Mental Development in the Infant
The infant's ability to produce sounds is in part anatomical. Initially, the infant's larynx (voice box) is positioned high in his throat, which permits him to breath and ingest milk from a nipple at the same time. Yet this high placement of the larynx also makes it impossible for the infant to articulate the range of sounds found in human languages. (The high placement of the larynx is characteristic of the higher apes and explains why researchers have been able to teach these animals to sign but not to vocalize.) During the first year, the larynx descends into the throat, and the infant is able to progressively articulate more sounds.
Because of the initial high placement of the larynx, the infant's initial sounds are often mewing and throaty. Between the ages of three and nine months, the k and g sounds are very common. This helps to explain why adults, in imitation, often say coo or goo to babies. Later in the first year of life, as babbling comes into play, the early g and k sounds are less prominent as the larynx drops and these sounds become less easy to produce. Once the larynx has moved down into the throat, the infant begins to babble. In the course of this babbling, the infant is likely to produce all of the phonemes—the basic sounds—of his language.
The importance of this early babbling for language acquisition has been demonstrated by recent studies of children who have had their vocal apparatus obstructed by the necessity of a breathing tube in their throats. Their inability to babble during the early months of life delayed not only their acquisition of correct articulation, but also their mastery of other expressive language skills. Because babbling is often a repetitive, rhythmic activity, it has been related to motor development. That is to say, some investigators have found that there is a correlation between motor development and linguistic development. The earlier a child walks, the earlier he is likely to talk. Other investigators, however, find that compensation, not correlation, is the rule. They report that children who walk early, talk late, and vice versa.
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