How Language Comes to Children
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How Language Comes to Children

From Birth to Two Years

By Bénédicte de Boysson-Bardies

Translated by M. B. DeBevoise

A comprehensive and entertaining account of how children acquire language.

A Bradford Book





A comprehensive and entertaining account of how children acquire language.

That children learn to speak so skillfully at a young age has long fascinated adults. Most children virtually master their native tongue even before learning to tie their shoelaces. The ability to acquire language has historically been regarded as a "gift"—a view given scientific foundation only in the present century by Noam Chomsky's theory of "universal grammar," which posits an innate knowledge of the principles that structure all languages.

In this delightful, accessible book, psycholinguist Bénédicte de Boysson-Bardies presents a broad picture of language development, from fetal development to the toddler years, and examines a wide range of puzzling questions: How do newborns recognize elements of speech? How do they distinguish them from nonspeech sounds? How do they organize and analyze them? How do they ultimately come to understand and reproduce these sounds? Finally, how does the ability to communicate through language emerge in children? Boysson-Bardies also addresses questions of particular interest to parents, such as whether one should speak to children in a special way to facilitate language learning and whether there is cause to worry when a twenty-month-old child does not yet speak. Although the author provides a clear summary of the current state of language acquisition theory, the special appeal of the book lies in her research and "dialogue" with her many young subjects.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262024532 320 pp. | 9 in x 6 in


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262541251 320 pp. | 9 in x 6 in


M. B. DeBevoise.


  • A joy—beautifully written, broad in scope, scholarly, and exciting.

    Elizabeth S. Spelke

    Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • The comunicative accomplishments of the 'pre-linguistic' child have never been better delineated. de Boysson Bardies melds well-chosen examples, an engaging style, and scientific expertise in describing the infant from birth to eighteen months. This is a book which will attract newcomers to the field of language acquisition.

    Virginia Valian

    Professor of Psychology and Linguistics, hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center

  • An excellent guide to early langauge acquisition from a major contributor to the field. Boysson-Bardies' descriptions of infants' language milestones are simple, without being simplistic. she has established herself as a keen investigator of early language abilities who never loses sight of what parents want to know. Her focus on cross-linguistic and individual differences in development is refreshing. The tale she tells gives contemporary research findings their proper historical persepctive.

    Peter W. Jusczyk

    Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science, Johns Hopkins University