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Baby talk, also referred to as caretaker speech, infant-directed speech (IDS) or child-directed speech (CDS) and informally as "motherese", "parentese", "mommy talk", or "daddy talk" is a nonstandard form of speech used by adults in talking to toddlers and infants.
It is usually delivered with a "cooing" pattern of intonation different from that of normal adult speech: high in pitch, with many glissando variations that are more pronounced than those of normal speech. It frequently displays hyperarticulation, a measure of clear speech defined by having large amounts of acoustic space between vowels as measured by formants. Baby talk is also characterized by the shortening and simplifying of words. Baby talk is similar to what is used by people when talking to their pets (pet-directed speech), and between adults as a form of affection, intimacy, bullying or condescension.
Baby talk is more effective than regular speech in getting an infant's attention. Studies have shown that infants actually prefer to listen to this type of speech. Some researchers, including Rima Shore, believe that baby talk is an important part of the emotional bonding process between the parents and their child that help the infants learn the language. Other researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Wisconsin confirm that using basic “baby talk” helps babies pick up words faster than usual. Infants actually pay more attention when parents use infant-directed language, which has a slower and more repetitive tone than used in regular conversation. This child-directed speech has also been shown in languages other than English.
Colwyn Trevarthen studied babies and their mothers. He observed the communication and subtle movements between the babies and mothers. He has links to music therapy with other theorists.
The purposes and benefits of infant directed speech are numerous. They include positive effects on the early development of infants and children and aid in the ability of infants to bond with their caregivers. In addition, infants begin the process of speech and language acquisition and development through infant directed speech. Further, infant directed speech may contribute to the modulation of infant attention, assist infants in determining relevant syntactic qualities including phonetic boundaries, and conveys positive emotion to infants. The more expressive infant directed speech is, the more likely infants are to respond to this method of communication by adults.
Perhaps the most important of the benefits of infant directed speech is the benefit it provides to the development of language for infants and children. It has been found that the children who learn the fastest are those who receive the most acknowledgement and encouragement of what they say and who are given time and attention to speak and share, and who are questioned. For instance, it has been found that six month olds can discriminate between medial position syllables in words with multiple syllables when infant directed speech is used. Therefore, infant directed speech is a powerful tool in providing a base for language acquisition. Infants are able to apply principles of this practice to larger words and sentences as they learn to process language.
Infant directed speech also aids infants in selecting appropriate social partners. Although infants have a range of social cues available to them regarding who will provide adequate care, infant directed speech serves as an additional indicator as to which caregivers will provide developmental support. When adults engage in infant directed speech with infants they are ultimately providing them with positive emotion and attention, signaling to infants that they are valued.
Infant directed speech can also serve as a priming tool for infants to notice faces of their caregivers. Due to the nature of the practice of infant directed speech, infants are more sensitive to the pitch and emphasized qualities of this method. Therefore, when caregivers utilize infant directed speech they are expanding the possibility for their infants to notice and process their facial expressions. This effect could in part be due to the fact that infants associate infant directed speech with positive facial expressions such as smiling. Infants may be more likely to respond to infant directed speech if they expect to receive a positive response from their caregiver. Regardless, infant directed speech serves as tool to aid infants in responding to facial expression from caregivers, which in turn stimulates both language and social development.
Research suggests that infant directed speech promotes the processing of word forms and allows infants to remember words when asked to recall them in the future. As words are repeated through infant directed speech, infants begin to create mental representations of each word. As a result, infants who experience infant directed speech are able to recall words more effectively than infants who do not.
The implications of the lack of the use of infant directed speech are equally as important to recognize. Research suggests that children of depressed mothers who do not regularly use infant directed speech display delayed language development. Even when depressed mothers provide their infants with positive faces, infants do not respond to their attempts at infant directed speech, and in turn do not benefit from this important method of language acquisition. Infants are unable to create the link between speech and visual face movements in situations such as these. When undepressed fathers are able to provide the stimulation of infant directed speech for their children, infants respond well and are able to compensate from the deficit left by their mothers. Unfortunately, the potential remains likely that if infants do not receive adequate infant directed speech from their mothers they will generalize this response to all females. This too can inhibit language and speech development. Therefore, this deficit can be especially harmful to infants with depressed mothers and little contact with male caregivers. Socioeconomic status has been found to influence the development of vocabulary and language skills, lower-status groups tend to be behind the development of children in higher-status families. This finding is thought to be attributed to the amount of time parents spend with the child and the ways they interact, mothers from higher-status groups are found to say more to their children, use more variety and speak in longer sentences. Families with a lower-status might just have less time to spend focusing on interactions.
