What Counts as a Baby's First Word?
Your baby’s first word is an amazing moment! Is it going to be “mama” or “dada” or simply “hi”? Whatever it is, it can be an important milestone and indicator for a baby’s language development. After all that babbling (that I’ve talked about earlier), we typically see a baby’s first word around a year old (from 10-14 months). But what actually counts as a first word? You’d be surprised what can be considered a first word.
Dr. Erika Hoff, Professor and Director of the Language Development Lab at Florida Atlantic University, defines a word as, “a sound sequence that symbolizes meaning and can stand alone (Hoff, 2005, p. 422)”. The sound sequence should be an approximation of the “adult version” of the word, and the use of the word must be consistent. So, your baby could say “ball,” or an approximation of the word, such as “baw”, every time he or she sees his or her favorite red, bouncy ball and that would be a word!
There are actually many different categories of words that could count as your baby’s first word!
Types of First Words
Common First words: mama, dada, hi, bye, no, ball, milk, other people’s names
Animal Sounds: moo, baa, quack, neigh, oink oink
Exclamations or Interjections: uh-oh, yum, shhh, wee, yay, oops
Part of a Word/"so close" words: Saying “baba” for bottle, saying “baw” for ball, saying “mo” for more
Signs: Signing the word for “more”, “milk”, “eat”
But, in order for it to be considered a word, your baby has to realize that words represent concepts. So mere noises and random sounds are not really considered words because they do not really represent something. So, sometimes your baby may be babbling and say “mama”. However, if he looks at you and when he sees you he consistently says “mama”, then that would be a word!
I hope this was helpful and fun to see what words your baby might already be saying. Sometimes parents actually underestimate how much their baby is actually saying! All that is needed to make it a word is for it to be consistent, intentional, and be said in the right context. I
Your baby saying his first words is undoubtedly an exciting time. But it is also an important milestone in his development. There is always some variation when it comes to when babies will hit certain milestones. However, if your baby is older than 14 months and has not been babbling much and you have not heard a consistent first word like the ones mentioned above, it might be a good time to talk to your pediatrician or speech-language pathologist to see if there might be a need for some interventions.
For more questions, contact Marissa Doletzky at Rockford Speech Therapy.