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Language Content


Bloom and Lahey (1978) divide language into three separate but overlapping components:

The overlap of these in the centre of the diagram below represents knowledge of language and a successful integration of content, form and use to understand and transmit messages.

Language, content, form and use

The Integration of Content, Form and Use

Here we summarize what is meant by CONTENT.


Content can refer to the topics and ideas that are encoded in linguistic messages (whether these are transmitted through sign language, writing or speech). It encompasses those goings-on that we talk about – our thoughts, desires, things that actually happen, stories, and so on. Typically, the goings-on that we communicate are states, events or actions:

  • states refer to the way people or things are, what they are like, the condition they are in, where they are, the position they have taken up, and similar
  • events refer to things that happen – there is no stated human or other animate instigator of an event, they simply occur
  • actions, unlike events, are usually performed by human or animate instigators – they are usually the result of intention on the part of an agent

Topic and content

Now, topic is not quite the same thing as content. As Lahey (1988) explains, all children learn to talk about the same content (objects, actions and relations) but they will differ in the topics that they talk about. For example, all children talk about inanimate objects (a content category) but some children will talk about my PS3 and others will talk about my kayak (different topics). All children talk about animate objects (another category of content) but some children will talk about my pet dog and others about my dad’s cow (different topics).

Lahey claims that language content is general and independent of any particular context, whereas language topic is variable and changes with age as well as culture.

The content of language is defined by categorization:


  • particular objects, e.g. mum, dad, Adam, River Tees, St. Paul’s Cathedral
  • classes of objects, e.g. people, rivers, buildings

Relations between objects

  • reflexive – the relation of one object to itself, e.g. this cat (the object simply exists); cat gone (the object disappears); more cat (the object reappears)
  • intraclass – the way in which objects from the same class differ from each other, e.g. little boy / big boy, red key / blue key
  • interclass – the way in which objects from different classes relate to each other, e.g. ball on table (location); boy kick ball (action); mummy hat (possession); Adam like cake (state)

Relations between events

  • temporal – related according to the time that the events take place, e.g. I undress and then I wash
  • causal – one event happens because another event happened, e.g. I wash because I’m dirty

In linguistic terms, Bloom and Lahey’s notion of content appears to be directly related to the field of semantics (Harris, 2008:36).


Bloom, L. and Lahey, M. (1978) Language Development and Language Disorders New York: Wiley.

Harris, J. (2008) Development of Early Communication Unit 3, Language in Development Module, DE course Speech and Language Difficulties, School of Education, The University of Birmingham, UK.

Lahey, M. (1988) ‘What is language?’ In Language Disorders and Language Development London: Collier Macmillan.