People all over the world talk to babies in similar ways, research shows. Adults worldwide adapt their speech and singing when talking to babies. And baby talk has a function: it aids communication and calms babies.
The same rules apply to baby talk – also known as ‘parenthese’ – worldwide: all over the world people talk with a higher and more variable pitch than adult language to babies. This is evident from 1,615 voice recordings from 410 parents, in 18 languages and from 21 different urban, rural and small-scale societies. ‘In total, baby talk differs from adult talk in eleven ways, a machine learning model has discovered,’ Kim Verhaeghe writes in an article by Eos Science about the study.
Baby talk recognized worldwide
A follow-up study measured whether baby talk is recognized worldwide. 51,065 people from 187 countries listened to recordings of baby talk and had to guess whether the communication in the recordings was aimed at babies. Verhaeghe writes about this: ‘When asked whether a statement was addressed to an adult or a baby, most listeners were correct, regardless of their mother tongue or origin. This also applies to the babies themselves. Previous research has already shown that babies become calm with baby talk, regardless of the language in which it is spoken.’
So despite differences in language and culture, people worldwide adapt their language in similar and mutually intelligible ways when they talk to babies, the researchers conclude. View the (English) study here >>
‘With babies, use single words, repeat basic words, use short, simple sentences and feel free to exaggerate the intonation. Then it is easier for a baby to follow. With toddlers you also enrich the vocabulary with words that children do not hear so often. Are you on a vertical group? Then always adapt your language to the age of the child.’ Learn more about baby talk in this article