Mothers Speak Less Clearly to Infants Than to Adults
‘Baby talk’ is a recognised form of non-standard speech used by adults when talking to toddlers and infants. While heavily debated, baby talk has in the past generally been found to be more effective in gaining infants attention compared with regular speech.
But this raises the question of how well infants learn from a form of speech that is basically inaccurate or incorrect.
Researchers recently publishing in the journal of Psychological Science aimed to examine exactly this question:
Using state-of-the-art speech technology, we addressed this key theoretical question: Are sound categories clearer in infant-directed speech (IDS) than in adult-directed speech? (ADS)
This more closely considers how infants language acquisition is effected by the different forms of speech.
Once the research team had analysed the data they were able to show that baby talk might not be as useful as was first thought:
we found no evidence that phonetic contrasts are enhanced overall in Infant-Directed Speech
That is to say that baby talk may in fact not help infants acquire new language any better than regular adult speech. In fact the authors founds that regular adult speech may be more beneficial:
we found a small but significant advantage for ADS contrasts, which suggests that, if anything, the system of phonetic contrasts is deteriorated in IDS compared with ADS
However, it isn’t all bad news for baby talk, the study was able to show that baby talk was useful in shaping the infants development by boosting cognitive processing.