[Overton]Language Development in Children

Acquisition of language actually begins when an infant produces his first cry. All of the body functions used in speech are activated in the crying process. The infant's musculature tenses, he takes a breath, and releases it. His vocal cords begin to vibrate, and the crying sound is produced. After a time, the crying sound becomes purposeful, and then meaning is added. Biological factors, cognitive processes, and the child's experiences all contribute to the acquisition of language. By the time a child reaches three years of age, he has acquired the basic rules of the language he will use. It is nothing short of phenomenal that this process occurs in such a short span of time, and it is mind-boggling that it occurs in normally developing children without specific training.

Just what is this thing called language? Stated in the simplest of terms, language is a symbol system. The symbols represent concepts, which are organized according to arbitrarily determined rules.

How is language learned? The prevailing school of thought follows Bloom and Lahey's philosophy (1978) which states that the child is an active participant in the language learning process. According to this theory, the three major components of language are Content, Form, and Use. This three-dimensional view of language is basic not only in describing how language is acquired, but also in understanding what happens when there is a breakdown in the system.

The component that Bloom and Lahey label Content includes the knowledge and ideas children have about their world. Form is described in terms of phonology, morphology, and syntax (Bangs, 1982). Phonology includes features such as articulation, voice, rhythm, and stress. The morphologic features consist of the child's lexicon (vocabulary) and grammatical morphemes (inflections attached to words, i.e., boy - boys). Syntax is simply the way words are combined to make sentences. And finally, Use includes the reasons for speaking, ways to interact, and interpretations of what is heard.

When language develops as it should, it is a marvel to behold. When it doesn't, it is a mystery to be solved. To solve that mystery many things need to be known, one of which is basic language milestones. By reviewing these milestones, parents can determine if their child's language abilities are at an age-appropriate level. If there is concern that they are not, the child should be evaluated by a qualified speech-language pathologist as soon as possible. To get a list of milestones from birth to three years, click here; for milestones from three to five, click here.


Bangs, T. T., Language and Learning Disorders of the Pre-Academic Child. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1982.

Bloom, L. and Lahey, M., Language Development and Language Disorders. New York: John Wiley, 1978.

If you have questions or need more information you can contact me at:

Overton Speech & Language Center, Inc.
Fort Worth, TX
(817) 294-8408


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Copyright 2001 Overton Speech & Language Center, Inc.
Last revised: May 05, 2001