Is baby talk hurting your child? Is it helping him? These are the questions that researchers from the Laboratory for Language Development at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Tokyo asked recently. And their results are quite surprising. Moms may actually speak less clearly to their infants when they use baby talk.
The researchers looked at 22 Japanese moms talking to their children who were aged 18-24 months. Then spent five years annotating these 14 hours of speech that they captured. As the researchers said, “To our knowledge, this is one of the most finely annotated large corpora of child-directed speech in the world.” They went on to look at acoustic similarities between two syllables like “pa” and “ba.”
They found that the moms spoke slightly less clearly when they were talking to their child than they did to an experimenter. As Alejandrina Cristia, a researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, said, “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.”
As researcher Andrew Martin, a member of the Tokyo team, said “Our results suggest that, at least for learning sound contrasts, the secret to infants’ language-learning genius may be in the infants themselves — the fact that they are able pick up sounds from input that is less clear than that used by adults with each other makes this accomplishment all the more remarkable.”