Baby talk may sound silly, but it’s crucial for building language skills

EDINBURGH — Enjoy your din-din? Time to go night-night! Let’s put on our jammies and get our blankie.

When Mommy and Daddy use baby talk, it is more than child’s play. That repetitive, cute speech pattern that seems to come so naturally to most parents, grandparents and caregivers also speeds up vocabulary development and language skills, a recent study finds.

Researchers with the University of Edinburgh say that the amount of exposure infants have to baby talk corresponds to an increase in their vocabulary.

“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,” says lead author Mitsuhiko Ota, of the university’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, in a release.

Linguists at the university recorded speech directed at 47 infants, looking for patterns that characterize baby talk words. Baby talk words often end in a “y” sound — bunny, tummy, horsie — or use repetitive sounds, such as choo-choo, night-night, or yum-yum.

Researchers assessed language development of the babies at nine, 15 and 21 months. They found that 9-month-old babies who heard language liberally sprinkled with such words as “binky” or “paci” for pacifier and “baba” for bottle had picked up new words faster in the developmental period between nine and 21 months.

The authors say both types of baby talk words (those ending with “y” sounds and those with repetitive sounds) may help infants detect the words within the stream of speech.

Researchers also studied the impact of onomatopoeic words — words whose sounds mimic their meaning — such as “woof” or “splash.” They did not find that these words had as much impact on vocabulary development as the diminutive words and repetitive-syllable words.

So, next time you hear parents baby talking to their little one, know that this itty-bitty child is on the fast track — choo-choo style — to a better vocabulary.

The study was published July 11, 2018 in the journal Cognitive Science.

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