13 - 15 Months

Month 14: “Throw the ball to Mama”—what’s up with the third person, anyway?

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Have you ever caught yourself speaking in the third person, as if you’re referring to yourself as someone else? There’s a name for that—“illeism”—and it tends to come naturally to the parents of young children.

Why? 

We likely do it because we sense, intuitively, that young kids don’t understand the pronouns “me” or “I” as well as they know our names. Pronouns are tricky: “throw the ball to me” isn’t as specific as “throw the ball to Mama.” 

Mama, Auntie, Daddy, Grandpa, and other names are stable nouns—they always refer to the same people in your toddler’s orbit. Pronouns, on the other hand, change according to context, which can be confusing to a little person still learning the language. 

Stripping pronouns away can make for simpler, more understandable speech. This is part of the progression of language development. Your toddler’s first true sentences will likely include their name rather than “I” or “me.” 

Most parents naturally stop using the third person as their children begin to understand pronouns. Understanding will come before expression—your toddler will begin to use “I” or “me” consistently instead of their name sometime between 27 and 40 months, but they will understand the meaning well before that. 

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Posted in: 13 - 15 Months, Language, Communication, Speech Development, Social Emotional, Child Development

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