Early Childhood Communication: Baby Talk

Over the past few weeks we’ve discussed different aspects of how a child develops language, from early non-verbal communication through the two-word phase of language. In today’s blog, we’ll shift gears a bit, focusing on the care-giver’s communicative role in early child language development.

Anyone who has spent time with young children has undoubtedly noticed the way in which adults change their speech patterns when talking with a baby. This is a shift most adults make almost automatically without conscious thought when speaking with a child. Vocal patterns, vocabulary, sentence structure, and pronunciation, all shift together to create what is most commonly known as “baby talk.” Although everyone has their own particular style of baby talk, there are some common features that occur nearly across the board:

-Vocabulary is limited and simple

-Diminutives are often used (e.g. “horsey” for “horse”; “dolly” for “doll”, etc.)

-Words created from duplicated syllables (e.g. “bye-bye”, “num-nums”, “ba-ba”, etc.)

-Rate of speech is slowed

-More pauses are used

-Sentences are shorter with simplified grammar

-Function words and non-essential words are omitted

-Pitch is raised

-Voice glides between pitches

-Syllables are elongated

-Sounds are often modified to match typical child-like mispronunciations (e.g. “wuv” for “love”)

The jury is still out on the exact role of baby talk in child language development. Some have argued that the simplification of language and highlighting of speech sounds help young children to make sense of early language. Others assert that baby talk is not necessary for language development, indicating other cultures in which baby talk is not used and no subsequent lag in linguistic development occurs.

Next week we’ll continue talking about the linguistic features and uses of child-directed speech.

Are you concerned about your child’s speech or language development? At Speech Associates of New York, our team of professionally trained and certified speech-language pathologists provide in-home evaluations and therapy. Each of our professionals is trained in the assessment and treatment of a range of pediatric and adult speech, language and communication disorders. Call us today at (917) 841-2965 and find out how we can help your child communicate their best!

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