Shore and other researchers believe that baby talk contributes to mental development, as it helps teach the child the basic function and structure of language. Studies have found that responding to an infant's babble with meaningless babble aids the infant's development; while the babble has no logical meaning, the verbal interaction demonstrates to the child the bidirectional nature of speech, and the importance of verbal feedback. Some experts advise that parents should not talk to infants and young children solely in baby talk, but should integrate some normal adult speech as well. The high-pitched sound of motherese gives it special acoustic qualities which may appeal to the infant. Motherese may aid a child in the acquisition and/or comprehension of language-particular rules which are otherwise unpredictable; an example is the reduction or avoidance of pronoun reversal errors. It has been also suggested that motherese is crucial for children to acquire the ability to ask questions. Some[who?] feel that parents should refer to the child and others by their names only (no pronouns, e.g., he, I, or you), to avoid confusing infants who have yet to form an identity independent from their parents.
Researchers Bryant and Barrett (2007) have suggested (as have others before them, e.g., Fernald, 1992) that baby talk exists universally across all cultures and is a species-specific adaptation. Other researchers[who?] contend that it is not universal among the world's cultures, and argue that its role in helping children learn grammar has been overestimated. As evidence they point out that in some societies (such as certain Samoan tribes), adults do not speak to their children at all until the children reach a certain age. Furthermore, even where baby-talk is used, it is full of complicated grammatical constructs, and mispronounced or non-existent words. Other evidence suggests that baby talk is not a universal phenomenon. Schieffelin & Ochs (1983), for example, describe the Kaluli tribe of Papua New Guinea who do not typically employ infant-directed speech.[clarification needed] Language acquisition in Kaluli children was not found to be significantly impaired. In other societies, it is more common to speak to children as one would to an adult, but with simplifications in grammar and vocabulary, with the belief that it will help them learn words as they are known in the standard form.
In order to relate to the child during baby talk, a parent may deliberately slur or fabricate some words, and may pepper the speech with nonverbal utterances. A parent might refer only to objects and events in the immediate vicinity, and will often repeat the child's utterances back to them. Since children employ a wide variety of phonological and morphological simplifications (usually distance assimilation or reduplication) in learning speech, such interaction results in the "classic" baby-words like na-na for grandmother, wawa for water, or din-din for dinner, where the child seizes on a stressed syllable of the input, and simply repeats it to form a word.
Although child directed speech proves to be a concept recognized cross culturally, the extent to which caregivers rely on and use this method of communication differs based on cultural differences. Mothers in regions that display predominately introverted cultures are less likely to display a great deal of child directed speech, although it is still utilized. Further, the personality of each child experiencing child directed from a caregiver deeply impacts the extent to which a caregiver will use this method of communication. Infant directed speech has been seen in a wide variety of languages such as Japanese, Italian, Mandarin, English, and German. This illustrates the universality of the practice and serves as an indication that infant directed speech is an necessary aspect of social development for children. Although it is found in many cultures it is far from universal in terms of style and amount it is used. What is found to be a factor in the way adults communicate with children is the way the culture views children, if for example they view children as helpless and unable to understand, adults tend to interact with children less than if the belief is that children are capable of learning and understanding. Often cultures lacking a form of CDS make up for it in other ways like involving the children more in everyday activities.
For example, research suggests that in a tonal language, such as Mandarin, the use of child directed speech is beneficial to development. Specifically, Mandarin features lexical tones that must be used with every syllable which in turn convey meaning. It has been seen that in tonal languages such as in this example mothers use child directed speech by heightening the pitch of speaking making the product easier for infants to understand. The raising of pitch in speech associated with child directed speech is present cross culturally and occurs regardless of the language being spoken. Psychoacoustic studies on intonation have been used to further determine the effect of higher pitch and exaggerated syllables used in child directed speech. These tests have determined that the properties of child directed speech do not create additional difficulty for infants when attempting to distinguish speech. Instead, the raised pitch and elongated style of child directed speech allow for more effective communication. Further, Mandarin speaking mothers who emphasized changes between phonemes had children with higher successes in language discrimination tests. These findings also occur cross culturally, and present themselves clearly in the English language. Ultimately, regardless of geographic region, the use of child directed speech allows infants to develop the capacity for language more quickly due to its distinct qualities.
