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Baby talk is not just annoying – it is actually helping the child to develop language skills

Posted August 2, 2018

Some people get annoyed just hearing that. And then some people seem to enjoy it a little too much. A lot of parents are using a special baby language when communicating with their toddlers, but does it do any good to anyone? Scientists from the University of Edinburgh conducted a research, which showed that baby talk words build language skills.

Baby talk words are benefiting their language learning skills, especially if parents often use diminutives ending in ‘y’ and reduplication. Image credit: Betametani via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Talking to very young children is very important. They learn language skills by hearing and it is parents’ responsibility to talk to them as much as possible. Scientists are now saying that when children hear a lot of baby talk words they grasp language quicker. Scientists assessed language development in 47 9 month old children learning English and determined that those who hear a lot of baby talk (such words as bunny or choo-choo) develop their language skills more rapidly between the ages of 9 and 21 months. However, not all baby words were created equal.

Scientists found that particular types of baby talk are especially helpful. Those are words that end in ‘y’ (such as tummy, mummy and doggy) and repeated sounds (such as choo-choo and night-night), because they help infants identify words in speech. There are other types of words that parents like using when their infants are hearing. For example, onomatopoeic words that sound like their meaning, such as woof and splash. However, onomatopoeic words do not have such effect as diminutives ending in ‘y’ and reduplication. In other words, “mummy”, “doggy” and “choo-choo” are more effective than “boom”, “smash” or “meow”. But, on the other hand, onomatopoeic words are not harmful in any way and can be entertaining for the child, which is a benefit in itself.

Diminutives ending in ‘y’ and reduplication have a very clear effect – those children who hear more of these kind of words develop their language more quickly between nine and 21 months. Not only they start understanding individual words better, but they also expand their own vocabulary quicker. Dr Mitsuhiko Ota, one of the authors of the paper, said: “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”.

A lot of adults find baby talk annoying. However, it is common across the globe, in a huge variety of cultures. It is not something we learn from television or internet – it is something we tend to do in front of small children. It is so common, one has to wonder – is it some sort of an ancient instinct?


Source: University of Edinburgh

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