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Toddlers' speech is far more advanced than previously thought

The sound of toddlers babbling might seem like random sounds but is actually much more sophisticated than previously thought, according to a new study.

Image: YanLev via Shutterstock

TODDLER’S SPEECH IS much more advanced than previously supposed – with youngsters as young as two years old showing signs of understanding grammar, according to a new study into child language acquisition.

Cristina Dye, a lecturer in child language development at the University of Newcastle, led the study which involved 50 French-speaking toddlers aged between 23 and 27 months.

Dye carried out the research at Cornell University, New York, after recording tens of thousands of tiny utterances made by the children. She found that children used ‘little words’ – which form the frame of sentences – much earlier than previously supposed.

Using advanced recording technology and extremely sensitive microphones, Dye’s team captured the precise sounds made by small children when babbling. Several years of painstaking listening to every tiny sound made revealed previously undetected patterns and puffs of air, which researchers found replaced grammatical words.

“Many of the toddlers we studied made a small sound, a soft breath, or a pause, at exactly the place that a grammatical word would normally be uttered,” said Dye.

“The fact that this sound was always produced in the correct place in the sentence leads us to believe that young children are knowledgeable of grammatical words. They are far more sophisticated in their grammatical competence than we ever understood.”

Developmental specialists previously believed that children’s earliest word combinations did not contain any grammatical words.

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