Baby talk words could help build infants’ language skills

Baby talk words could help build infants’ language skills


Monday, 6 August, 2018

A new study led by Dr Mitsuhiko Ota (School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences) has found that infants exposed to higher numbers of baby talk words are quicker to grasp language. 

Researchers assessed 9 month old children and found that those heard words such as ‘bunny’ or ‘choo-choo’ more frequently are faster at picking up new words between 9 and 21 months of age. This suggests that some types of baby talk words, more than other words, can help infants develop their vocabulary more quickly, as it may help them identify words in speech.  

Researchers recorded samples of speech addressed to 47 infants learning English and checked the speech addressed to each infant for features that characterise baby talk words.

They examined the rate of the infants’ language development by measuring the size of the children’s vocabulary at nine, 15 and 21 months. It was found that infants who heard a higher proportion of so-called diminutive words (e.g. words ending in ‘y’ like ‘tummy’ and ‘mummy’) and words with repeated syllables (e.g. ‘choo-choo’ and ‘night-night’) developed their language more quickly between nine and 21 months.Interestingly, this effect was not observed when examining onomatopoeic baby talk words such as ‘woof’ and ‘splash’.

The research was published in Cognitive Science and was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Dr Mitsuhiko Ota 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.”