It turns out, a lot gets lost in translation when you talk to a baby in baby talk. A new study from the University of Washington found that babies who are spoken "parentese" have better language development than babies who are spoken to in "baby talk." The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Baby talk tends to consist of simplified grammar and exaggerated sounds. "What people think of as baby talk is a combination of silly sounds and words, sometimes with incorrect grammar," Naja Ferjan Ramirez an assistant professor at the department of linguistics at the University of Washington told CNN, "like 'Oooh, your shozie wozies on your widdle feets."
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Parentese, on the other hand, consists of adults using real worlds in a more baby-friendly cadence. The term has been around since the mid-1980s, and a lot of parents tend to do it naturally. "Parentese has three characteristics," Patricia Kuhl, the co-director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, told CNN. "One of them is that it has a higher overall pitch, about an octave higher. Another is that intonation contours are very curvy; the highs are higher, the lows are lower, and it sounds excited and happy. And then it's slower, with pauses between phrases to give the baby time to participate in this social interaction."
Researchers at the University of Washington studied 48 families. All of the families naturally spoke some parentese to their children, however researchers coached half of the parents on how to speak proper parentese. The parents came into the lab for coaching when their babies were 6, 10, and 14-months old.
The children who were spoken to in parentese had a 100-word vocabulary by the time they were 18-months-old. In comparison, the babies that weren't spoken to by parents coached by scientists had a 60-word vocabulary. "Children of coached parents produced real words, such as ball or milk, at almost twice the rate of children whose parents were in the control group," Ferjan Ramirez told CNN.
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The parents were also encouraged to talk to their babies in back-and-forth conversational exchanges. According to researchers, more turn-taking correlated with babies who had better language development. It turns out, one of the most important part of parentese might be that it engages babies and encourages to respond, even if they're still only fluent in baby talk. "Babies need to be engaged socially in order to learn language. They have to have a drive to communicate. They have to want to, and parentese seems to help make them want to," Kuhl told CNN.
It just goes to show, even infants don't like to be infantilized.