Checkup: Baby Babble and Language Development
Anyone who’s been a parent is well acquainted with this sound. That, of course, is baby talk, or baby babble.
But beyond being extremely cute -- what are babies doing when they babble?
"During babbling and even in the periods of vocalization the precede what we call canonical babbling, the baby produces sounds that indicate that they’re building the capacity for vocalizing voluntarily."
That’s D. Kimbroh Oller, a professor at the University of Memphis who does research on infant vocal development. What he means is that while baby babbling might be playful, it’s also a sign of a baby at work, learning how to make sounds that eventually turn into actual speech.
Babble comes in stages. Early on, for the first few months, babies do a lot of grunting and squealing.
"They’re showing that they have the capacity to control the phonotory apparatus, the ability to make sounds sounds that have the vocal quality of speech-- 'uhh' or 'ahh' or 'ugh.'"
Canonical babbling is when babies start putting vowels and consonants together to make sounds like 'mama' and 'dada.'
"Now when a parent hears a baby producing sounds like that they realize that the baby is prepared to talk in some sense, that the baby is ready to produce sounds that could be utilized as words."
And so the parent begins to negotiate with the baby, as it were, talking back and helping him or her apply meaning to the sounds and learn how to make more word-like sounds.
The point, in the end, is that when babies babble, it’s an invitation for parents, or siblings, or caretakers to talk back. We may all be born with an innate capacity for language, but having babbling conversations is how we actually learn to communicate.