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

In the seven- to nine-month period, infants started to become intentional communicators. The development of intentionality continues in the ten- to twelve-month period. Although continued successful communication development depends on the ability of their caregivers to interpret their infants' signals, infants now facilitate their caregivers' understanding through the use of increasingly clear and meaningful signals. The end of this time period culminates with the appearance of the infant'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

Neuromuscular control of the oral mechanism including the lip, jaw, and tongue continues to develop in the ten- to twelve-month period. By eleven months of age, infants can elevate the tongue tip, facilitating production of a broader variety of sounds (Owens, 2001). As well, these infants can bite soft solid foods with some control. When swallowing liquids, eleven-month-old infants can close the lips and while chewing, they can hold their lips and cheeks in. Such increases in control over the lips, jaw and tongue continue to be important to the production of a wider variety of sounds and sound-syllable combinations.

Vocalizations - Increasing in Variety and Meaning

Babbling, jargon and 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.


In the ten- to twelve-month period, variegated babbling continues (Hoff, 2001; Owens, 2001). However, as a result of increased neuromuscular control, the infant is now able to produce a greater variety of consonants during variegated babbling, resulting in a greater variety of consonant-vowel and consonant-vowel-consonant combinations. By eleven months of age, infants from English-speaking homes are able to produce 12 of the 24 English consonants including the stops /p, b, t, d, k, g/, the nasals /m, n/, and the glides /w, j/ as well as the fricative /s/ and the glottal /h/ (Menn & Stoel-Gammon, 2005; Owens, 2001). These twelve consonants account for 95% of the consonants produced during this time and tend to predominate in the first adult-based words. In infant vocalizations, the vowels /4/as in "hut", /e/ as in "hate" and /q/ as in "hat" tend to be more common than /i/ as in "heed" or /u/ as in "hoot" (Hoff, 2001). The ratios of single consonants to consonant clusters and of consonant-vowel and to vowel-consonant syllables are similar between babbling and the first fifty words (Owens, 2001).


The production of jargon, strings of sounds and syllables with adult-like intonation and stress patterns, also continues in the ten- to twelve-month period (Menn & Stoel-Gammon, 2005). Infants' jargon vocalizations are characterized by intonation, gesture, and eye contact which mimic the social nature of conversation. Because the intonation patterns of jargon vocalizations are so similar to adult speech, infants can convey different messages to their caregivers despite the fact that the sounds in the message are not meaningful. Caregivers can identify greeting, demanding, complaining or offering based on the intonation of their infants' jargon vocalizations (Menn & Stoel-Gammon, 2005; Owens, 2001). Sometimes, however, infants may only be imitating the intonation patterns of adult conversations. Infants may continue producing jargon until two years of age. Jargon vocalizations are also known as conversational or modulated babble.


As in the seven- to nine-month period, infants may produce protowords or phonetically consistent forms - vocalizations used at appropriate times and with consistent structures that do not resemble the adult model (Menn & Stoel-Gammon, 2005; Sachs, 2005). Protowords are recognized as an important step towards the first word, as they show that the infant has some degree of voluntary control over the vocal mechanism and understands that specific sound sequences have unique meanings. Although protowords have a somewhat stable sound and syllable structure, repeat productions may vary in form as infants are still developing control over their vocal mechanism. Protowords may become part of the families' vocabulary.


By the end of the ten- to twelve-month period, most infants will produce their first word (Owens, 2001; Sachs, 2005). The first word may be the name of a toy, food or family member (Owens, 2001) or may be a greeting, farewell or other social phrase such as peek-a-boo (Menn & Stoel-Gammon, 2005). These first words may be used to name objects, make requests or comments, ask questions or as a way to gain attention. With practice, infants learn to signal these different meanings by changing the intonation pattern with which they produce the word. Keys to recognizing the first word are its resemblance to the adult form and its use at appropriate times.

Infants may continue producing variegated babbling, jargon, and protowords even after they are producing adult-like words (Menn & Stoel-Gammon, 2005; Owens, 2001). However, some infants will stop babbling and remain silent for an indeterminate amount of time before producing real words.

Gotzke, C. & Sample Gosse, H. (2007). Research Narrative: Listening, Vocalizing and Interacting 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