From: Princeton University
Published October 12, 2017 12:44 PM

Uncovering the Sound of 'Motherese,' Baby Talk Across Languages

Around the world, mothers speak differently to their children than they do to other adults — and Princeton researchers have found a new way to quantify that vocal shift.

With their kids, mothers switch into a special communicative mode known as “motherese” or “baby talk” — an exaggerated and somewhat musical form of speech. While it may sound silly to adults, research has shown that it plays an important role in language learning, engaging infants’ emotions and highlighting the structure in language, to help babies decode the puzzle of syllables and sentences.

And now, Princeton researchers have identified “a new cue that mothers implicitly use to support babies’ language learning,” said Elise Piazza, a postdoctoral research associate with the Princeton Neuroscience Institute (PNI). “We found for the first time that mothers shift their vocal timbre.

“Timbre is best defined as the unique quality of a sound,” explained Piazza. “Barry White’s silky voice sounds different from Tom Waits’ gravelly one — even if they’re both singing the same note.”

Read more at Princeton University

Image: A mother plays with her baby in the Princeton Baby Lab, where researchers have identified consistent shifts in vocal timbre between mothers speaking or reading to their children and speaking to other adults. (Credit: Sameer A. Khan/Fotobuddy)

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