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Research Finds 'Baby-Talk' To Be Helpful In Infant Language Development

If you feel silly constantly saying words like 'choo-choo', 'doggy' or 'night-night' to your little one, don’t be embarrassed. You’re actually helping them learn, according to a recent study.

The study, out of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, found that frequently using infant-directed speech – more commonly referred to as ‘baby-talk’ – around a developing infant can actually help them grasp language faster. Its recently-published findings suggest that children between nine and 21 months who hear certain words more frequently are ultimately faster at picking up new ones. Examples of these words include those words that end in ‘y’, such as ‘bunny’ and ‘tummy’, and those words with repeated syllables, such as ‘choo-choo’ and ‘ring-ring’.

“Our findings suggest that diminutives and reduplication, which are frequently found in baby talk words - across many different languages - can facilitate the early stage of vocabulary development," said lead researcher Mitsuhiko Ota, from the university's Language Sciences department. Simply put, diminutives are ‘cute’ forms of words and can imply that something is small, loved or particularly special. ‘Doggy’, ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’ are all good examples of this. Reduplication, according to the study, is the full or partial repetition of syllables within a word, such as ‘night-night’ or ‘tick-tock’. Both diminutives and reduplication are found across many different languages.

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The Study

Linguists at the University of Edinburgh began by asking English-speaking families to record themselves speaking to their infants at certain times of the day – such as mealtime, playtime, bathtime, and bedtime.

Recording samples addressed to all 47 infants (23 baby girls and 24 baby boys) were then collected and reviewed for instances of ‘baby-talk’. As mentioned above, ‘baby-talk’ was typically characterized by diminutives and reduplication.

At nine, 15 and 21 months, examiners measured the size of all 47 infants’ vocabularies, which determined the rate of their language development.

The Results

Researchers found that infants who were exposed to more diminutive words and words with repeated syllables developed language more quickly than those who were not. Interestingly, the study also found that onomatopoeic words, such as ‘woof’ and ‘splash’ did not boost children’s vocabularies.

This latest study directly contradicts a similar study conducted three years ago out of Japan that suggested baby talk is more of a hindrance, rather than a help, and that parents should simply speak normally to their children, and forgo cute, sing-song babble.

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