The use of baby talk is not limited to interactions between adults and infants, as it may be used among adults, or by people to animals. In these instances, the outward style of the language may be that of baby talk, but is not considered actual parentese, as it serves a different linguistic function (see pragmatics).
Baby talk and imitations of it may be used by one noninfant to another as a form of verbal abuse, in which the talk is intended to infantilize the victim. This can occur during bullying, when the bully uses baby talk to assert that the victim is weak, cowardly, overemotional, or otherwise submissive.
Baby talk may be used as a form of flirtation between sexual or romantic partners. In this instance, the baby talk may be an expression of tender intimacy, and may (but not universally) form part of affectionate sexual roleplaying in which one partner speaks and behaves childishly, while the other acts motherly or fatherly, responding in "parentese". One or both partners might perform the child role. Terms of endearment, such as poppet (or, indicatively, baby), may be used for the same purpose in communication between the partners.
Many people use falsetto, glissando and repetitive speech similar to baby talk when addressing their pets. Such talk is not commonly used by professionals who train working animals such as police dogs and guard dogs, but is very common among owners of companion pets. This style of speech is different from baby talk, despite intonal similarities, especially if the speaker uses rapid rhythms and forced breathiness which may mimic the animal's utterances. Pets often learn to respond well to the emotional states and specific commands of their owners who use baby talk, especially if the owner's intonations are very distinct from ambient noise. For example, a dog may recognize baby talk as his owner's invitation to play (as is a dog's natural "play bow"); a cat may learn to come when addressed with the high-pitched utterance, "Heeeeere kitty- kitty-kitty-kitty- kitty- kitty!"
People speaking to foreigners may simplify their language in order to address listeners not skilled in the speaker's language. Some people use sign language to communicate with others, especially if they have a hearing problem, although this is not always understood by people, as some signs in ASL may be difficult to interpret by some people, especially if gestures have different meanings from place to place, so they may use a baby talk-like language to communicate, skipping out small words and possibly using demonstratives instead of pronouns, for example Do not cross the road becoming No cross road. While sometimes helpful for unskilled foreigners, this type of communication is perceived as rude or offensive in some societies, because it may cause the foreigner to feel infantilised. While not considered to be actual parentese, it has aspects which make the two language styles similar.
With respect to English-speaking parents, it is well-established that Anglo-Saxon or Germanic words tend to predominate in informal speech registers, whereas the Latinate vocabulary is usually reserved for more formal uses such as legal and scientific texts. Child-directed speech, an informal speech register, also tends to use the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary. The speech of mothers to young children has a higher percentage of native Anglo-Saxon verb tokens than speech addressed to adults. In particular, in parents’ child-directed speech the clausal core is built in the most part by Anglo-Saxon verbs, namely, almost all tokens of the grammatical relations subject-verb, verb-direct object and verb-indirect object that young children are presented with, are constructed with native verbs. The Anglo-Saxon verb vocabulary consists of short verbs, but its grammar is relatively complex. Syntactic patterns specific to this sub-vocabulary in present-day English include periphrastic constructions for tense, aspect, questioning and negation, and phrasal lexemes functioning as complex predicates, all of which occur also in child-directed speech.
As noted above, baby talk often involves shortening and simplifying words, with the possible addition of slurred words and nonverbal utterances, and can invoke a vocabulary of its own. Some utterances are invented by parents within a particular family unit, or are passed down from parent to parent over generations, while others are quite widely known and used within most families, such as wawa for water, num-num for a meal, ba-ba for bottle, or beddy-bye for bedtime, and are considered standard or traditional words, possibly differing in meaning from place to place.
Baby talk, language regardless, usually consists of a muddle of words, including names for family members, names for animals, eating and meals, bodily functions and genitals, sleeping, pain, possibly including important objects such as diaper, blanket, pacifier, bottle, etc., and may be sprinkled with nonverbal utterances, such as goo goo ga ga. The vocabulary of made-up words, such as those listed below, may be quite long with terms for a large number of things, rarely or possibly never using proper language, other times quite short, dominated by real words, all nouns. Most words invented by parents have a logical meaning, although the nonverbal sounds are usually completely meaningless and just fit the speech together.
