‘Parentese’ – What is it, and why is it important?
If you are the parent of a young child, you may have caught yourself using “baby talk” on many occasions. But why do parents do this, and what implications does it have for a baby’s future speech and language development?
When you think of “baby talk”, the sounds “goo goo ga ga” might immediately come to mind. However, research has demonstrated an important distinction between “baby talk” and true “parentese”, the latter providing the most benefit. “Parentese” uses real words and appropriate grammar, but has three important characteristics:
Compared to regular speech, “parentese” has a higher pitch (about an octave higher) and a wider pitch range.
The tempo of “parentese” is slower than regular speech.
“Parentese” uses melodic contours and sounds ‘sing-song’ in nature.
Research has demonstrated that the simplified and exaggerated acoustic features of “parentese” make language easier to learn. More importantly, the above features have a positive effect on social communication; they capture attention and encourage and allow more time for a social response from your little one.
In a recent study from the University of Washington, researchers provided coaching to a group of parents to increase their use of “parentese” and used an audio recorder to capture their children’s language input and output at 6, 10, 14, and 18 months. Coaching focused on providing information related to developmental milestones and the effects of “parentese” on language development, training in how to incorporate high quality language interactions into daily routines, and qualitative and quantitative feedback on parental speaking style. Compared to children of parents who had not received the training, children in the parent-coaching group demonstrated a greater increase in the number of back-and-forth exchanges between child and adult, as well as the number of speech-related vocalizations produced by the child over time. These results held true even after controlling for socioeconomic status of the families and baseline babbling skills.
The results of this study demonstrate the social benefits of using “parentese”, and how parent training for these can enhance language development in children.
Naja Ferjan Ramírez, Sarah Roseberry Lytle, Patricia K. Kuhl. Parent coaching increases conversational turns and advances infant language development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Feb. 3, 2020 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1921653117
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