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A single word (such as Thanks) that is used to express a complete, meaningful thought. More specifically, a term used in language acquisition to refer to an utterance produced by a child in which a single word expresses the type of meaning typically conveyed in adult speech by an entire sentence. Adjective: holophrastic. See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "[A]round six months children begin babbling and eventually imitating the linguistic sounds they hear in the immediate environment. . . . By the end of the first year, the first true words emerge (mama, dada, etc.). In the 1960s, the psycholinguist Martin Braine (1963, 1971) noticed that these single words gradually embodied the communicative functions of entire phrases: e.g. the child's word dada could mean 'Where is daddy?' 'I want daddy,' etc. according to situation. He called them holophrastic, or one-word, utterances. In situations of normal upbringing, holophrases reveal that a vast amount of neuro-physiological and conceptual development has taken place in the child by the end of the first year of life. During the holophrastic stage, in fact, children can name objects, express actions or the desire to carry out actions, and transmit emotional states rather effectively."
    (M. Danesi, Second Language Teaching. Springer, 2003)

  • "The problem of the holophrase [is] that we have no clear evidence that the child intends more than he can express at the one-word stage."
    (J. De Villiers and P. De Villiers, Language Acquisition. Harvard Univ. Press, 1979)

  • "The single word in conjunction with the gestures and facial expressions is the equivalent of the whole sentence. By this account, the single word is not a holophrase, but one element in a complex of communications that includes nonverbal actions."
    (M. Cole et al., The Development of Children. Macmillan, 2004)
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