A fair number of baby talk and nursery words refer to bodily functions or the genitals, partly because the words are relatively easy to pronounce. Also, if a child is very young, bodily functions such as urination and defecation may be quite exciting for them. Scientific terms may be harder for them to understand and pronounce, so baby talk may be more convenient for a young child. Moreover, such words reduce adults' discomfort with the subject matter, and make it possible for children to discuss such things without breaking adult taboos. However, some, such as pee-pee and poo-poo have been very widely used in reference to bodily functions to the point that they are considered to be standard words, so ability to mention such subjects without adult negativity has recently faded.
Some examples of widely-used baby talk words and phrases in English, many of which are not found within standard dictionaries but may be classified as nonstandard or childish terms, include:[problematic list, see talk]
Moreover, many words can be derived into baby talk following certain rules of transformation, in English adding a terminal /i/ sound at the end, usually written and spelled as /ie/, /y/, or /ey/, is a common way to form a diminutive which is often used as part of baby talk, examples include:
("Puppy" is often erroneously thought to be a diminutive of pup made this way, but it is in fact the other way around: pup is a shortening of puppy, which comes from French popi or poupée which means "doll".)
Baby talk phrases and sentences often skip out small words, imitating young children who can make little sense of sentence composition, such as to, at, for, my, so and as, and articles (the, a, an), thus resulting in an incomplete sentence, such as I need go potty or I want blanket. Sometimes, demonstratives are used instead of pronouns (he, I, it, she etc), as it may help children learn people's names, for example, Daddy wants Susie to eat her cereal instead of standard adult-type speech, I want you to eat your cereal as pronouns are often confusing to young children. Also, labelling is practised, sometimes emphasising a word through repetition within a sentence, such as That's a car, Susie. It's a car. Some parents substitute a particular word in a sentence with a difficult sound to pronounce with another easier word, such as choo-choo instead of train as some children are unable to pronounce the /tr/ sound as infants, although most learn pronunciations and phonics as they increase in age.
All individual words have a logical meaning, although phrases made up of them are often based on random utterances, sprinkled with logical words, so the child can "sift" out the words with meanings and interpret them, as the parent may teach language by labelling, associating the word with the object or action.
Some baby talk words and phrases, such as mama, pee-pee, potty, yucky, no-no and tummy are sometimes used after infancy, just as colloquial or informal terms. However, reduplication is not practised, for example pee-pee becomes pee. Also, meanings may slightly change to become more age-universal and specific, for example potty changing in meaning from any toilet to a container-like one for small children, or yum-yum changing from mealtime to an informal expression of delight towards a meal, or stinky changing from defecation (as a countable noun) to an adjective for something smelling bad, such as This cheese is stinky!. Also, poppet or similar terms may be used as a term of endearment for a loved one of similar age, such as a romantic partner, and quick-quick or no-no may be used as expressions in school, university and even occupational work scenarios. Nonverbal utterances such as googoogaga may be used as figuratives for things misinterpreted or not understood. Words such as mama and nana are words often used for family members past infancy. The word doo-doo is used as a figurative later in age for something difficult or problematic, such as When the computer's jammed, we're in deep doo-doo.
Most standard baby talk words consist of a single syllable duplicated, such as mama, dada, poo-poo, pee-pee, baba, boo-boo, bot-bot, num-num, dum-dum and wee-wee. These, such as mama, dada, baba, wawa, nana, are often imitations of a baby's first utterances which take the shape of a word. These are made when the child takes a stressed syllable of the main word to "shorten" it and repeats it to form a word-like utterance. Words with similar sounds from stressed syllables, such as mama, dada and baba. These include:
Words can be made from a diminutive with an /i/ sound at the end, reduplicated, but the first letter of the duplication replaced with a /w/, for example teensy-weensy, puppy-wuppy or binkie-winkie. Realistic language examples following this same pattern, known as partial duplications or modified duplications include okey-dokey, silly-billy, mumbo-jumbo and super-duper which use the first letter as the point of modification. However, these patterns are more common in colloquial language and slang than formal English and rarely use a /w/ for modification.
Many baby talk words for animals involve duplication of the onomatopoeia of the sound they make, including:
Others, which do not relate to animals, include vroom-vroom (car) and choo-choo (train).
Other transformations mimic the way infants mistake certain consonants which in English can include turning /l/ into /w/ as in wuv from love or widdo from little or in pronouncing /v/ as /b/ and /ð/ or /t/ as /d/ and soft /th/ as /f/ or /s/. It is a way of imitating how a baby or young child speaks, because most babies, when they start talking, talk as though they have a speech impediment because they mistake certain consonants. This usually is outgrown by the age of five or six.
