RESEARCH – January 2013

The first words of Estonian children: size and content of their vocabulary according to the Macarthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventories

Authors: Astra Schults, Tiia Tulviste, Kai Kaljumäe

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Objectives. The current study focuses on the size and content of the vocabulary of 8–16 months old Estonian children. The aim of the study was to describe their vocabulary at each month of age and to look for possible differences between the girls’ and boys’ vocabulary size and content.

Method. The Estonian adaptation of the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory: Words and Gestures was used. A total of 593 parents of children aged 8–16 months completed the inventory.

Results. According to the parents, the Estonian children utter their first word at the age of about 10 months. At the age of 12 months children say about 11 words on the average. The first spurt in the vocabulary of children takes place at the age of 14 months when the vocabulary doubles in size. The second spurt takes place at the age of 16 months. At all ages there were children whose vocabulary differed significantly from the mean. The first words of Estonian children include names of significant others (e.g. mother, father, baby), words accompanying routine social activities (e.g. thanks, yum-yum, bye-bye), and some words referring to objects and animals (e.g. car, lamp, dog, cat, bear).

Conclusions. The development pattern of the Estonian children’s vocabulary is similar to that of other languages regarding both changes in vocabulary size as well as in vocabulary composition.