Baby Talk

“Baby Talk” is the dynamic and joyful way in which adults from all cultures and regions around the world express speech to a baby. Infant-directed speech is characterized by its unique musicality: compared to the typical adult ways of speaking, it is relatively high pitched, slow, and rhythmic, with a larger pitch range, more exaggerated melodic contours, and more elongated vowels.

Studies have found that baby talk is not just for fun: it is an evolutionarily significant method which serves as an aid for language learning by capturing and engaging attention, serving as a vehicle for emotional communication, and enhancing the important patterns in language, such as vowel categories and word divisions. While adults focus primarily on the meaning of speech, “infants listen first to sounds of language and only later to its meaning,” said Anthony Brandt in his theory paper entitled Music and Early Language Acquisition, published in September 2012 in the journal Frontiers in Cognitive Auditory Neuroscience. He noted that newborns’ speech perception and language acquisition depend on the discrimination of “the most musical aspects of speech” — i.e. pitch, timbre, rhythm, and phonemic patterns and consistencies.

“Spoken language is a special type of music. Language is typically viewed as fundamental to human intelligence, and music is often treated as being dependent on or derived from language. But from a developmental perspective, we argue that music comes first and language arises from music.”

Brandt’s proposed theory has been confirmed by a team of researchers at the University of Washington, which studied thousands of families who use this highly animated, musical method of speech toward their infants — and thousands who did not. By the age of two, newborns whose parents did use baby talk had learned nearly three times more words than those infants whose parents did not use this method of communication. These toddlers knew an average of 433 words by the age of two, while the others only knew an average of only 169 words by the same age. Studies showed that the more that parents exaggerated vowels and raised the pitch of their voices, the more the babies “babbled”, which is a forerunner of word production. “The fact that the infant’s babbling itself plays a role in future language development shows how important the interchange between parent and child is,” said Patricia Kuhl, co-author and co-director of UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.

Music has traditionally been considered “auditory cheesecake”; a pleasant evolutionary by-product which holds little significance to human neurological functionality. But researchers like Brandt and Kuhl, and authors like Daniel Levitin, Michael Thaut, Ian Cross, Silvia Bencivello, and David Huron, have all provided evidence for the theory that music is a critical and core function of the development of our human brain.


Photo By sawamur (Flickr: 親子2代のカシオトーン) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]