What are the distinct stages or landmarks or milestones in speech in language development, in the order they're typically reached, and why is it that order?

For instance, I know that certain types of phonemes are learned at different times. Vowels are usually learned early, and different types of consonants are learned later.

As well as phonetic mastery, there is also grammatical mastery. An example is expressed in: I am vs my is - when do children develop this bit of language?

I'm asking primarily about English pronunciation and grammar.

Please feel comfortable using technical terms, such as those found in Articulatory Phonetics, Occlusives, Manners of Articulation and linguistic/grammatical terminology. I have access to resources about these areas of interest.

I'm particularly interested in the why of these developmental stages. Phoneme acquisition charts are easily found, but they don't discuss why certain phonemes are learned before others. A list of sounds/grammar rules and comparative ages isn't as useful to me as understanding the physiological or cognitive underpinnings of those milestones.

Age range can be assumed to be from start of speech until "mastery" of all landmarks. I'm not just interested in a single age, but the full breadth of development. (Unfortunately, I have to be this broad. Since I don't know the individual stages, I can't right now ask about them individually).

If necessary, I can separate phonemes from grammar for two separate questions.

  • 1
    This isn't a complete answer by far, but it has to do with physiological (neurological) development of control of the shape of the oral cavity (including pharynx), control of the tongue and lips, sound and speech recognition ability, presence or absence of teeth, etc. In other words, it's predictable because it's physiological. You might get an excellent answer on Linguistics.se. Mar 28, 2015 at 18:46
  • That's my understanding, too, as far as muscle control, teeth, and other physiological developments go. But I haven't yet seen a concrete list such physical developmental stages and their respective phonetic acquisitions. I may just be looking in the wrong place. I do have a book on linguistics that scratches the surface, and it's what piqued my curiosity. I didn't think about the linguistics stack! Good advice.
    – user11394
    Mar 28, 2015 at 18:55
  • If you don't get an answer there, let me know, and I'll search the physiological/neuro side for an answer. But this is part of their bread and butter, I think. Mar 28, 2015 at 18:57
  • Might be an interesting question to ask on ELU stack exchange. Mar 29, 2015 at 5:07
  • I finally had time to modify this question to ask on Linguistics: linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/11991/…
    – user11394
    Apr 9, 2015 at 3:08

1 Answer 1


Age of Child (source: http://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-development/language_development/)

6 Months

Vocalization with intonation Responds to his name Responds to human voices without visual cues by turning his head and eyes Responds appropriately to friendly and angry tones

12 Months

Uses one or more words with meaning (this may be a fragment of a word) Understands simple instructions, especially if vocal or physical cues are given Practices inflection Is aware of the social value of speech 18 Months
Has vocabulary of approximately 5-20 words Vocabulary made up chiefly of nouns Some echolalia (repeating a word or phrase over and over) Much jargon with emotional content Is able to follow simple commands

24 Months

Can name a number of objects common to his surroundings Is able to use at least two prepositions, usually chosen from the following: in, on, under Combines words into a short sentence-largely noun-verb combinations (mean) length of sentences is given as 1.2 words Approximately 2/3 of what child says should be intelligible Vocabulary of approximately 150-300 words Rhythm and fluency often poor Volume and pitch of voice not yet well-controlled Can use two pronouns correctly: I, me, you, although me and I are often confused My and mine are beginning to emerge Responds to such commands as “show me your eyes (nose, mouth, hair)”

36 Months

Use pronouns I, you, me correctly Is using some plurals and past tenses Knows at least three prepositions, usually in, on, under Knows chief parts of body and should be able to indicate these if not name Handles three word sentences easily Has in the neighborhood of 900-1000 words About 90% of what child says should be intelligible Verbs begin to predominate Understands most simple questions dealing with his environment and activities Relates his experiences so that they can be followed with reason Able to reason out such questions as “what must you do when you are sleepy, hungry, cool, or thirsty?” Should be able to give his sex, name, age Should not be expected to answer all questions even though he understands what is expected

48 Months

Knows names of familiar animals Can use at least four prepositions or can demonstrate his understanding of their meaning when given commands Names common objects in picture books or magazines Knows one or more colors Can repeat 4 digits when they are given slowly Can usually repeat words of four syllables Demonstrates understanding of over and under Has most vowels and diphthongs and the consonants p, b, m, w, n well established Often indulges in make-believe Extensive verbalization as he carries out activities Understands such concepts as longer, larger, when a contrast is presented Readily follows simple commands even thought the stimulus objects are not in sight Much repetition of words, phrases, syllables, and even sounds

60 Months

Can use many descriptive words spontaneously-both adjectives and adverbs Knows common opposites: big-little, hard-soft, heave-light, etc Has number concepts of 4 or more Can count to ten Speech should be completely intelligible, in spite of articulation problems Should have all vowels and the consonants, m,p,b,h,w,k,g,t,d,n,ng,y (yellow) Should be able to repeat sentences as long as nine words Should be able to define common objects in terms of use (hat, shoe, chair) Should be able to follow three commands given without interruptions Should know his age Should have simple time concepts: morning, afternoon, night, day, later, after, while Tomorrow, yesterday, today Should be using fairly long sentences and should use some compound and some complex sentences Speech on the whole should be grammatically correct

6 Years

In addition to the above consonants these should be mastered: f, v, sh, zh, th,1 He should have concepts of 7 Speech should be completely intelligible and socially useful Should be able to tell one a rather connected story about a picture, seeing relationships Between objects and happenings

7 Years

Should have mastered the consonants s-z, r, voiceless th, ch, wh, and the soft g as in George Should handle opposite analogies easily: girl-boy, man-woman, flies-swims, blunt-sharp short-long, sweet-sour, etc Understands such terms as: alike, different, beginning, end, etc Should be able to tell time to quarter hour Should be able to do simple reading and to write or print many words

8 Years

Can relate rather involved accounts of events, many of which occurred at some time in the past Complex and compound sentences should be used easily Should be few lapses in grammatical constrictions-tense, pronouns, plurals All speech sounds, including consonant blends should be established Should be reading with considerable ease and now writing simple compositions Social amenities should be present in his speech in appropriate situations Control of rate, pitch, and volume are generally well and appropriately established Can carry on conversation at rather adult level Follows fairly complex directions with little repetition Has well developed time and number concepts


You must log in to answer this question.