The Importance of “Motherese”

What is Motherese?

Talking to children has always been fundamental to language development, but new research reveals that the way we talk to children is key to building their ability to understand and create sentences of their own. The exaggerated speech we naturally use with young children is a special register – often called ‘motherese’.

Motherese, also called Parentese, Baby talk, Caretaker speech, Infant-directed speech (IDS), and Child-directed speech (CDS), is defined as a term used in the study of child language acquisition for the way mothers often talk to their young children.

We use changes in pitch and rhythm when we talk to children, and we emphasize important words. This is what children usually learn and produce first.

Mothers are not the only ones who speak in “motherese.” Fathers, older siblings, and others also tend to talk to infants and small children in this special “baby talk”.

Why Parentese?

Why do we do it? Do we produce motherese simply to get the babies\’ attention? (It certainly does that.) Do we do it just to convey affection and comfort? Or does motherese have a more focused purpose? It turns out that motherese is more than just a sweet siren song we use to draw our babies to us. Motherese seems actually to help babies solve the Language problem.

Motherese sentences are shorter and simpler than sentences directed at adults. Moreover, grown-ups speaking to babies often repeat the same thing over and over with slight variations. (\”You are a pretty girl, aren\’t you? Aren’t you a pretty girl? Pretty, pretty girl.\”) these characteristics of motherese may help children figure out their language’s words and grammar.

 5 Good Reasons to Baby Talk to Your Child:

It’s as important to your child’s development as diapers and a mother’s milk.

  1. Infants actually prefer Parentese. You can mix adult speech and baby talk, but studies show that if you start speaking with baby talk to engage attention, they will then pay attention to adult speech as part of the “conversation,” but rarely the other way around.
  2. It encourages babies’ attention as you engage in eye contact and prompts babies to coo, smile, wiggle, and make noises. They are “talking back” to you and clearly show whether they accept or reject how you communicate with them. 
  3. It helps in language acquisition as your baby or toddler responds and learns to process the differences in speech, such as how a sentence or phrase is formed and how words are formed. They are able to recall words more effectively than babies who only hear adult-directed speech.
  4. It encourages social interaction with others who practice Motherese with your child since a baby will respond to it more readily than to adult-directed speech.
  5. You are practicing positive, loving touch. Whether stroking, patting or just holding your child on your lap as you talk, you are physically connected to your baby and your mutual exchange of energy has a positive effect on both of you.

     Positive Steps:

So, bring on as much Motherese/Parentese during the time you ARE together as you can – one on one – and you will help further your child’s cognitive, emotional and social development. That goes for Dad, too!

Whether changing diapers or cooking dinner, keep baby close by…those moments of connection are precious and meaningful for you both. It also means putting down your devices and paying attention to this new human. It’s the quantity of undivided attention, as well as the quality, that can make such a difference.

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