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speech directed infant language

Speech directed toward infants and young children displays special characteristics, such as heightened pitch, exaggerated intonation, and increased repetition of words and clauses, that differ from the speech adults use with one another. Such "motherese" or "infant-directed talk" is typical of fathers as well as mothers, nonparents as well as parents, and across diverse ages and socioeconomic groups. Motherese has been documented in a variety of cultures and across a typologically diverse set of languages, including English, Japanese, Hausa (a Nigerian language), and sign language. Infants prefer motherese to adult-directed speech, and they benefit from such interaction. For example, by enhancing attention, motherese promotes infants' processing of speech. Likewise, motherese helps infants to analyze the structure of speech by highlighting boundaries between important units, such as words and clauses. Research in the late 1990s suggested that motherese is actually part of a more general tendency to modify infant-directed interactions. For example, adults also modify at least some of their infant-directed bodily motions. Such "motionese" includes simplification and increased repetition of action. Thus motherese speech seems to be just one dimension of a whole constellation of infant-directed modifications.


Fernald, Anne, and Patricia Kuhl. "Acoustic Determinants of Infant Preference for Motherese Speech." Infant Behavior and Development 10 (1987):279-293.

Lieven, Elena. "Crosslinguistic and Crosscultural Aspects of Language Addressed to Children." In Clare Gallaway and Brian Richards eds., Input and Interaction in Language Acquisition. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Rebecca J. Brand

Dare A. Baldwin

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