Baby Talk: another way to see language

Baby talk, a father and his newborn baby

Baby talk: that high-pitched tone with the occasional contorted facial expressions.

Baby Talk, virtually a universal language

Have you ever observed a mother’s or father’s behaviour in her newborn’s presence? They communicate in a very simplistic language that’s often peppered with high-pitched tones.

It’s not uncommon for new parents to make a particular face as well with pouting lips, as if about to kiss their baby’s cheek.

Parents naturally adopt this attitude; firstly, because a baby doesn’t yet know how to speak and, of course because they want a reaction from them. They seek a baby’s smile with eyes wide open.

This language is only adopted with babies. You will never see two adults talk this way. We hope not. It would either be patronizing or simply crazy! Sometimes however, it’s possible to use language this way when we speak with animals, with your beloved pet.

Baby talk is the language adopted for babies, also called infant-directed speech. IDS is the type of language used naturally to attract the attention of children who know nothing about their world. It can also transmit emotional cues such as anger or joy. The two main characteristics of this language are, as mentioned earlier, a high-pitch and a particularly emotionally intimate tone. Sentences are often short and vocabulary is simplistic as to make it easier for the baby to understand.

Research

Studies have actually shown that babies prefer it when their parents talk to them in a high-pitched voice. In one of these studies, babies listened for a few months to records of adult-directed speech and infant-directed speech during sleep. The results showed clear reaction and blood flow changes in the babies during the broadcast of the baby talk.

Facial gestures play a key role in this type of communication, since babies don’t know the meaning of words. In different studies, positive and negative ideas were communicated in baby talk to newborns and their reactions proved that they had had an understanding of what was being said to them.

This proves that attitude has a prominent place in language.

Baby talk is also known to promote awareness in children and language learning. It’s similar to the way we learn a new language. We memorize words; it’s important that we repeat them several times. Emotionally, children acknowledge positive messages from their parents when recited repeatedly, building their confidence.

This infant behaviour is present in all cultures and all countries. Since it is natural to do so just as parents love their children, it is also a way for them to communicate their love.

Only two civilizations, the Kaluli of New Guinea and Quiché Mayan don’t converse with their babies or talk to them as adults.

Examples of Baby talk

Table of baby talk in different languages

Table of baby talk in English, French, Spanish, German and Italian.

The STAR Team

Sources: A Little Book Of Language by David Crystal and Parenting Science

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