The Syntactic & Telegraphic Stages of Speech

Child language acquisition can be divided into several stages based on the complexity of sound and syntactic patterns the child is able to produce. These include the preverbal, holophrastic, telegraphic and syntactic stages, each building upon the previous ones until the child has mastery of adult language patterns. The telegraphic stage serves as a transition between earlier, less developed language and the more complex utterances of adult language.

Preverbal Language

The preverbal stages of language include the babbling of infants when exploring sounds and the later stage of vocables, in which random syllables begin to be attached to meanings, such as when a child says, "Ah go ah," while pointing to a ball, and repeats this pattern every time a ball appears.

Holophrastic Language

The holophrastic stage of language, at around the age of 2 years, introduces single words that stand for a thought or a concept. In this stage, a ball is identified by the word "ball," and the meaning is based on its particular context. "Ball" might mean "throw a ball," "here is a ball," or something else, depending on the situation.

Telegraphic Language

Telegraphic language, usually appearing at 2 to 2.5 years, is a pattern of language that combines words without grammatical or functional elements: "throw ball," "ball daddy." In this stage, multiple meanings are conveyed without the support of grammatical structures that create the complex sentences of adult language patterns.

Syntactic Language

The final stage of language development brings a child's utterances closer to adult language standards. Subpatterns in this stage include the acquisition of negatives, questions and other sentence elements such as linking verbs, regular and irregular past tenses and compound and complex sentence forms. Acquisition of adult language patterns are generally complete between the ages of 8 and 10.

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About the Author

Carla Jean McKinney has been writing professionally since 1989. She is the author of three nonfiction books and numerous published short works, as well as articles on natural sciences and the environment. Also a photographer, McKinney earned her Master of Arts at the University of Arizona and is a graduate of the Sessions School of Design.