Spoken communication is a biological behavior emerging very early in development and effortlessly in most children. It is shaped by multi-faceted developments in the speech motor, perception, lexical and phonological domains, which develop in a seemingly parallel fashion. While most of those competences have been well studied in the last decades, developmental interactions between domains have typically been conducted in separate strands. Yet, findings suggest they interact dynamically over time.
In this presentation, I will first discuss research conducted with colleagues addressing the development of coarticulation in young children. Coarticulatory processes emerge organically with the first babbled syllables at around 6-8 months of age and hence initiate a fundamental ontogenetic transition from a rudimentary vocal repertoire of vegetative coos and isolated vocalizations tied to immediate events and needs to a sophisticated combinatorial spoken language system. Our research shows that while the maturation of the speech motor system is certainly crucial to spoken language fluency, the concurrent development of other skills must be considered to explain children’s individual trajectories. I will then present a recent study illuminating non-linear interactions between the motor, lexical and phonological domains during the transition between preschool and primary school. Last, I will introduce preliminary results suggesting an early interaction between infants’ attention to linguistically relevant orofacial information and their vocal repertoire. Altogether, the findings motivate an integrated approach of spoken language development in which various skills are envisioned as interacting dynamically over time and their interaction is fundamental to the growth of each individual skill.