Language Learning in Infants and Toddlers

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  • 0:03 Language Development
  • 0:51 Motherese
  • 2:19 Syncretic Speech
  • 3:39 Holophrase
  • 4:45 Telegraphic Speech
  • 5:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Language development is a long process, and there are many types of speech that babies take part in. This lesson explores language development and some key types of speech, including child-directed speech, syncretic speech, and telegraphic speech.

Language Development

Danny is a psychologist whose daughter, Brooke, is almost a year-and-a-half old. She's lively and fun, and he loves playing with her. Not only that, but in the last six months or so, she's started talking, which is a lot of fun for Danny because he gets to hear what she's thinking.

For years, Danny has studied language development, which is the process whereby a child learns to speak in full, complete sentences. This doesn't happen overnight, of course, and there are many different types of early speech that a child can go through. Danny has seen several of them in Brooke. Let's look closer at some of the early types of speech: child-directed speech (or motherese), syncretic speech, holophrase, and telegraphic speech.


Like other babies, Brooke's first experience with speech didn't have to do with speaking but with listening. When she was just a newborn, the people around Brooke (her mother, her father, aunts and uncles, and nurses and babysitters, and everyone else in her life) talked to her. But few of those people talked to her the same way that they talked to each other. Instead, they engaged in short, simple sentences meant to convey ideas in a way that even a baby could understand.

This 'baby talk' used to be called 'motherese' because it often comes from mothers, but psychologists, like Danny, call it child-directed speech. That term is more inclusive and recognizes that more than just mothers talk to babies. It's also descriptive of what it is: speech that is directed at the child.

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