Handbook of Language and Literacy Development - a Roadmap from 0 to 60 Months

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Vocabulary Development (0-60 Months)click to print Print

Written by: Andrew Biemiller, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

Affixed words – Words that have either a suffix (e.g., workable), a prefix (undo), or both (unworkable).

Cognitive – Refers to mental processes

Compound words – Words composed of two other words (e.g., sometimes, herself).

Comprehension – The ability to understand language. You understand language if you can follow directions or know what characters have done in a story, and sometimes why they did what they did. To comprehend language, you must know and understand all or most of the words in the story, essay, or instructions.

Constitutional – In this context, constitutional refers to a person's characteristics that are in the body, including the brain. Constitutional differences can be the result of inherited characteristics or prenatal or postnatal biological influences (for example, poor diet, or disease).

Expository text – Expository text is text that describes or explains something.

Idiomatic expressions – Phrases which have a different meaning from the simple and literal interpretation of the words—example: the eleventh hour which refers to last point in time at which something can be completed and not merely eleven o'clock.

Infer – To figure out what a word means based on relevant information without having the word explained by anyone.

Lexical domain – may be thought of as a mental component that stores word-forms and word meanings—essentially a mental list of words.

Mean length of utterance (MLU) – A measure of the length of a group of words in dialogues with young children. In essence, this is the number of root words and affixes (prefixes or suffixes) said to a child. MLU is similar to a "sentence" but may not be a complete sentence. Examples: Child: "more milk!" (MLU 2), "wha cookie?" (MLU 2), Parent: "Do you want some milk?" (MLU 5), "You shouldn't run across the street" (MLU 6—counts 2 for shouldn't and 0 for the which is a syntactic marker).

Mental representation – The idea that information is in some way stored in the brain. For example, what you have in your brain about cups is the "representation" of cups. When you encounter another cup, you recall stored information about cups and their uses. Similarly, when you go to a bank, you recall stored information about banks and their uses.

Narrative or narrative text – A story or a description of a past event.

Phonemes – The sounds that make up words. For example, the word dog is made up of three phonemes: the /d/ sound (as in dog, drive, or dip), an /aw/ sound (as in dog, law, or raw), and a /g/ sound (as in dog, rag, or tag).

Phonological files – Mentally-stored information about the sounds of known words.

Processes – The abilities and sequence of activities that lead to an outcome. For example, the process of cooking steak involves kitchen equipment, a steak, and the things you do to cook the steak.

Quartile – Refers to a fourth of a group. For example, the lowest vocabulary quartile of second grade children refers to the 25% of children with the smallest vocabularies.

Receptive vocabulary – Words that are understood when heard (or read). Children and adults usually understand more words than they use in their own conversations or writings.

Referent – The meaning of a word.

Root word meanings – These are single meanings, unmodified by prefixes or suffixes. Some word forms have more than one root meaning. For example, the word form lean has at least 3 meanings: (1) the act of leaning against a wall, (2) meat with no fat, or (3) depending on another person for help.

Semantic features – Broadly speaking, refers to the meaning of the word.

Syntax – Comprehending most language involves understanding specific words and using the order of words and other cues to create understandable sentences. The various things we do with the order of words makes meaning. Thus "The man bites a dog" means something different than "The dog bites a man." Syntax also includes various ways of indicating that things happened in the past, or will happen in the future, how many things or people were involved, and various other kinds of information. Children with a good understanding of syntax can say more and different things, using the same words. Of course they can also understand more things.

Vocabulary development – Vocabulary refers to all of the words a child understands. Development refers to change over time. Vocabulary development refers to how vocabulary grows as children get older.

Biemiller, A. (2009). Glossary: Vocabulary Development 0 – 60 Months. In L.M. Phillips (Ed.), Handbook of language and literacy development: A Roadmap from 0 – 60 Months. [online], pp. 1-2. London, ON: Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network. Available at: