Did my baby just say their first word?

As new parents it can be difficult to determine whether your baby is using a word meaningfully, or you just thought you heard “mama” in their babble.

Let’s explore the definition from a developmental standpoint of a “word”!

A baby’s first word typically occurs anywhere between 11-14 months of age. The foundation for first words stems from your babies babbles. It can be hard to tell the difference between babbling and true words, because first words typically happen alongside babbling and jargon. Even though your child may be saying their first words, babbling can still continue to be part of their sound play after.

When babies use “quasi-words” they are making a consistent sound to indicate an object but there is no similarity to the adult form (e.g. “aba” for water). These are typically preceding words.

So what exactly is a “word”?
A vocal production is considered a word when it is produced consistently and is similar to the adult form of the word and is used with an understanding of it’s meaning (e.g. “wawa” to indicate water consistently).

Most children’s first words will contain speech sounds that are easy to see (e.g. produced in the front of the mouth) such as “m” or “b” which require little articulatory finesse and rely instead on an open close movement of the jaw.

First word shapes typically include Consonant-Vowel-Consonant-Vowel (CVCV) like “mama” or “dada”, CV word shapes like “no”, and VC word shape like “up”.

As well as babbling, quasi-words, and words, there are other communication cues we are looking for from your child. As a speech therapist looking for communicative intent, I am also observing:

  • grunts

  • mutual eye contact

  • eye gaze

  • prosody (variation in pitch)

  • imitation of facial expressions (smiling in response to a smile)

As always, if you have any questions/concerns regarding your child’s communication development, reach out to your pediatrician, or give us a call here at Sound! We offer free speech and hearing screenings and are happy to answer any questions you may have!