Symbolic play and language development

Edna Orr, Ronny Geva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Symbolic play and language are known to be highly interrelated, but the developmental process involved in this relationship is not clear. Three hypothetical paths were postulated to explore how play and language drive each other: (1) direct paths, whereby initiation of basic forms in symbolic action or babbling, will be directly related to all later emerging language and motor outputs; (2) an indirect interactive path, whereby basic forms in symbolic action will be associated with more complex forms in symbolic play, as well as with babbling, and babbling mediates the relationship between symbolic play and speech; and (3) a dual path, whereby basic forms in symbolic play will be associated with basic forms of language, and complex forms of symbolic play will be associated with complex forms of language. We micro-coded 288 symbolic vignettes gathered during a yearlong prospective bi-weekly examination (. N=. 14; from 6 to 18 months of age). Results showed that the age of initiation of single-object symbolic play correlates strongly with the age of initiation of later-emerging symbolic and vocal outputs; its frequency at initiation is correlated with frequency at initiation of babbling, later-emerging speech, and multi-object play in initiation. Results support the notion that a single-object play relates to the development of other symbolic forms via a direct relationship and an indirect relationship, rather than a dual-path hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-161
Number of pages15
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 .


  • Babbling
  • Mother responsiveness
  • Play
  • Speech
  • Symbolic development


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