Production Of First Words

Somewhere around the start of the second year children produce their first formal words. Prior to this point, children have been adding words to their receptive lexicons for several weeks or months; consequently, early in development children's production of words lags behind what they are able to comprehend (e.g., Bates et al., 1979; Childers & Tomasello, 2002). Nonetheless, children's first spoken words signal an important transition in language development and greatly affect their social environments. Parents enthusiastically welcome children's first words and are quick to respond to their children's new verbal achievements.

Similar to the patterns documented for receptive language, infants' productive language shifts from being context-restricted to context-flexible. In the early stage of word production, children often imitate the words of others. Rather than spontaneously generating words on their own, children parrot back words that they have just heard in their daily interactions (e.g., Mother: "Where's your ball Johnny?" Child: "Ball"; Mother: "Say bye-bye!" Child: "Bye-bye"). Additionally, children produce words in reference to a limited range of exemplars in narrow contexts. A child might say the word "dog," but only to indicate her own dog. Moreover, words are used sporadically, sometimes appearing and then seemingly disappearing from children's lexicons. Thus, the word "dog" might be used one week, not used for several weeks after that, and might "reenter" the lexicon with regularity weeks later. Consequently, early progress in productive language growth is gradual and effortful over the course of the first several weeks or even months of achievement (Bloom, 1998b).

Over the next few weeks and months, word production becomes more generative, regular, as well as more generalized. Words that were once only used in imitation are now produced spontaneously across a broad range of contexts. Children will now use the word "dog" to refer to dogs in general, pictures of dogs, the memory of dogs, and in anticipation of getting a new dog.

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