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

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Introduction to Vocalizing 10 - 12 Months - Towards the First Wordclick to print Print
Research Review / Parent

Written by: Carrie Gotzke and Heather Sample Gosse, University of Alberta

Intentional communication, which began in the previous three months, continues to develop in the ten- to twelve-month period. Now babies use a greater variety of vocalizations to communicate their intentions to their caregivers. These signals are clearer than in the seven- to nine-month period, helping parents and caregivers more easily understand their babies. Typically the end of the first year is marked by a very exciting development - baby's first word! Vocal skills continue to develop in the context of interaction with others. For information on this critical context, please refer to Interacting.

Oral Control - The Foundation for Expanding Vocal Skills

By eleven months of age, babies can raise their tongue tips, making it possible to produce new sounds. Max's dad is excited to hear him say "da-da-da", hoping that he will soon say "Daddy". Eleven-month-old babies can also bite soft solid foods with some control. When swallowing liquids, they can close their lips. While chewing, they can hold their lips and cheeks in. Avery's babysitter now gives her long thin strips of banana and Avery proudly bites off small chunks. Because older babies have more control over the lips, jaw and tongue, they can produce a wider variety of sounds and sound combinations.

Vocalizations - Increasing in Variety and Meaning

Babbling, jargon and consistent "word-like" sounds patterns called protowords continue to be produced by ten- to twelve-month-old infants. They expand on these forms and may also produce their first word towards the end of the first year.


Ten- to twelve-month-old babies continue to enjoy playing with their voices. They can repeat single syllables (i.e., buh-buh-buh) or say strings of different syllables (i.e., ma-ba-da). Caregivers will notice a greater variety of sounds in these babbles. For a while Avery seemed set on making b, d, and m sounds but now her mom is happy to hear some t and n sounds as well. By eleven months of age, babies from English-speaking homes are often able to produce 12 of the 24 English consonants - p, b, t, d, k, g, m, n, w, y, s, and h. These are the sounds that babies will use to make their first adult-based words. They also tend to use the ‘uh' vowel (like ‘hut'), the ‘ae' vowel (like ‘hate'), and the ‘a' vowel (like ‘hat") sounds more frequently than the ‘ee' vowel (like ‘heed') or the ‘oo' vowel (like ‘hoot').


The production of strings of sounds and syllables with adult-like intonation and stress patterns (known to researchers as "jargon") continues in the ten- to twelve-month period. The intonation, gestures, and eye contact used in babies' jargon imitates those found in adult conversation. Because of these similarities, caregivers can tell whether their babies are greeting, demanding, complaining, or offering, even though the sounds in the vocalizations are meaningless. Max's great-grandmother was amazed to hear him ‘scolding' his mother for not giving him some more grapes. Even though his sounds did not make sense, his tone of voice and disapproving look sent a very clear message. Sometimes, however, babies will not be trying to send a message - they are just imitating those around them and playing with sound-making.


Caregivers may identify some baby vocalizations that are always used in the same situation and that sound the same each time they are produced. These vocalizations do not sound like an adult word and are called protowords. They are an important step towards the first word. Protowords show that babies have some voluntary control over their vocal mechanisms and that they understand that specific sound sequences are meaningful. Avery's parents noticed that when she was eleven months old, she started to say something similar to ‘bawa' when she wanted to be picked up. An older cousin called her own childhood blanket ‘bini'. Her family still uses that protoword when they talk about the special blanket.


By the end of the ten- to twelve-month period, most babies will produce their first word. The first word may be the name of a toy, food or family member or may be a greeting, farewell or other social phrase such as peek-a-boo. By changing the intonation, babies learn to use these words as requests, comments, questions or as a way to gain their caregiver's attention. For example, Max says ‘mama' one way when he is rejecting something she is trying to do and another way when he is trying to get her attention.

You will know when your baby has said his or her first word because it will sound similar to the adult form and be used at an appropriate time. Avery's first word was spoken when she fell down and then looked up to her mom for comfort, saying ‘ma-ma'. Babies may continue to babble and use jargon and protowords even after they are producing adult-like words. Some babies, however, will stop babbling and be silent for a period of time before producing real words.

Vocalizations - Serving Communication Functions

The development of intentionality and increased control over the vocal mechanism allows ten- to twelve-month-old babies to express a wide variety of messages to their caregivers. These messages may serve to influence the actions of caregivers. Babies can communicate "rejection." For example, Max rejected his cereal by pushing the bowl away with a disgusted sound. They can also ‘request' things or actions. Avery requested more cheese by babbling loudly, clapping her hands, and looking at her mom expectantly. Babies are also able to direct a caregiver's attention to an object or event. Max demonstrated this when he began babbling loudly after he succeeded in scaling the side of the couch to stand beside it.

Gotzke, C. & Sample Gosse, H. (2007). Parent Narrative: Language 10 - 12 Months. In L.M. Phillips (Ed.), Handbook of language and literacy development: A Roadmap from 0 - 60 Months. [online], pp. 1 - 8. London, ON: Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network. Available at: Handbook of language and literacy development