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Which word can I use to describe random nonsense sounds like 'aaaa', 'papa' etc. from a child who still cannot speak.

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Two words are generally used to describe baby talk (the definitions are from Chambers):

  • Prattle — "(of a young child) to utter baby-talk"
  • Babble — "to speak like a baby"
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+1 You could include links to corresponding entries from Chambers online as well, for completeness. – Kris May 15 '12 at 16:59
Though "prattle" is usually used to mean "chatter" and isn't common as a technical term, I don't think. – Neil Coffey May 15 '12 at 18:49

For sounds like 'aaaa,' I would say cooing.

Sounds like 'mama,' I would say babbling.

I would probably avoid prattling because it is also used to mean annoying, incessant talking.

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Agree that "prattle" tends to be used in reference to chatty adults. – Bill Lefurgy May 21 '12 at 23:57

Babble fits your description. It can be used as a noun or verb.

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@RegDwight - thanks for changing the backticks for italics. Just for future reference, is there a standard to follow as far as which one to use when? – dj18 May 15 '12 at 14:35

According to the Facts on File Descriptionary (2000), one apt term for such sounds is lallation:

lallation any noise or utterance typical of a baby.

Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1986) generally confirms this meaning:

lallation n 1 : infantile utterance whether in infants or in older speakers (as by retardation or mimicry) 2 : a defective articulation of the letter l, the substitution of \l\ for another sound, or the substitution of another sound for \l\—compare LAMBDACISM

Interestingly, the Oxford English Dictionary, Compact Edition (1971) asserts that the "childish utterance" meaning of lallation is obsolete, and that the only current meaning is this:

An imperfect pronunciation of r, by which the sound of that letter is confused with that of l; lambdacism.

For the record, the Third International Dictionary defines lambdacism as follows:

lambdacism n 1 : excessive use of the letter l or the sound \l\ (as in alliteration) 2 : defective articulation of \l\ or substitution of other sounds for it 3 : substitution of \l\ for another sound [example omitted] —compare LALLATION

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If the baby is repeating sounds then it's echolalia.
Only tangetially related to your question I know, but I like the word.

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interesting. I only knew this word as related to the disorder. – Karl May 16 '12 at 5:08

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