Still other transformations, but not in all languages, include elongated vowels, such as kitty and kiiiitty, (emphasised /i/) meaning the same thing. While this is understood by English speaking toddlers, it is not applicable with Dutch toddlers as they learn that elongated vowels reference different words.
Infant directed speech includes features of higher pitch, exaggerated pitch changes, elongated vowels and long pauses between phonemes. This is done in order to allow infants time to process the information being conveyed to them. Rhythm is also heavily emphasized in this practice and is used closely with the emphasis of various syllables. Vowel space is also expanded in infant directed speech allowing for accurate phoneme discrimination. Words that are somewhat difficult in terms of the sounds that make them up, or phonologically difficult words, might be simplified.
Infant directed speech features a unique syntax, usually having a simplified form. Caregivers utilizing infant directed speech often use short utterances rather than full sentence structures in order to convey meaning to their infants. These short units are often repeated so infants have practice in a particular concept. Infant directed speech allows for infants to detect syntactic boundaries. Further, infant directed speech makes linguistic patterns easier to discover than when adult directed speech is used. Infants begin to understand word order through infant directed speech which slowly expands into a deeper understanding of sentence structure as a whole.
Communicating with children can be difficult if you can't maintain their attention, so the topic must be on things that interest them. Research has found that five topics tend to dominate the conversation, members of the family; animals; parts of the body; food; and clothing. Conversations with children are mostly about the present, here-and-now, rather than topics pertaining to another time, past or future.
CDS is a clear and simplified way of communicating to younger children not only used by adults but also by older children. The vocabulary is limited, speech is slowed with a greater number of pauses, and the sentences are short and grammatically simplified and are often repeated. Three types of modifications occur to adult directed speech in the production of infant directed speech. The first are linguistic modifications, including the simplification of speech units as well as emphasis on various phonemes. Second are modifications to attention getting strategies. Caregivers use visual movements of the face to more effectively gain and maintain the attention of their infants. Lastly, modifications are made to the interactions between parents and infants. Parents use infant directed speech not only to promote language development, but to create a bond and positive relationship between them and their infants.
The younger the child the more exaggerated is CDS and because it is slow, simple and easier to understand, research has proven that infants prefer CDS over normal speech. Research shows that one of the most prominent characteristics of infant directed speech is the wider opening of the mouth that is present in those using infant directed speech versus adult directed speech. This differences occurs especially in vowels. Vocal pitch is also heightened during infant directed speech and research indicates vowels are spoken with the highest pitch when infant directed speech is used. The horizontal positioning of the lips in infant directed speech does not differ significantly from positioning used in adult directed speech. Instead, the only observed difference remains in vertical lip positioning. By making the opening of the lips larger, infants are more likely to focus on the face of the speaker. Research suggests that the larger the opening of the lips during infant directed speech, the better infants will understand the message being conveyed due to the additional visual cues available. The intensity of speech, however, does not differ from that used in adult directed speech contrary to popular belief.
Infant directed speech does not only include the characteristics of high pitched speech and elongated syllables, but also incorporates visual body movements that assist in conveying meaning of language to infants. One monumental visual aspect of infant directed speech is the movement of the lips. In addition, head movements are used to emphasize various syllables within language production. These visual cues provide infants the additional information needed to perform accurate speech discrimination during language development. Further, visual cues allow infants to discriminate speech differences in environments in which they cannot rely on their hearing, such as in noisy environments. The auditory and visual aspects of infant directed speech do not exist independently, however. Infants rely equally on both methods of understanding and as development continues, infants strengthen the link between these two important categories.
It must be considered that although infant directed speech features marked characteristics, it may not only be these characteristics aiding in development of language for children. Due to the visual cues used by caregivers in this method of communication, infants are more highly motivated to engage in communication. Because infants are willing to participate in this process, caregivers are able to make significant progress through the use of infant directed speech.
It is often assumed that infants are interested in the properties of infant directed speech and play a passive role in this interaction. However, research indicates that infants are not only attracted to the practice itself but to people who engage in infant directed speech. Through this practice, infants are able to determine who positive and encouraging caregivers will be in their development. When infants use infant directed speech as a determinant of acceptable caregivers their cognitive development seems to thrive because they are being encouraged by adults who are invested in the development of the given infants.