Have you ever noticed that the way you speak changes when you speak to children? This type of speech is labeled as child-directed speech (CDS), and has many features and meaning behind it.
Child-directed speech, known as “baby-talk”, “motherese” and “parentese” refer to the process of changing speech patterns in order to appeal to infants and young children (Matychuk, 2004). This type of speech also applies to the way individuals speak to the elderly, and the way pet owners speak to their pets. It is the high-pitched and slow speech. Speakers tend to exaggerate their speech, speak slower and use more simple terminology. Why do we speak this way?
Children pay more attention to the characteristics of child-directed speech. This is extremely powerful as if they remain attentive, they will learn to process the meaning and eventually learn the language (Dominey & Dodane, 2004).
When a child first learns a language, the first thing they learn about is the different individual sounds, phonemes, within a language. When using CDS, the speakers speaks slowly to isolate the phonemes so that infants can differentiate the phonemes being used. When a child learns a language, they need to be able to understand each part of speech, not only the phonemes. They need to understand morphology (parts of a word ex: -s in ‘walks’), the phonetics (speech sounds), semantics (grammar), and pragmatics (contexts of language ex: turn-taking while conversing). Speaking at a slower pace in a more expressive manner allows the child to process the spoken message.
Interestingly enough, infants are said to not understand when adults speak at an average pace. Adults simply have the power to use child-directed speech to allow an infant to take the time to perceive a message, as they are stimulated and pay more attention when CDS is used. Next time you speak to a baby, your grandma or your pet rabbit, be mindful of the way you are speaking. You will most likely be using child-directed speech, motherese, or parentese naturally, and there’s a meaningful reason behind it.
Dominey, P., & Dodane, C. (2004). Indeterminacy in language acquisition: the role of child directed speech and joint attention. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 17, 128–129. http://www.isc.cnrs.fr/dom/DomDodaneNeuroling.pdf
Matychuk, P. (n.d.). A case study on the role of child-directed speech (CDS) in child language acquisition. Dissertation Abstracts International, A: The Humanities and Social Sciences, 2864-A. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/85586323?accountid=6180. (85586323; 200412546).