, according to the conventions of society.

Social speech is speech directed toward another person and meant to be understood by that person. Before the age of three, children may seem to be speaking only for their own entertainment, apparently uncaring as to whether anyone else can understand.

Theories of language development.

Children’s regular and rapid attainment of language milestones suggested a process largely governed by maturation, inspiring the nativist perspective on language development.

The Nativist Perspective of language development

According to linguist Noam Chomsky’s (1957) nativist theory, language is a unique human accomplishment, etched into the structure of the brain. Focusing on grammar.  However, he proposed that all children have a language acquisition device (LAD),  an innate system that contains a universal grammar. Or a set of rules common to all languages. It enables children, no matter which language they hear, to understand and speak in a rule-oriented fashion as soon as they pick up enough words.

Theorists opposed Chomsky’s theory on several grounds. First, researchers have had great difficulty specifying Chomsky’s universal grammar. Moreover, Chomsky’s critics doubt that one set of rules can account for the extraordinary variation in grammatical forms among the world’s 5,000 to 8,000 language. Second, children do not acquire language as quickly as nativist theory suggests.

The Interactionist Perspective.

Recent ideas about language development emphasize interactions between inner capacities and environmental influences. Here, one type of interactionist theory applies the information-processing perspective to language development. Also, a second type emphasizes social interaction. Some information processing theorists assume that children make sense of their complex language environments by applying powerful cognitive capacities of a general kind.

Getting ready to Talk

Before babies say their first word, they make impressive progress toward understanding and speaking their native tongue. However, they listen attentively to human speech, and they make speech like sounds.

Cooing and Babbling.  Around 2 months, babies begin to make vowel-like noises, called cooing because of their pleasant  “oo” quality. So gradually, they add consonants, and around 6 months, babbling appears, in which infants repeat consonant– vowel combinations. With age, they increasingly babble in long strings, such as “bababababa” or “nanananana,” in an effort to gain control over producing particular sounds.

Becoming a Communicator. At birth, infants are prepared for some aspects of conversational behavior. For example, newborns initiate interaction through eye contact and terminate it by looking away. By 3 to 4 months, infants start to gaze in the same general direction adults are looking. A skill that becomes more accurate at 10 to 11 months, as babies realize that others’ focus offers information about their communicative intentions.


  1. Robert. S. Feldman. (2017). Development Across the Lifespan. (8th ed.). Pearson Education.
  2. Laura. E. Berk. (2018). Development Through the Lifespan (7th ed.). Pearson Education.

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