You may start to notice that when you talk to your baby, you slip into the conversational style we call motherese. This is characterized by shortened sentences, slower speech, and exaggerated intonation, creating a singsong quality. This way of speaking produces highly varied and brief sounds which are easy for infants to process and remember.
Example of infant directed speech // source: ProSolutions Training
Starting from birth, your baby prefers to listen to this exaggerated and high- pitched way of speaking, also known as infant-directed speech. They prefer infant-directed speech over adult-directed speech, even when a stranger is speaking. Researchers have found that both newborns and 1 month old infants look at an image for a longer period of time when that looking triggers infant-directed speech than adult-directed speech. This research suggests that infants prefer this type of motherese, and this preference is present from birth.
Baby talk is a form of motherese. An example of baby talk is “baby has a tum-tum” when referring to your baby’s belly. At 4 months of age, your baby cannot understand baby talk, but it sets the stage for teaching your baby to expect the back-and-forth of a conversation. In addition, this form of motherese may allow you to feel closer to your baby and continue to develop that special bond between the two of you.
Although it may sound silly, baby talk and motherese are fun and productive ways to communicate with your baby. Infant-directed speech has been shown to aid in your child’s language development, by increasing your baby’s attention to your voice and by learning the details about the specific sounds present in your native language (whether it is English, Spanish, Chinese or any other language). It also allows you to maintain your close connection with your baby.
For additional information and resources, take a look at the following.
1. Interested in more ways that baby talk can help your baby’s development? Check out this article “Speak baby talk with your child? It could play a big part in their development”
2. Check out this video by Dr. Marina Kalashnikova, who draws on her research to talk about the different ways adults speak to babies and how babies recognize and learn language.
Cooper, R. P., & Aslin, R. N. (1990). Preference for infant‐directed speech in the first month after birth. Child development, 61(5), 1584-1595.
Mayes, L. C. & Cohen, D. J. (2002). The Yale Child Study Center Guide to Understanding Your Child: Healthy Development from Birth to Adolescence. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.
Thiessen, E. D., Hill, E. A., & Saffran, J. R. (2005). Infant-directed speech facilitates word segmentation. Infancy, 7(1), 53-71.’