This article is about speech directed at babies. For speech-like sounds produced babytalk magazine march 2012 babies, see babbling. For the song by Terri Walker, see L.
Baby talk is a type of speech associated with an older person speaking to a child. Baby talk has 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. The first documented use of the word baby-talk, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was in 1836. Motherese and parentese are more precise terms than baby talk, and perhaps more amenable to computer searches, but are not the terms of choice among child development professionals.
CDS is a clear and simplified strategy for communicating to younger children, used not only 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, often repeated. Parents use CDS not only to promote language development, but to foster a positive relationship with their infants. The younger the child, the more exaggerated the adult’s CDS is. The attention of infants is held more readily by CDS over normal speech, as with adults. The more expressive CDS is, the more likely infants are to respond to this method of communication by adults.
CDS also incorporates body movements that assist visually in conveying meaning of language to infants. Due to the visual cues, infants are more highly motivated to engage in communication. A key visual aspect of CDS is the movement of the lips. One characteristic is the wider opening of the mouth present in those using CDS versus adult-directed speech, particularly in vowels.
The horizontal positioning of the lips in CDS does not differ significantly from that used in adult-directed speech. Head movements emphasize various syllables within language production. These visual cues provide infants additional information needed to perform accurate speech discrimination during language development. However, the auditory and visual aspects of CDS do not exist independently. Infants rely equally on both methods of understanding and, as development continues, infants strengthen the link between these two important categories. Research indicates that infants do not play a passive role in this interaction, but engage interactively, and are attracted to people who engage in CDS.
Through this interaction, infants are able to determine who positive and encouraging caregivers will be in their development. Studies have shown that from birth, infants prefer to listen to CDS, which is more effective than regular speech in getting and holding an infant’s attention. CDS has been observed in languages other than English. Purposes and benefits of CDS include support the ability of infants to bond with their caregivers. In addition, infants begin the process of speech and language acquisition and development through CDS.
CDS may also contribute to the modulation of infant attention, assist infants in determining relevant syntactic qualities including phonetic boundaries, and convey positive emotion to infants. Children learn fastest who receive the most acknowledgement and encouragement of what they say, who are given time and attention to speak and share, and who are questioned. Six-month-olds can discriminate between medial position syllables in words with multiple syllables when CDS is used. CDS aids infants in bonding to caregivers. Although infants have a range of social cues available to them regarding who will provide adequate care, CDS serves as an additional indicator as to which caregivers will provide developmental support. When adults engage in CDS with infants, they are providing positive emotion and attention, signaling to infants that they are valued. CDS can also serve as a priming tool for infants to notice the faces of their caregivers.