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Language Development & Syntax Levels

by Patti Richards

Understanding language development and syntax levels can help you determine whether your child is on track for her age. The Children’s Speech and Language Services website defines language phonology as the rules of the human sound system and sound combination, and syntax as the rules of word order and combination to form phrases and sentences. According to Brown's Stages of Syntax and Morphological Development, the ability to make appropriate sounds and the age and stage of development helps determine a child’s ability to communicate successfully.

Stage One

According to Brown’s Stages of Syntax and Morphological Development, children between the ages of 15 and 30 months should have a vocabulary of about 50 to 60 words. Children at this age should be using the words in their vocabulary to form simple phrases such as “that car,” “more juice” and “birdie go.” According to speech-language pathologist Caroline Bowen, these sentences demonstrate an understanding of the deeper meaning of the words and shows in simple form what the child might say if she was more mature and able to talk in complete sentences.

Stage Two

From 28 to 36 months of age, your child uses consistent word order when making simple sentences. Sentences now reflect a simple understanding of tense, as children add “ing” to the ends of words. Although not yet used correctly, adding the present perfect to words shows growth in how your child is working to be understood. Children’s Speech and Language Services indicates that children during this stage will also use a rising tone at the end of a phrase when asking a question and add present tense helping verbs such as “is” and “does” to their sentences.

Stage Three

Stage 3 of Brown's Stages of Syntax occur between the ages of 36 and 42 months. During this stage, your child begins to use past tense, although not always in the right form. Phrases such as “me fell down,” or “me go home” shows your child is beginning to understand the concepts of “how” and “when.” According to Bowen, children will also begin to use possessive forms of words, such as "girl’s" and "boy’s" when referring to objects that belong to someone else.

Stages Four and Five

By ages 40 to 52 months and beyond, of Brown’s Syntax Stages, your child will add articles such as “a”, “an” and “the” to sentences. She is also using regular past-tense combinations such as “she jumped” and questions such as “are you going?” in the right order. Children’s Speech and Language Services indicates that “to be” verbs are also added during this time, as are third-person communicating and passive sentences such as “She is going” or “I will be going later.”

About the Author

Patti Richards has been a writer since 1990. She writes children’s books and articles on parenting, women's health and education. Her credits include San Diego Family Magazine, Metro Parent Magazine, Boys' Quest Magazine and many others. Richards has a Bachelor of Science in English/secondary education from Welch College.

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