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

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Introduction to Vocalizing 7 - 9 Months - More Sounds, More Intentionallyclick to print Print
Research Review / Parent

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

While the four- to six-month period was a time of vocal play, seven- to nine-month-old babies communicate more intentionally. Vocalizations have a more consistent meaning and babies learn that these signals have specific effects on their caregivers. Continued successful communication development depends both on the ability of the infants to send messages clearly and the ability of their caregivers to understand those messages. 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 eight months of age, babies have often developed enough lip control to keep their lips sealed while chewing and swallowing thick liquids, like applesauce. Their chewing has also become more advanced, taking on a bit of circular motion instead of just straight up and down. Babies this age also demonstrate increased tongue control using side-to-side motion to move food across their mouths. Max's parents have noticed that he is becoming less messy as an eater and is able to handle thicker and chunkier textures. This new control over the lips, jaw and tongue is important for developing more complex vocalizations.

Vocalizations - New Sound Patterns

Seven- to nine-month-old babies produce a greater variety of vocalizations than they did in the previous six months. Vocalizations now contain more syllables and different consonants and vowels.

New Babbling Patterns

From four to six months of age, an baby's babbling typically consists mainly of single syllable sounds (e.g., "ba"). In the seven- to nine-month period, respiratory development allows infants to produce more than one sound on a single breath. Around seven months, infants begin repeating a single syllable, such as "ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma." At first, this new babbling is just how babies play with their voices. Gradually, this type of babbling will be heard most often when infants are exploring their environment or holding objects. By eight months, it may also be used in imitation games with caregivers. Sounds used in this babbling may include /p, b, t, d, m, n, y/. Avery's mom often hears Avery saying "ba-ba-ba-ba" and "ma-ma-ma-ma" when she's playing with the toys on her activity center. Eight-month-old babies may also begin babbling sequences of different syllables (e.g., "bagidabu"). They may also produce vowel-consonant-vowel (e.g., "apa") and consonant-vowel-consonant (e.g., "pap") combinations.

Echo Talk

At eight months of age, different vocalization patterns may be heard. Some vocalizations will be produced by echoing their caregivers' speech. In the three- to six-month period, infants imitated the tone and vowel sounds of their caregivers' speech. Now, infants begin to imitate the pitch and intonation of their caregivers' speech. Max's grandmother was amazed to hear Max chiming in with the speech around him at a crowded family function. His voice seemed to be at the same pitch as those of the women gathered in the kitchen. Infants may even imitate individual sounds but only if they can already produce those sounds. Max's mom has tried to get him to say "ssss" but because he doesn't have the tongue control to make that sound, he doesn't do it.

Jargon

Long strings of speech produced by babies this age may sound like the adult speech around them (i.e., same rhythm and stress patterns) but be completely impossible to understand. This type of infant speech is called "jargon." Babies vary in how much and how often they produce "jargon". By eight months, Avery occasionally produces "jargon talk" when playing with her dad. She may say things like, "ABEE babu", with a very serious look on her face. Her dad tells everyone that she sounds like a little Martian.

Vocalizations - Expressing Intentions

While seven- to nine-month-old babies produce a greater variety of vocalizations, they are also communicating a greater variety of messages while vocalizing. They are able to do this by becoming more consistent and adding gestures and intonation to their vocalizations. The development of intentional communication is key to their new skills.

Protowords

Beginning at about nine months, babies may produce consistent sound patterns that function as words for them. These protowords are often imitations of environmental sounds and are not based on adult words. For example, a baby may consistently say "ooo ooo" for juice. Protowords may be accompanied by gestures. Your baby may make a particular sound while raising his or her arms to be lifted up. At nine months of age, Max says "eee-eee" when he wants to be picked up by one of his parents. Because Max is also a little shy of strangers right now, his mom and dad hear this sound often.

Using sounds and gestures in this way is considered to be evidence that babies realize that there is a connection between sound and meaning and is therefore considered to be a step towards the development of true words. For more information on gestures, see Interacting 7 - 9 Months.

Intonation

Seven- to nine-month-old babies are able to express different emotions and meanings with their vocalizations. They are able to signal requests, frustration, greeting, and pleasant surprise by the intonation or overall sound of their voices. Avery's mom knows that when Avery wants more cereal in the morning she will give a frustrated shout and reach her hands out towards the empty bowl her mom is holding.

Intentional Communication

Intentional communication occurs when babies purposefully act or vocalize in order to acquire their caregiver's attention or help. Although caregivers often feel that their babies are communicating purposefully in the first six months, true intentional communication begins to emerge around eight months.

Researchers would say your baby was intentionally communicating if the following four things were observed:

  1. Your baby makes eye contact with a communication partner while gesturing or vocalizing, often switching his or her gaze back and forth between an object and the partner.
  2. Your baby's gestures and vocalizations have become consistent. For example, a baby used a gesture of opening and closing her hand when she wanted something, rather than attempting to reach the object herself. The vocalization she used, ‘eh, eh' was one that she consistently used in situations in which she wanted something. Another baby would probably use a different sound in the same situation, because this sound was not copied from adult speech but rather was a communicative signal invented by this baby.
  3. After a gesture or vocalization, your baby pauses to wait for a response from his or her communication partner.
  4. Your baby persists in attempting to communicate if he or she is not understood and sometimes even changes behavior to communicate more clearly.
Before babies communicate intentionally, they must learn that there are causes for events. Since birth, caregivers have been helping their babies learn this relationship by responding with food or comfort when their babies cried. Secondly, babies must also have learned that they can use the people around them to carry out their goals. It is likely that intentional communication emerges as the result of the interaction of many factors including biological changes in the nervous system, brain development, social development, and experience.

Gotzke, C. & Sample Gosse, H. (2007). Parent Narrative: Language 7 - 9 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