No baby talk for dads

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Mothers are more likely to coo at their babies, while fathers address them more like small adults - but both approaches help children learn, according to a study at Washington State University.

Scientists used speech recognition software to analyse differences in parents' speech patterns and came to the conclusion that a mother's "baby talk" (Motherese) promotes bonding, whilst fathers, on the other hand, talked to their children using intonation patterns more like those used when they talked to other adults.

Motherese is believed to be particularly attractive to babies and young children, with its attention-catching cadence and exaggerated vocal features. But the fathers’ approach likely bestows different benefits.

Mark VanDam, a professor in the WSU Department of Speech & Hearing Sciences who headed the study, said: “We think that maybe fathers are doing things that are conducive to their children’s learning but in a different way. The parents are complementary to their children’s language learning.”

The data support what VanDam refers to as the bridge hypothesis – that fathers, by speaking to their children more like adults, might act as a link to the outside world by helping them deal with unfamiliar speech.

Furthermore, the fathers’ less frequent use of classic baby talk doesn’t mean they aren’t modifying their speech in other ways – by using different vocabulary, for instance, or changing the volume or duration of their speech. VanDam believes the age and sex of the child might also influence a father’s interactions.

The pilot study looked only at families with a mother and father who both lived full-time with the child, so the researchers don’t know how the results might differ in single-parent families or those headed by same-sex couples. The study is one part of a larger initiative at WSU to examine how fathers support their children’s language development from infancy through early childhood.

Every Child Journal
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