Early Childhood Communication: Symbolic Vocalizations

Early Childhood Communication: Symbolic Vocalizations

Over the past two blogs, we’ve discussed some of the behaviors in children that lead up to their first words. This includes pre-linguistic behaviors such as eye contact, gesture, and joint attention, as well as early vocalizations. Last week, we talked about some of these vocalizations in depth: reflexive sounds, vocal play, and babbling. In today’s blog, we’ll address the vocalizations that follow babbling: symbolic vocalizations.

The difference between the vocalizations we discussed last week and those in today’s blog lies in their symbolic meaning. Although vocalizations through babbling may have some communicative value—for example, expressing joy or displeasure, or making a social connection—they lack the symbolism that defines language. True language involves and arbitrary set of sounds or symbols that communicate a specific object, action or concept. For example, the sounds that make up the word “cat” communicate the idea of a small furry animal that chases mice and meows. There is no specific connection between the word “cat” and the animal, other than the arbitrary linguistic one that we have assigned to it.

Before children begin to use true words, they often use protowords. These are specific combinations of sound that the child regularly uses to represent a specific object. These protowords aren’t conventional adult words; however, they hold symbolic meaning for the child. For example, a child may use the sound combination “pi-pi” to refer to and request their pacifier. These protowords are an important step in language development, in that they show a child recognizes the connection between sounds and meaning.

Between 12 and 18 months, a child typically begins to say their first true words. These often include common nouns (e.g. “juice”), proper nouns (e.g. “Daddy”), verbs (e.g. “kiss”), and social words (e.g. “no”, or “bye-bye”).

Although a child understands the connection between words and their meanings at this point, there are obviously ways a child uses language at the one-word stage that differ from adult language. Next week, we’ll delve into some of these patterns and learn more about how children learn language.

Are you concerned about your child’s speech or language development? At Speech Associates of New York, our team of professionally trained and certified speech-language pathologists provide in-home evaluations and therapy. Each of our professionals is trained in the assessment and treatment of a range of pediatric and adult speech, language and communication disorders. Call us today at (917) 841-2965 and find out how we can you’re your child communicate their best!

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