Protowords

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Synonyms

Phonetically consistent form; Quasi-words; Vocable

Definition

Protowords are word-like forms produced by young children as they transition from prelinguistic to linguistic communication (i.e., the time at which children produce intelligible single words that approximate conventional pronunciation). In typical development, protowords emerge between 10 and 12 months of age and are made up of the types of sounds that children use when babbling. Common examples of protowords are mama, dada, and baba. Protowords differ from repetitive babbling in two critical ways: (a) protowords are limited to one to two syllables in length and (b) protowords are used consistently by the child to refer to a corresponding object, person, or event in the child's immediate context. Protowords also have been referred to as repeatedly occurring phonetic units loosely bound to specifiable contexts.