‘Baby-talk’ might not be easy to understand for kids, study finds

Posted by PBS Newshour on
Mother with baby

Parents may be using “baby-talk” when speaking to infants with the goal of making it easier for babies to understand, but a new Japanese study shows this may have the opposite effect. 

Two research teams, one in Japan and one in Paris, published their findings in Psychological Science to determine if mothers do speak more clearly to infants. Researchers in Tokyo recorded 22 Japanese mothers speaking to their children, all 18-24 months, as well as to an experimenter. Over the next five years, researchers analyzed the speech and found when talking to the experimenter, mothers spoke more clearly than when speaking to their babies.

The researchers measured the acoustics between two syllables, and looked at the 118 most frequent syllables in the 14 hours of speech.

Whether speaking more clearly boosts language retention has yet to be studied, but the findings do prove that “baby-talk” may not have the effect new parents want.

“This finding is important because it challenges the widespread view that parents do and should hyperarticulate, using very robust data and an analysis based on a study of 10 times as many syllable contrasts as previous work,” says Alejandrina Cristia, a researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris.

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