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the sound patterns of a particular language and the rules for combining them


a particular language's system of meaning and the rules for conveying meaning


the rules for forming sentences in a particular language

expressive language

sounds, signs, or symbols used to communicate meaning

prelinguistic phase

the period before a child speaks his or her first words


making repetitive vowel sounds, particularly the uuu sound; the behavior develops early in the prelinguistic period, when babies are between about 1 and 4 months of age


the repetitive vocalizing of consonant-vowel combinations by an infant, typically beginning at about 6 months of age

receptive language

comprehension of spoken language


the use of words to apply only to specific objects, such as a child's use of the word cup to refer only to one particular cup


the inappropriate use of a word to designate an entire category of object, such as when a child uses the word kitty to refer to all animate objects


the ability to categorically link new words to real-world referents


as used in discussions of language development, an assumption that is presumed to be built-in or learned early (a "default option") by which a child figures out what words refer to. Examples include the principle of contrast and the whole object constraint

principle of contrast

the assumption that every word has a different meaning, which leads a child to assume that two or more different words refer to different objects


a combination of a gesture and a single word that conveys more meaning than just the word alone; often seen and heard in children between 12 and 18 months old

telegraphic speech

term used by Roger Brown to describe the earliest sentences created by most children, which sound a bit like telegrams because they include key nouns and verbs but generally omit all other words and grammatical inflections


young children's applications of basic rules to irregular words


the rules for the use of language in communicative interaction, such as the rules for taking turns and the style of speech that is appropriate for different listeners

motherse (infant-directed speech)

the simplified, higher-pitched speech that adults use with infants and young children

mean length of utterance (MLU)

the average number of meaningful units in a sentence. Each basic word is one meaningful unit, as is each inflection

phonological awareness

understanding of the rules governing the sounds of a language as well as knowledge of the connection between sounds and the way they are represented in written language

invented spelling

a strategy young children with good phonological awareness skills use when they write

systematic and explicit phonics

planned, specific instruction in sound-letter correspondences

whole language approach

an approach to reading instruction that places more emphasis on the meaning of written language than on its structure

balanced approach

reading instruction that combines explicit phonics instruction with other strategies for helping children acquire literacy

English-language learners (ELLs)

school children who do not speak English well enough to function in English-only classes

bilingual education

as practiced in the US, a school program for students who are not proficient in English in which instruction in basic subject matter is given in the children's native language during the first 2 or 3 years of schooling, with a gradual transition to full English instruction over several years

structured immersion

an alternative to traditional bilingual education used in classrooms in which all children speak the same non-English native language. All basic instruction is in English, paced so that the children can comprehend, with the teacher translating only when absolutely necessary

English-as-a-second-language (ESL)

an alternative to bilingual education; children who are not proficient in English attend academic classes taught entirely in English but then spend several hours in a separate class to receive English-language instruction


an approach to education of non-English-speaking students in which they are assigned to a classroom where instruction is given in English and are given no supplemental language assistance; also known as the "sink-or-swim" approach

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