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What Is Babbling?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Babbling is a form of communication found in early primary language acquisition in which an infant creates a variety of word sounds without inherent meaning. This time period usually follows cooing and demonstrates the infant’s development as he or she begins to form more precise word sounds. There are essentially two types of babbling: reduplicative, in which the infant makes the same sound repeatedly, and variegated, in which the sounds change during a single babbled string. This time period for an infant is typically followed by development of words with particular meanings as language acquisition continues.

Though the full purpose of babbling may be somewhat debatable, most linguists feel it is used by infants as a way to practice and develop language. An infant typically begins to babble at about 12 months, sometimes sooner and sometimes later. This follows the cooing phase that many infants go through, in which they make audible sounds that often consist primarily of vowel sounds and do not necessarily correspond to sounds used to construct words. When a child begins babbling, however, the sounds evolve and include consonants and other sounds used in creating spoken language.

There are basically two major types of babbling, which are divided and based on the types of sounds an infant makes. The reduplicative form occurs when an infant makes a single sound that is repeated such as “da-da-da-da” or “la-la-la-la-la,” often in shorts bursts of sound; many early spoken words such as “mama” and “dada” are built upon the ease with which infants can make these sounds. Variegated babbling occurs when an infant produces simple sounds that are not based on repetition such as “la-do-ma-ga-ba.” While these sounds may rhyme or seem similar, this form demonstrates that an infant is working on using different word sounds.

Babbling is an important phase of language development as infants demonstrate early understanding of certain linguistic concepts. During babbling, infants often show different types of inflection while speaking, raising the pitch and volume of their voices throughout the string of sounds. Infants may also learn and demonstrate “turn-taking” during this phase of development, which means that parents and others should interact with infants as they babble to demonstrate how language is used in conversation. After this stage in development, an infant often begins to form individual words, usually short words like “up” or “please,” and a child is likely to babble less and use formal words more often as he or she develops.

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Discussion Comments
By SarahSon — On Nov 02, 2011

I have a boy and a girl and am fascinated at the differences in their babbling.

All babies babble as they are learning how to talk and express themselves, but there was a definite difference between my boy and girl.

First of all, my girl babbled quite a bit more than my boy did. Her babbling also had a different tone to it than my son's did.

Has anyone else had a similar experience where they found their girl's babbling more than the boys?

By EdRick — On Nov 02, 2011

@dfoster85 - I was one of those babbling parents! I felt like an idiot. My kids learned language satisfactorily enough, but maybe next time through I can be a little more productive with the language instead of just talking a blue streak. The thing is it's hard to tell what is their most advanced language use! I tend to want to respond to just everything.

I'll have to get my hands on that book; it sounds like something I would like.

By dfoster85 — On Nov 02, 2011

Lab studies have shown recently that responding the right way to your child's language use will help them develop faster. I read about it in the book Nurture Shock (which absolutely everyone who works with children should read).

The standard advice is "talk to your baby," so a lot of diligent parents go around just keeping up a running commentary on everything. Which is fine, but not the whole story. The most important thing, it turns out, is to reward the baby for making language progress. So if baby can both shriek and make real syllables, talk back, give baby a kiss, or something like that when baby uses syllables.

Also, try to give names to what baby is looking at, but be careful. If you name the wrong thing, you'll just confused your little one! If you are good at being able to tell what baby is interested in and can talk about that, it will boost her word acquisition.

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